There are two approaches to dealing with climate change–mitigation, which means stopping it before it happens, and adaptation, which means dealing with the effects.
Climate activists are heavily predisposed in favor of mitigation. They say (quite rightly) that mitigation measures, such as eliminating CO2 emissions, help globally, while adaptation is always a local measure. Raising a seawall helps those living behind it, not those in faraway places. This means that adaptation favors the richer countries, while reducing emissions, for example, is a global strategy.
While there is quite a bit of truth in their argument, it leaves a lot unsaid. Specifically, it doesn’t take into account that poorer countries need help adapting to the climate of today. The Philippines, to take just one example, are battered furiously almost every year by tropical storms. Most of the 100 million living there are at the mercy of the elements. Far too many live at the water’s edge and have to flee every time there’s a storm. Almost every developing country has a similar climate issue to deal with.
Estimates of how much infrastructure is needed to bring the world up to a decent level of protection from the elements are varied and often seem conjured out of thin air. But $1 trillion is one of the figures given and it seems certain it would do a lot of good.
If we build infrastructure to help people cope with today’s climate, it is very easy to add in a margin to deal with the climate change activists fear is coming. There would be no reason not to–the planet has unquestionably warmed since 1880 and there’s no reason to think it will suddenly stop warming. Whether it is human caused in whole or in part is irrelevant to this discussion. It seems likely to continue and we should help poorer countries prepare for it.
The $100 billion per year that is now the ask at Paris’ COP 21 would be far better utilized in repair of shorelines flood plains and aquifers. Let’s spend the first decade’s worth of that money, if it ever appears, on the problems caused by today’s climate.
Instead of bringing down an illusory ceiling on emissions, something that certainly seems more talk than substance, let’s build a concrete floor of infrastructure below which no country needs to go. Let’s build in a margin for warmer weather, just in case–but let’s save today’s lives today in hopes that those who are saved will develop the strength (they already have the will) to contribute to saving tomorrow’s lives as well.
Let’s call it ‘Pre-Adaptation,’ give all the credit to James Hansen and Michael Mann, Bill McKibben and Al Gore, (for credit seems to be what they so dearly crave) and get on with it.