Over at the Vox website, David Roberts (formerly of Grist and author of the famous statement “When we’ve finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we’re in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards—some sort of climate Nuremberg“) is writing again on climate change.
Roberts is arguing against what I guess you could call ‘premature adaptation,’ criticizing those who blithely dismiss the effects of climate change by noting that we have a pretty good track record of adapting to whatever Nature has thrown our way. Of course, Roberts is writing on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a prime example of where we didn’t adapt (despite numerous warnings), but to Robert’s credit he doesn’t push on that.
But Roberts does think our confidence is misplaced. He writes, “In fact, if climate change remains unchecked, there will be multiple simultaneous disasters: heat waves, droughts in key agricultural areas, rising sea levels and more frequent floods, food shortages, resource conflicts, and mass migrations. Even if we think it’s better to adapt to those things, we are certainly nowhere near prepared at present.”
If only he had ended his article there I could almost agree with him. Sadly, he then creates a mini-morality play. Roberts writes that mitigation is good because it helps the world. Adaptation is, well, not exactly bad, but an inferior choice because its effects are local. “In other words, mitigation is an altruistic, universalist undertaking. Jesus would dig it. Adaptation is very different. It is not global but local, not universal in impact but highly targeted. A billion dollars of mitigation helps everyone a little bit; a billion dollars of adaptation helps a few people a lot. Specifically, adaptation helps people who have the luck to live in areas that can afford it.”
To the extent that he is correct, he is unintentionally reinforcing the Lukewarmer argument. Because the ethically superior choice, the choice we have been advocating for a couple of decades now, is that our responsibility does not end with mitigation.
Lukewarmers don’t reject mitigation, despite accusations of such. We do ask that it be effective, rationally evaluated for cost vs. benefits, etc. But Lukewarmers support mitigation efforts ranging from a carbon tax to energy efficiency to cleaning up black soot to supporting renewable energy and much, much more.
But alongside mitigation, our true ethical responsibility is to help the developing world (and the poorer residing in developed countries) to gain the resources to make their own decisions regarding both mitigation and adaptation. We are past the point where it can be justified for politicians, NGOs and lobbyists to agitate against the decision of a sovereign nation like India to exploit coal to further its own development. What we need to be prepared to do is to help them use cleaner coal, distribute its benefits widely enough and quickly enough that it becomes redundant before global warming takes its toll, so the Indian people can join the fight instead of participating in a supplicants’ Pilgrimage.
The day of the Great White Father has passed. We should not allow it to be replaced by a day of a Great Green Gaia, as interpreted for us all by the priests of the global warming religion.
Adaptation is a normal human response. Mitigation is a public good and should be encouraged. But resiliency to empower people to act according to their own values and beliefs is by far the best.
Even on a day when the Chinese stock market is scaring the world, the world is growing steadily wealthier. If we continue down the road we are on, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and even Nigeria will be wealthy enough and strong enough to resist, adapt and yes, overcome the difficulties that climate change will put in our path.
Despite the daily headlines suggesting the opposite, human contributions to climate change have yet to make an impact on this planet. Droughts are not stronger or more intense, no matter what Californians might say. Nor are floods or hurricanes or typhoons. Sea level has risen this century by less than the height of the preceding paragraph.
We cannot, must not, allow the hysterics of the world to interfere with the most successful transition this world has ever attempted–the elimination of poverty, the reduction of child and maternal mortality, the provision of access to clean water and adequate food to all and the conquest of diseases that decimated the poor in just the very recent past.
So when Roberts is ready to convene his Nuremberg Trial for deniers, I’ll volunteer, even though I don’t fit the description. His approach is misguided, his ignorance is startling and his prescription is vacuous and wrong. Although he claims to speak with moral authority, as if it is the voice from above, in fact it is only conventional wisdom he parrots, amplified by the echo chamber of which he is part. It is ‘Thus spaketh the NGO,’ not Zarathustra.