Adaptation to Climate Change

I have had the privilege of living in London, Turin, San Francisco, Shanghai and Taipei over the last 20 years. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Each of those cities is different in different ways. One way in which they are very different is their climate.

I bring this up to introduce the topic of adaptation. After a week going on (and on) about mitigation, it’s time to change the subject.

If mitigation is not successful in reversing whatever climate change is coming our way, we shall have to adapt. For a species that has robust communities in the Arctic and the Sahara, adapting to 2C or even 4C doesn’t sound like much of a challenge.

My own experience suggests that adaptation to differing climates is certainly possible–but it brings noticeable changes and you have to actually consider it. The daily pattern of your life does change. It can affect your work, your travel plans and your love life. Here in Taipei I go jogging (well, shuffling…) early in the morning. In London I went in the evening.

The infrastructure of the cities I have lived in are built around expectations of a certain range of temperatures, precipitation and even pollution. Streets are surfaced differently, buildings have different interiors and exteriors, drainage is very different.

London and Turin are built along the Thames and the Po rivers respectively. Each city has different ways of preparing for flood and drought. San Francisco is at the tip of a peninsula on the Pacific and a lot of it is built on landfill. Shanghai is a low lying city in the Yangtze River Delta bordering the East China Sea. Taipei is on the northern tip of an island and is bordered by the Keelung and Xindian rivers.

All of these cities could survive 2C or 4C of temperature rises and its attendant climatic consequences, increased precipitation and sea level rise. But it would not be automatic or easy. It would be expensive and time consuming. People would be relocated. Transportation would be disrupted. Buildings would have to be renovated and reinforced. Sewers would have to be rebuilt and defenses against rivers and seas built higher and tougher. But they are modern, wealthy cities and they would find a way to thrive.

I have visited other cities built low to the ground and near the seas–Manila, Singapore, etc. I think they would have a much tougher time of it, mostly because of the expense involved. They have just as many active and intelligent people as the cities where I have lived. But it takes money to build seawalls, relocate sewers, elevate buildings, etc. It also takes time.

The megacities of the developing world are growing so quickly that they struggle to meet the needs of their people with today’s climate. They are projected to keep growing as quickly as they have in the past two decades. Most of these megacities are in harms way from existing climate and that harm will increase if temperatures, precipitation and sea levels rise.

I’m not worried about Miami–it would probably get richer as the new Venice than it is today. I am worried about Mumbai, good portions of which are already below sea level.


I will be writing more about adaptation this week, perhaps not as much as I did about mitigation.

I hope you all are as generous about sharing your thoughts as you were last week.

6 responses to “Adaptation to Climate Change

  1. This is a worthy topic, one that the climate consensus dutifully avoids discussing realistically.
    By the way, don’t worry about Mumbai too much. As New Orleans demonstrates, it takes more than weather events, geological challenges, corruption and incompetence to defeat humans.
    I look forward to reading your thoughts on this important topic.

  2. I wonder how accurate sea level forecasts are. I have seen studies that attribute a third of sea level rise in the last fifty years to aquifer depletion. There are even factors that have not been sufficiently studied, such as the dimpling effect of wells on aquifers that are rather rapidly recharged.

    Here in the Midwest, much is made of the recent rise in humidity due to “global warming” but no one is saying much about our neighbors to the west spraying the vast contents of the Oglala aquifer into the air with pivot irrigation.

    • Sea level forecasts by alarmists have been useless. There is no reason to think that will change. Sea level forecasts by skeptics have been accurate. Since they are based on reality, there is no reason that should change either.

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