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A Call for Climate Adaptation
Chad Monfreda, 13 Feb 07

The reasons to care about climate change are obvious, right? A planetary fever is about to deal a wallop of catastrophic floods, insect borne disease, deadly heat waves, and an all around worsening of the risks people face everyday across the world. But if human vulnerability gives climate change saliency, aren’t direct adaptations to current risks a more efficient way to meet our goals than greenhouse gas mitigations that would have an indirect effect decades away?

Back in December, Alex argued that it's time to start making our systems more resilient to the effects of climate change, even while we work to limit the magnitude of climate disruption. Now, a commentary in the journal Nature goes a bit farther, arguing that it is time to lift the taboo on climate adaptation and recognize the hypocrisy in a current strategy almost entirely focused on cutting emissions. The authors, Roger Pielke, Jr., Gwyn Prins, Steve Rayner, and Daniel Sarewitz, are not climate skeptics. They do, however, point out the perversities of an international system that justifies mitigation in terms of risk while doing nothing to address the horrific risks that threaten people right now.

The United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treats adaptation in the narrowest sense — as actions taken in response to climate changes resulting from anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions.

They go on to argue that:

To those experiencing devastating losses from climate impacts in developing countries, such logic must sound surreal: policy ‘success’ means not investing in adaptation even as climate impacts, driven mainly by non-climate factors, continue to mount.…To define adaptation as a cost of failed mitigation is to expose millions of poor people in compromised ecosystems to the very dangers that climate policy seeks to avoid.

The proposed solution is to link climate policy with the smart, capable, and woefully under-funded efforts to create prosperity and security already underway, namely from the disaster mitigation and sustainable development communities. Ironically, countries finished drafting the UNFCCC at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit on environment and development, but sustainable development continues to lack backing from comparable high-level institutions. Retooling our institutions could effectively connect climate policy with human wellbeing, and, more generally, harness global organizations for the diffusion and cross-pollination of worldchanging solutions.

Indeed, it may be a cure for carbon blindness.

[image: Jakarta flooding]

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Nice article, Chad!

Posted by: Jon Foley on 13 Feb 07

Dear Chad Monfreda,

Well done. Thanks for your efforts.

Perhaps you can assist by responding a question.

What do you suppose billions of fertile young people, who are expected to be capable of reproducing in the middle of this century, will be doing with their sexual instincts and drives other than what human beings have been doing during the past several thousand years?

Please, kindly take a moment to explain what you expect will occur that results in the consensually validated forecast indicating stabilization of absolute population numbers of the human species on Earth in the year 2050, given the fully anticipated young age distribution of a global population of 9+/- billion people at that time.


Steve Salmony

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on 13 Feb 07

Chad, your article finished a change of world view that has been incubating in me for a long time. I remember not long ago sparring with Jamais on these pages when, showing more foresight than I, he made points similar to yours.

For a long time, many people, myself included, have thought that discussing mitigation was an immoral capitulation, an admission that we'll never curb our emissions. We saw "either/or" and couldn't see "both/and". We wasted a lot of time being angry about this so-called debate.

In my case, I think the reason was grief. Who wants to face up to the need to put this beautiful planet on dialysis for centuries, because of our own shortsightedness and greed? Who can contemplate the money and resources we'll need to devote to this, and not see a child without a vaccination, a school without new textbooks, a library closing, a village well not drilled?

You've helped, by helping us see that the work we need to do to make places more resilient will help make them more sustainable. To paraphrase Einstein, we won't solve these problems with the same patterns of thought that led to the problems. That's encouraging. Thank you.

Posted by: David Foley on 13 Feb 07

Dave, thanks for adding your comments. I suspect this article and your response will fly under the radar (just a hunch, hope I'm wrong),but it deserves much consideration in this audience.

Posted by: Stephen A. Fuqua on 13 Feb 07

Mitigation won't work fast enough- we have to plan adaptation strategies and tactics. A tactical example: Why don't we wear clothing with heating and cooling built in rather than heating huge amounts of open space in buildings?
There's a business opportunity there that could help solve a lot of related issues in conservation, energy efficiency (power the suits with kinetic movement? Solar? The heat generated by the human body?), etc.
This is just an example of how tactical adaptation could evolve.

Posted by: Martin Edic on 14 Feb 07

We'll need strategic adaptation for the tactical adaptations to make sense.

Posted by: David Foley on 15 Feb 07

Thank you, David, for your candor. Let's hope we can all be so willing to shed beliefs that have grown too constraining. As uncomfortable as that might be, the ordeal of gaining a fuller perspective affords renewed vigor and knowledge that the challenges are both bigger and more attainable than we thought before.

Posted by: Chad Monfreda on 16 Feb 07

Steve - I suppose that in 2050 billions of young people will be doing the same things with their sexual drives that they've been doing for thousands of years. The population curve, though, if that's what you're getting at, is a very different question. In this regard, perhaps more interesting than the birth rate is the death rate. As far as I know, demographic projections do not seriously consider the effects of massive increases in longevity, as many transhumanists, for example, anticipate.

Posted by: Chad Monfreda on 16 Feb 07

Thanks Chad for your comments. We do not appear to be adequately examining the potential threat that could be posed to humanity by the continuous increase in absolute global human population numbers. If you do not mind another question, please consider the one below.

Despite inadequate ideas, outdated beliefs and preternatural theories found in cascading disinformation from the masters of the universe and their minions in the mass media, Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri and other experts have courageously spoken out loudly and clearly for good science regarding global climate change. They cannot be sufficiently praised even though many will try to find words that extoll their virtues.

Three cheers for Dr. Heidi Cullen and the scientists who have spoken here.

IF remaining willfully blind and mute is a particularly pernicious enemy of good science and population experts continuously refuse to comment on the new science of human population numbers, then would it be correct to say that their maintenance of silence is both a sin of omission and an ironic “expression? of potentially suicidal behavior from presumed leaders of the human species?

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on 17 Feb 07

While I understand the desire to think that we humans can adapt to climate change, I find it merely a leap from ignorance to complacency, skipping over taking responsibility and taking action. Why do we spend so much energy, spin and hyberbole arguing against taking action of any kind. We could all take lots of action right away, in our personal lives and in our work. But, no, let's all just sit back, pick up the remote, and believe in a new god that will save us: "adaptation".

In nature, adaptation takes place over billions of years. The change we are talking about is a blink of a geological eye and is accelerating. Nothing will adapt very well to this.

That is not to say that we shouldn't be planning to deal with the effects, because they are indeed underway and gaining momentum. But, again, that is really planning and taking action, still not "adaptation".

Humans are so disconnected from reality (aka nature) that we don't even realize how tightly we are tied to natural forces and how dependent we are on nature functioning properly. If climate change continues unabated, there is nothing that we will be able to do so salvage anything that resembles our civilization, if one can call it that.

And I second those that call for wise and compasionate population control; if we don't control our population, nature will control it for us. Population is the exponent that makes our lifestyle untenable.

Posted by: Holly Robbins on 17 Feb 07

Thanks, Holly, for your uncommon comments. If it please you, Chad and others, please respond to what follows.

The idea of the songwriter, John Mayer, may not be sufficient. It may not be adaptive or even make good sense to be found “waiting for the world to change.?

On the other hand we could surely benefit from looking carefully at the words and actions of one of our greatest leaders. And, yes, it pleases me so that he is one of my generation of elders. He is not like most of us, however, the ones who have fallen into fatuous complacency, mortgaged our children’s future to promote our patently unsustainable lifestyles et cetera. This great human being understands the value and signiticance of cultural change when that becomes necessary. He is a 1990 Nobel Laureate and his name is Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.

Not so long ago he called for a shift…......for cultural change. The words he used to describe the needed behavior change among the people he represented were GLASNOST and PERESTROIKA.

Perhaps a shift in human behaviors among those in today’s predominant culture has at least something to do with the kinds of change proclaimed by Mr. Gorbachev. At least to me, this great man called for changes in human behavior that he realized were maladaptive and destructive of the community he served. For people to choose to ex-change unsustainable behaviors for ones that are sustainable would plainly and transparently lead to greater adaptability and survivability of the human community, I suppose.

I would like to invoke now the words of another great person and, also, and outstanding scientist by the name of Dr. Russell Hopfenberg. “GIVEN THE PSYCHOLOGICAL, SOCIAL, BIOLOGICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS THAT OUR ‘INCREASE CULTURE’ HAS PRODUCED, IT SEEMS A CULTURAL SHIFT WOULD AMELIORATE THESE CONDITIONS.?

Kind regards,


Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on 19 Feb 07

I'm glad to read the latest comments, about the cultural dimension. The problem with the "deal with the problems" theme is not that it has no validity but that it is reaffirmation of a long history of "we don't have to live with nature we're in charge now." It is a culturally hard, mechanistic view, which pays no attention to the basic fact of living organisms which is balancing between polarities.

Life, ecology, consciousness, identity, society are all homeostatic. Thinking we can simply "fix things" is machine-think. Do it when you have no choice, but don't let it rigidify your whole outlook.

And finally, if we imagine we'll simply start to fix things for people living in climatic trouble spots, what's our history? We're still too immature to respond to challenges at the social level until there's some substantial threat to our own well-being.

Posted by: John H. Beck on 21 Feb 07



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