Adapting to Climate Change Doesn’t = Raising the White Flag

By Keith Kloor | February 20, 2013 11:24 am

Remember when:

Just a decade ago, ‘adaptation’ was something of a dirty word in the climate arena — an insinuation that nations could continue with business as usual and deal with the mess later.

That’s Olive Heffernan, reminiscing several months ago in Nature. She goes on to say:

But greenhouse-gas emissions are increasing at an unprecedented rate and countries have failed to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty. That stark reality has forced climate researchers and policy-makers to explore ways to weather some of the inevitable changes.

Heffernan’s piece is all about current approaches and projects that aim to make the world more resilient to climate change. (Another reason why the resilience concept is in tune with the times.) She quotes Jon Barnett, a political geographer at the University of Melbourne in Australia:

As progress to reduce emissions has slowed in most countries, there has been a turn towards adaptation.

This shift has been several years in the making. Now this doesn’t mean climate activists should concede defeat and governments should stop trying to reign in greenhouse gases. It just means we’re on a new playing field, which the Daily Beast captures nicely in this piece and headline from yesterday:

Welcome to the Politics of Climate Change: Adapt and Avert

There is already much new discussion along these lines taking place every day at the local, community level. As these conversations move forward, they will have to make clear that living with climate change doesn’t mean giving up on doing something about it.

[Roof top island above Chicago’s City Hall. Additional information.]
  • Tom Scharf

    Plan for preventing climate change: Embrace progressive values.

    Plan for adapting to climate change: Embrace progressive values.

  • John Russell

    One thing is dead certain: every time we accept an adaption to climate change we’ll wish we had taken action to prevent it.

    • bobito

      Can you offer a reasonable proposal for what could be done to prevent adaptation? I’ve yet to see one that could do anything other than postpone the need for adaptation.

  • hudasx

    First, for many developing countries and vulnerable locations adaptation is the only option. Second, unlike ozone depletion there is absolutely no sign you can prevent climate change before you need to worry about its impacts. Third, every measure you take towards adaptation solves an existing problem, with or without climate change.

  • jh

    “countries have failed to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol”

    A victory for common sense and a bitter defeat for the left’s effort to find a scientific basis to give tons of other people’s money away.

    “Another reason why the resilience concept is in tune
    with the times”

    I’m trying to think of a time when people sought to be nonresillient, easily defeated, broken etc. I think the resilience concept is in tune with a new way for the talking heads to market the same old talking.

    I’ll make a prediction: in 5-10yrs time, the happy feelings imbued by the Resilience Tonic will fade, and people trying to sell new elixers and potions to the public will be doing so under some new brand name. At the same time, the reality on the ground will follow the same financial logic it always has, less a few rotting hulks scattered about the landscape, who’s captains thought the Resillience Tonic would wash away all their troubles.

  • prasad

    The same exact dynamic is going to play out with geoengineering, especially with carbon capture, though maybe also with solar radiation management if things get bad enough. It turns out tabooing real world discussions as ‘dirty’ (and embracing ideal world fantasizing) in fact doesn’t accomplish much. Who’da thunk it?


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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