April 7, 2014, by Brigitte Nerlich
There has recently been a lot of talk about adaptation in the context of climate change. The Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (WGII AR5), published last week, certainly referred to adaptation quite often. This is not surprising, as WG2 deals with “pervasive risks” posed by climate change and opportunities for effective responses to such risks. There were also some voices, generally critical of IPCC reports, who talked about adaptation. What struck me as peculiar was that talking about adaptation seems to be acceptable in both types of talk (what one my call IPCC supportive and IPCC critical talk). However, talking about mitigation, is generally not seen as acceptable in the latter type of discourse.
Mitigation and adaptation
I started to wonder why that was. Mitigation is generally defined as the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something – and in the case of climate change reducing greenhouse gas emissions is seen as such an action. This means if you accept that mitigation is necessary, you also accept various general tenets of climate science. You also accept various projections about how future climates might develop over time. If, however, you have concerns that these futures are severely overstated, that they are ‘alarmist’ and even unknowable, you will shrink away from talking about mitigation. Adaptation by contrast seems to be seen as something good to think about across the two types of talk, the IPCC supportive and the IPCC critical ones.
Indeed, adaptation is hailed by some as being ‘a good idea’, even outside discussions of climate change and/or global warming, indeed as something that lies, it seems, outside alarmist discourses. In a recent article for The Spectator Matt Ridley wrote: “Nigel Lawson was right after all. Ever since the Centre for Policy Studies lecture in 2006 that launched the former chancellor on his late career as a critic of global warming policy, Lord Lawson has been stressing the need to adapt to climate change, rather than throw public money at futile attempts to prevent it. Until now, the official line has been largely to ignore adaptation and focus instead on ‘mitigation’ — the misleading term for preventing carbon dioxide emissions.”
So, there is some resistance to trying to ‘prevent’ climate change, but some acceptance of trying to ‘adapt’ [to climate change]. For me that throws up questions about how we think about the future, and highlights different ways in which one might want to think about the future (or as some might call it ‘anticipatory governance‘ of the world we want to live in). In the first case you look at the future ‘in the long run’ and also quite globally; in the second case you look at the future ‘now’ and also quite locally. The first option makes you think about future generations not only in one place, but all over the place. The second option makes you think about current generations within the place you want to protect from foods, droughts etc. But is that possible? Can current and localized protection work without taking into consideration future and global prevention? More importantly, how do you make decisions about adaptation here and now without knowledge of what level, say, of flooding you have to adapt to and whether certain local levels of flooding may be prevented by more global action.
IPCC reports have talked about mitigation and adaptation for many years; since around 1988. As future impacts of climate change and risks posed by climate change became clearer, it became also clearer that in a context where mitigation is not occurring, adaptation may have to be emphasized more. This seems to have happened in the most recent IPCC report.
Between the two concepts of mitigation and adaptation lies the concept of modification. All three concepts deal with change or changing something; they are procedural concepts. They allow us to think about how we want to live and how we can live in a changing world. As far as the IPCC is concerned, the world is changing in so far as it’s getting warmer. In order to cope with this change humans can try to slow this process down through mitigation and they can also attempt to live with the effects of this change through adaptation. These two options are political options based on what scientists have found out about the world and have summarized in various IPCC reports. If we accept that the world is warming, which seems to be accepted by both those championing mitigation and those championing adaptation, then modifying the ways we live in the world seems to be necessary. I am genuinely puzzled why the two ways of modifying our ways of life through mitigation and adaptation have to be seen as exclusive choices rather than as genuinely compatible ones.
How high should the wall be?
The problem lies, in my view, in trying to understand to what you adapt TO; basically you have to decide how high the wall is supposed to be that you want to build. To know that, you also have to know about the seize of the thing that you want to keep out with your wall. If you regard the IPCC pronouncements as over-statements, that is as alarmist, you will build a lower wall. But how do you know that this is the right height or will be in the long run? That seems a real conundrum. This conundrum is compounded by the fact that both the seize of the wall (adaptation) and the seize of the thing the wall is supposed to keep out (which depends on mitigated or unmitigated climate change) are (at least for a little while) under your control. So, it seems to me that adaptation and mitigation are interdependent and it is good to know as much as possible about both. Can one actually do short-term adaptation without knowing about the long-term effects of climate change, and this includes the effects of climate change mitigation?
Image: Hadrian’s Wall Wikimedia Commons
All nicely theoretical and academic. But adaptation is about real people doing (or not doing) real things. Building things, changing things, moving things.
And the significant practical point about adaptation is that *you can do it as you go along*. You don’t need a huge overarching theory and 100 or 1000 year predictions to be right or wrong. Any climate-related changes to any real things that affect us will be very slow and very predictable. We can sensibly use planning horizons of just 25/50 years and we’ll be fine.
Take sealevel. I work in London by the River Thames. If you watched the start of the University Boat Race yesterday, you’d have glimpsed my office. The river there is tidal..with a range of 10+ feet. There’s a river wall, constructed so that even the highest tides get only to about 18″ from the top.
In 100 years it’s estimated that sealevel will have gone up by a foot. Great. next time we do some renovation work to the existing wall, we can add another couple of bricks to it. That’s a nuisance, but not a show stopper and will give us that extra foot. Or maybe we’re extra prudent and put four bricks up and buy us 2 feet. Then keep a watch. Maybe in 50 years time we need to do it again if the sea has risen faster than expected. Or maybe we can defer it for another 50 years. We can make our minds up in the light of experience..not in the belief in unvalidated ‘models’
This is the way people have progressed over the years. As circumstances change we adapt to them. And the more we learn about climate the more likely it is that its just one more of those very slow changes that we need to keep an eye on….but nothing that forces us to change our highly successful adaptation methods that have served us well.
I am not against adaptation. And I agree with you that adaptation can and should be an incremental process. That is what adaptation is. However, I think the more information we can gather about how, where, how much to adapt is useful, as well as discussions about the reasons why adaptation is actually occuring or necessary.
And just a further thought. Maybe the reason why adaptation is such a forbidden topic in ‘polite society is that it’s a pragmatic, local data driven technique. And the people making the decisions (how big a wall? what crops to plant? how much aircon?) don’t need to be climate specialists at all. Nor do they need a Big Theory of Climate. Or further lessons in Climate Communication (aka propaganda). Just a good understanding of their immediate situations and problems.
And treating ‘climate’ as just another extension of everyday events .. to be dealt with as part of everything else – rather than as a Special Subject – renders the Climatocracy redundant. No wonder they are bovvered about it.
Conspiracy theories are rarely helpful Latimer! and with many examples of extant and potential problems in our modern world, an “I’m OK with my foot-higher wall, so everything’s OK” self-interestedness is likely to be ultimately unproductive. If one listens to individuals with informed insight into real and potential consequences of global warming with respect to sea levels, water supply and coastal storm damage (e.g. US admirals Samuel Lockyear and David Titley-recently retired) you’ll find them far less sanguine and far more concerned than you are about the effects of global warming on coastal life and infrastructure.
If one considers the possibilities for more catastrophic events like Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, one might question whether adaptation is such a comfy “pragmatic, local data driven technique”, unless you consider that abandoning large swathes of coastal areas and cities, destruction of businesses and loss of home with huge insurance claims and many deaths to be “pragmatic, local data driven techniques”. Personally speaking, and with due respect, I consider the thoughts of US admirals on the consequences of global warming to be worth considering…
Some very pragmatic choices were certainly made during the UK winter floods in order to protect ‘key infrastructures’… this makes me think that one may have to give more thought to the politics and economics of adaptation between communities, nations and also globally, that is, who wins, who loses, who and what is sacrificed for the sake of whom and what….
Yes indeed Brigitte. These choices underlie the reasons why, for example, US admirals Lockyear and Titley consider that the real world effects of global warming in the future will be a real threat to global security. Once you engender “choices” with winners and losers you pretty much guarantee escalation of conflicts. It’s a major reason that geoengineering “solutions” to the consequences of unmitigated global warming are decidedly problematic (putting aside their technological problems)!
No conspiracy needed at all. Just individuals acting in their own self-interests.
If you have made a career out of being involved in Grand Gestures of Global Mitigation, it is unlikely that you will welcome the idea that such gestures are unnecessary or impractical. That there are lots of you in the same boat doesn’t mean you are conspiring.
I have written a round-up of recent adaptation articles, and posted up a short article by Robin Guenier.
Some of the arguments against drastic mitigation are (a) Despite years of efforts, mitigation has failed – emissions are rising. (b) Some countries have backed away from the Kyoto agreement, and many developing countries whose emissions are growing strongly were never signed up to it. (c) Current UK policy has increased bills, putting the poor into fuel poverty while enriching wealthy landowners who can install wind turbines, and led to absurdities such as chopping down trees in the US and bringing them here to burn at Drax. (d) A strong economy with a decent energy supply will be better able to cope with the future than an impoverished one.
The crucial point that Robin Guenier makes, which I think Brigitte misses, and I missed myself until he pointed it out, is that these arguments apply whether or not you accept the projections of temperature rises and associated ill effects. As Robin puts it frequently, from a policy perspective, there is no point bickering about the science.
Thanks. I’ll have to think about that. And thanks for the round-up. However, I don’t quite get why talking about mitigation and perhaps failures in mitigation seems to be equated with ‘bickering about science’. But, as I said, have to think. First some teaching and stuff.
As I suggested in a post below (April 8th, 10:14 pm), mitigation hasn’t failed -it’s a continual process whose effects are likely increasingly to accrue.
And as you say “A strong economy with a decent energy supply will be better able to cope with the future than an impoverished one.” However that rather by-passes the point that an economy battered by the effects of climate change might find it increasingly difficult to adapt to the very consequences of your apparently preferred no-mitigation policy.
Mitigation will ultimately win the day of course, assuming there is still a day to be won. After all the very future (and we’re not talking more than a couple of centuries into the future) of humankind as an industrial species requires the realignment of our societies towards renewable, sustainable energy supply. There simply isn’t a future otherwise as I’m sure you agree. So it’s a balance between mitigation and adaptation. We hope that mitigation will be sufficiently timely that we don’t plunge ourselves into a state whereby adaptation is simply too punitive to engender a productive transition to societies powered by sustainable energy…
Brigitte: as I think you recognise, the basic difference between adaptation and mitigation is that the first is essentially local whereas the second must be global – that’s so because the substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that many scientists say are necessary can be made only if all major emitters contribute. However, as I demonstrate in the paper to which Paul has kindly provided a link, all major emitters are not going to contribute. So there will be no substantial (if any) reduction: “the ways we live in the world” are not going to be modified and we will have to live with the consequences. For the UK, that’s not a matter of choice or of “political option”. But the UK can – and should – choose to prioritise adaptation. And, to adapt successfully, requires a strong economy based, as Paul notes, on reliable and affordable energy.
That doesn’t mean of course that we should ignore developments in scientists’ understanding of the climate – nor cease to contribute to that understanding. Plainly, if we are to adapt successfully to change, it’s essential that we have the best possible information about what changes to expect. And, as you and Latimer agree, the great thing about adaptation is that it’s an incremental process: “you can do it as you go along.”
Incidentally, my reference to “bickering about the science” was mainly addressed to those climate change sceptics who seem to believe the best way to persuade the British government to change its climate policies is to note, for example, uncertainties in the scientific findings. That’s obviously not working. My argument is that the policies should be changed because they’re pointless – whatever the truth about the science.
I largely agree with you. Adaptation is a good strategy, whatever the weather/climate, so to speak. However, from my listening in to what one may call the political bickering, my impression is that those advocating adaptation do so in opposition to those advocating mitigation (or rather, one might say, those advocating mitigation cum adaptation) and by positioning the latter as alarmists and so on. I think this bickering is rather counter-productive. Mitigation, although aimed at the global can have direct local benefits (e.g. air quality, water quality, job creation etc.). Furthermore, it might be the case that in a world where economies play catch-up with each other emissions may not drop as much as we might like, but that does not mean that advocating business as usual for everybody is a good idea either, as emissions would increase even faster and further, leading to a situation where perhaps all the best-intentioned adaptation in the world (and all over the world) may become futile (ok that’s alarmist ;))…
But we’ve tried ‘mitigation’ over the last twenty-odd years and its been a complete failure. Before we go ahead with further doses of it, can you give some reasons to think that even more of it might have some effect this time?
Adaptation is local, observation driven, can be implemented relatively quickly by people who have real personal interests in the outcome.
Mitigation has none of those success characteristics. It might (though I haven’t seen any evidence that it is) be a good idea in theory. But at a practical, ‘making it happen’ level its dreadful. Its too remote a concept for most individuals to take to their hearts (and wallets). And there are far too many competing interests ever to achieve a workable global agreement.
Better a theoretically incomplete plan that can be actually done than a beautifully thought out one that just won’t get off the drawing board. That’s just a waste of time, blood and treasure.
But Brigitte you seem to have missed my point. I’m not opposed to mitigation because those advocating it are “alarmists and so on”; I’m opposed to it because it’s pointless – irrespective of the merits or demerits of the scientific debate. It’s pointless because, as I demonstrate in my paper, the major emitters are not going to reduce their emissions.
I don’t understand your view that mitigation can have local benefits. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is only be relevant in a global context: it has no bearing on the improvement of local air or water quality. I’m a serious environmentalist and I agree that a lot should be done to improve both – reduction in particulates for example. But GHG mitigation is not part of it. As for job creation, you’re surely not suggesting that we should spend public money on pointless activity so as to create jobs?
Moreover, it’s not a matter of emissions not dropping “as much as we might like” – the clear evidence is that, far from dropping, they’re going to increase. And, given our 1.3% share of global emissions, there’s nothing we can do to change that. We have no choice: we have to do our utmost to adapt. As Latimer says, it’s something we can actually do.
Hmm, I am not an expert, but it seems to me to be common sense that engaging in greenhouse gas emissions reductions can have local ‘side effects’, such as improving air quality…
As for mitigation and adaptation, what I am trying to argue is that you can’t have the one without the other, that there needs to be an integrated approach. To misquote Kant: Adaptation without mitigation is blind; mitigation without adaptation is empty (http://askaphilosopher.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/kant-on-empty-thoughts-and-blind-intuitions/).
Happily Robin, a great many people with knowledge and influence don’t consider mitigation to be “pointless”! It’s a massive part of the future. We WILL have to adapt to the consequences of greenhouse-enhanced global warming. We WILL have to mitigate against the most severe consequence of enhanced greenhouse global warming. I expect that we (and our descendants) WILL come up with a workable balance between the benefits of mitigation and the costs of adaptation. There’s a surprising amount of work towards mitigation already achieved that will have increasing benefit as time progresses and especially as the economic and societal costs of fossil fuel use increase.
Note that you didn’t “demonstrate” anything in your “paper” – you asserted stuff in an opinion piece! One can choose to take that or leave it 🙂
What I demonstrated, Chris, is that those responsible for most GHG emissions have no intention of making reductions now (or for some time to come): for further detail see my post addressed to you below. That’s not opinion – it’s fact, backed by abundant evidence. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?
I didn’t (and don’t) say that mitigation – per se – is pointless. I said that Britain’s attempt to prevent the current global rise in emissions is pointless. I was addressing the UK’s present climate change policies. I agree with your opinion that it may well be that mitigation is “a massive part of the future” (assuming, of course, that we have a future and are not overwhelmed by the consequences of continued emissions). But that’s a different issue altogether: as I say below, I believe the UK could make an important contribution to the development of truly efficient renewable systems.
Hi Brigitte. Thanks for this thoughtful article. You write ‘As far as the IPCC is concerned, the world is changing in so far as it’s getting warmer’. It is not just the IPCC who have reached this conclusion on the basis of the empirical evidence. In fact, I think it would be very difficult to find anyone who would deny the world is getting warmer.
nobody here has denied the world has got warmer,. dare I say 97% of so called ‘sceptics’ will happily acknowledge the world has got warmer from 1850 …
This issue was discussed on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, and there is a BBC article here. Roger Harrabin says, based on seeing the draft IPCC WG3 report, that it will say that the world needs a Plan B, since it looks as though governments are not reducing carbon emissions. He says
“The final draft report to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) adopts a new tone of realism in the face of repeated failures by governments to meet their rhetoric on climate change with action.”
Thanks for this link. The Plan B type of talk will be interesting to observe. See https://www.academia.edu/1133569/Nerlich_B._and_Jaspal_R._2012_._Metaphors_we_die_by_Geoengineering_metaphors_and_the_argument_from_catastrophe._Metaphor_and_Symbol._27_2_131-147
And the word ‘realism’ deserves a separate post!
There’s no question that adaptation is a significant part of the response to greenhouse-induced warming already accrued and still to come. The question remains the costs of the adaptation and the wider (monetary and social) costs associated with insufficient mitigation in the face of multiple impacts associated with increased warming.
To take Latimer Alder’s example of his office by the Thames and the ease of building a brick wall a little higher (2 feet may be more likely than 1 foot by 2100): that doesn’t sound too onerous an adaptation – however adaptation to multiple impacts will be required – the increased threats of greater storm surges in a world with much more energy in the climate system, and the enhanced rainfall in the extratropics that we are likely already seeing in the UK. Multiply worldwide with additional and different sets of adverse impacts. At some point the costs of adaptation will certainly outdo the costs of mitigation.
Latimer’s mention of the boat race is apposite! Cambridge chose to steer a dangerous course (much like the world is very likely doing wrt greenhouse gases) in the expectation of an advantage which didn’t accrue. They could have mitigated against calamity (don’t dice with danger of blade clashing) but chose to take a risk that didn’t pay off. They were forced into a completely unproductive adaptation (struggle on with a partly incapacitated #2). Perhaps an analogy wrt the worlds progression into the near and mid-term future…
Latimer’s suggestion that mitigation has been a “complete failure” is incorrect. Mitigation can’t be turned on ready-constructed like a light switch! The examples of several countries (e.g. Sweden, Germany) indicate that transitions to major sourcing of renewable energy can be done in a competitive economic environment and these countries will likely be the winners as technologies and economies of scale bring renewable energy costs down and the direct and indirect costs of fossil fuels rises.
All of this has been progressing during the past 2 decades, to a considerable extent in response to our understanding of the science -this is certainly a major element of mitigation; a little of this has been realised so far and quite a lot more will be realised in the future.
“I am genuinely puzzled why the two ways of modifying our ways of life through mitigation and adaptation have to be seen as exclusive choices rather than as genuinely compatible ones.”
An article by Andrew Lilico, We can adapt to climate change, or we can try to mitigate it. Not both considers exactly this point (see also his previous article linked from there). He says adaptation requires a strong economy to pay for it, with low energy costs, while mitigation involves slower economic growth and higher energy costs. I can see his point, though I feel he overstates it. But this is economics and politics, which I think is outside the comfort zone of most of us here.
I would have thought you’d be able to identify the dreary logical flaws in Lilico’s arguments, Paul.
incidentally I love his “…educating the poor…”! Clearly an “article” encompassing a great deal of thought! 🙂
Yes I saw that but, like you, I feel not knowledgeable enough about economic issues.
Brigitte: as I demonstrate in this paper, “global greenhouse emissions are growing and will continue to grow”. If I’m right – and I’ve heard no convincing argument to the contrary – mitigation has failed and will continue to fail. That’s not because mitigation doesn’t have the potential for success but because the big emitters, responsible for over 80% of emissions, refuse to curtail their GHG emissions. Therefore, any attempt by the UK (about 1% of emissions) to mitigate would be pointless. In other words, we would get all the disadvantages of mitigation and none of the advantages. In contrast, adaptation – local not global – provides only advantages. It’s our only choice.
Chris: if you can detect any “dreary logical flaws” in my paper, I’d be most interested to hear about them.
Robin, the “dreary logical flaws” were in reference to the Andrew Lilico piece that Paul Matthews presented to us.
In fact at one level you’re right…Global greenhouse emissions are growing and will continue to do so. However they won’t keep on growing and at some point they will drop, hopefully mostly as a result of joined-up mitigation policies (as opposed to global economic decline as a result of futile attempts at adaptation). The efforts at mitigation that we put in place now (especially via technological development of sustainable non-greenhouse gas emitting energy sources) will increasingly define the point at which our switch towards renewables and the reduction of emissions takes place (the other factor will be the increasing monetary and recognised societal costs of fossil fuel emissions). So mitigation policies are definitively not “pointless” as you assert.
If there is a logical flaw in your assertions it is that what you consider to be the case now will be the case in the future… 🙂
Why do you find it necessary to keep trotting out your strawman claim that I’m saying mitigation policies are pointless? That’s not my position at all – an extract from my paper:
That’s it: there’s no point in trying to stop something that, as you agree, is going to happen anyway. But that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to our focusing on technological developments re renewables that may help in the future (assuming we have the opportunity – see below). On the contrary, as I point out elsewhere, we could make a substantial contribution to such developments.
Incidentally, I’m most interested in your repeated implication that, although GHG emissions will rise, we’ll still have time to take remedial action in the future. That must mean you disagree with what I understand is the “mainstream” scientific view that, unless the world makes substantial emissions reductions now, we face most serious, some say catastrophic, problems. Here for example is an extract from the IPCC’s recently published 5th Assessment Review (AR5):
I’d be most interested to know why you disagree with that position. (BTW I hope you’re right!)
But how does one establish the parameters for what you call “an optimum course”? Optimum in what way? And for whom? And how does one create policies for “long-term adaptation to whatever climate change may occur”? I am not saying that throwing in mitigation would miraculously make such courses and policies possible, but I wonder whether they are really possible without it (and the science behind it)…
It is quite ironic that the climate change dissenters have little problems with adaptation, but start attacking science when people talk about mitigation. All the more as we can estimate how much CO2 emissions need to be reduced to stay belong a certain temperature increase using basic physics and observations of past climatic changes. For adaptation we need local information, which necessitates climate models, which the dissenter claim to distrust so much. For the local information, the changes in the circulation due to climate change would also need to be right. A momentous task.
I would personally expect that the opposition to adaptation is because that helps your own group, whereas mitigation would also help other groups. Also psychologically stressful may be that mitigation would mean that other help us and that we would need to collaborate with strangers.
Do you mean ‘acceptance of adaptation is because that helps your own group’?
If you mean that, I think you might have a point. It’s only just dawning on me that once you think about adaptation seriously it is a bit like throwing a pebble in a pond. There are wider and wider issues to consider, not just the local impact and protection it might offer.
Yes, sorry, that was a typo.
I don’t think you have quite grasped the essential point about adaptation. It is incremental and responsive to *what actually happens*. It is an entirely pragmatic approach. Whether the models are right or wrong is immaterial. It is what the observations are doing that drives the decisions. Revisit every 25 years and adapt as needed.
And from a very pragmatic – making it happen – perspective it has the huge advantage that those who pay the price of adaptation are in general those who gain the benefit. People who live in London and who see rising sealevel (if it does) will be much more willing to pay for a seawall raising that will keep them safe for twenty years than people in say, Nebraska or the plains of India or the forests of Brazil might be to pay for mitigation that might have some effects to benefit the great great grandchildren of rich Venetians in a hundred years…a city they have never visited nor have any affinity with. Sealevel rise only matters at all if you live within a few metres of high tide…and a huge proportion of humanity don’t. Why should they pay for mitigation, when the coastal residents can put up a few bricks every few years if needed.
And though committted activists might wail and gnash their teeth at the imperfectability of mankind and the short-sightedness of Joe Sixpack and the malign influence of sceptics like me…they ain’t going to change human nature very much. Those do the paying want to see some benefits. Mitigation is far too wishy-washy a vague concept for people to embrace it.
Yes, sea level rise is easy relatively easy and gradual.
However, how will you notice in time that the 100 return levels of strong precipitation, droughts or floods have doubled? Either you have to believe model predictions or suffer the consequences of the first ones.
Sorry Victor – you might want to revisit your last remark as it is so garbled as to be near nonsense.
But enough for me to point out that any doubling of droughts or floods is purely a prediction of the unvalidated models. If it really happens I suspect that after a year of droughts or floods there’ll be quite a fuss for local people to do something about it.
Example: Heathrow Airport snows
A couple of years ago there was national embarrassment when LHR ground to a halt for a few days after a few inches of snow fell. They were entirely ill-prepared for this contingency and had no means of keeping the very busy, very constrained airport operating. Questions asked in Parliament/lots of egg on face of the management.
But in response there is now a shiny new ‘Heathrow snow base’ with lots of gleaming lorries and snow ploughs in the South East corner of the airport. Maybe they’ll never be used. Maybe it’s all a (not very big) waste of money and AGW will at some point mean they were totally pointless. Or maybe next winter will be a tough one and they’ll all come in very handy. But whatever happens it’s a great example of real-life adaptation.
But how had the airport got into such a mess? Snow is an uncommon, but by no means unusual event in SE England. In the past adequate facilities existed. But the airport had expanded and snow clearing facilities hadn’t kept pace. They were a low priority – especially since the prevailing climate orthodoxy was that ‘snow would be a thing of the past’.
And so believing in the soothsayers led the airport management to a position of embarrassment. Responding to what actually happens will (we hope) mean they don’t get caught out again and we can welcome international visitors to London 365 days a year.
A 490 or 285 bus will take you to Richmond or Kingston where you can also view the river walls I described earlier.
PS: I rather dislike being called a ‘dissenter’ because I find the existing climate models to be inadequate for purpose. They may be good at lots of irrelevant academic things..but for the one that matters here – forecasting the climate future with demonstrable skill and accuracy – they have major flaws. Like somebody said …’making predictions is hard – especially about the future’. And its clearly too hard for the models. They don’t do the job.
Chris: I’m no scientist (see the short profile at the end of my paper referred to above), but my understanding is that most climate scientists agree that, unless the world makes substantial GHG cuts now, we face what is likely to be a most uncomfortable, some say catastrophic, future. See this UNEP report. An extract from the Foreword:
But, as I’ve shown – and it seems you agree – such reductions are not going to happen. Indeed, even this gloomy UNEP report is unrealistically optimistic – for example treating China’s (non-binding) carbon-intensity “pledges” as if they were commitments to reduce emissions. But they’re not: in a fast growing economy reduction in intensity (i.e. reduction in emissions per dollar of economic output) still allows overall emissions to rise: LINK. It’s plain that China is not interested in emission reduction: consider Xie Zhenhua’s and Su Wei’s comments here and here. And the same would appear to be true of India and other developing economies – see this for example. Even Bangladesh is developing coal-fired power stations: LINK.
Perhaps all this will change one day – but, even if it does, the above demonstrates that it’s not going to be for a long time. And, if those scientists are right, the world doesn’t have a long time before it makes the needed reductions. Perhaps you think they’re wrong – but I didn’t take you to be one of Victor’s “dissenters”.
So, given this background, there is simply no point in Britain pursuing a policy of mitigation: it can have no meaningful effect on global emission levels and has no local advantages. Yet it has many disadvantages – not least loss of jobs as industry is driven overseas and increasing cost pressure on the poor, the elderly and the most vulnerable in society. Far better to prepare for what the climate may throw at us by building a strong resilient economy based, as I’ve said, on affordable reliable energy – and, as Latimer eloquently argues, focusing on incremental local adaptation.
But just because Britain’s attempts to reduce its emissions are pointless doesn’t mean that we should give up on CO2-free energy: I agree with you about technological development of alternative energy sources. For example, research into finding an economic and large-scale way of storing electricity would have a massive impact on the efficiency of renewable systems. If, as you seem to think, we have more time than the scientists warn (let’s hope so) and you’re right that attitudes to emission reduction will change later this century, a successful storage solution would be an invaluable contribution.
Fair enough Robin…we may have to agree to disagree – I certainly disagree with your policy and psychological/philosophical stance. You are right that emissions are going to continue increasing. However they not going to keep on increasing forever and that seems to be a fundamental point. At some point they will stop increasing and will decrease, hopefully largely as a result of coherent mitigation policies aligned with technological advance. This will also happen because the monetary and social costs of fossil fuel use will become onerous. It is the decisions and attitude towards mitigation that we make/adopt now and in the coming years that will impact on the ultimate greenhouse gas load the world accrues and the timescale over which emissions reduce.
So I disagree that UK and EU policies towards reduction of emissions (mitigation) are pointless. In my opinion they are potentially productive since (i) they WILL make some (small) direct impact on emissions reduction, (ii) they will promote a focus on development of renewable technologies that would be diluted within a philosophy of “pointless”ness, (iii) they will provide a state of preparedness towards increasing use of renewables as fossil fuel use diminishes and (iv) result in economic benefit as renewable technologies become increasingly competitive, (v) they will help maintain political pressure worldwide towards emissions reduction and (vi) they are scientifically (one might also say “morally”) justified – we shouldn’t be avoiding making serious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions just because this is difficult.
Obviously that doesn’t mean that we and the coming generations aren’t going to have to adapt to the consequences of enhanced greenhouse-induced warming. Events like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the recent UK floods suggest that even in the prosperous world we may find it very difficult to be proactively adaptive to the sort of events that increasing global warming are likely to bring (despite Latimer’s palliative of raising his sea wall a foot higher!). I expect our descendants especially are going to suffer a whole load of hardship and expense in reactive adaptation.
As you say, Chris we may have to agree to disagree. But I have some observations on your post:
I agree that “the decisions and attitude towards mitigation that we make/adopt now and in the coming years that will impact on the ultimate greenhouse gas load the world accrues and the timescale over which emissions reduce”. I differ from you, however, because I believe our current decisions and attitudes are wrong.
My reasons are as follows: (i) their impact on emissions (say an overall 20% – if that were possible, which I doubt) would be negligible – see this; (ii) because (a) they’re hardly making any (if any) impact on our emissions let alone on global emissions, because (b) they’re increasingly costing us jobs as major industries are driven overseas, because (c) their costs are increasingly impacting the poor, the elderly and the most vulnerable and because (d) they seem likely in due course to cause power cuts (damaging to society in general and to the most vulnerable in particular), they are most likely to bring the concept of renewables into disrepute – the worst possible way of promoting a focus on renewable development; (iii) for the same reasons, they’re likely to have a negative impact on our preparedness for the needs of the future; (iv) they will provide zero economic benefit – totally unlike the undoubted benefits of the availability of reliable affordable energy, providing for example the best possible underpinning for the development of the new efficient renewable technologies that are necessary and I hope possible; (v) inadequate (and what will, I believe, be seen as primitive) renewable technologies such as we have at present would be a counter-productive example re future worldwide political interest in renewables and (vi) continuing with failing policies has no scientific (or if you like “moral”) justification – quite the reverse.
As for future generations, I wouldn’t presume to guess what their problems and opportunities will be.
Adaption versus mitigation is not the only false dichotomy introduced to sow confusion. The climate debate also introduces an entirely unnecessary dichotomy between “adaptation to a warming planet” versus “adaptation to a planet that’s not warming very much, or at all”.
Briefly, the kind of everyday adaptation which Latimer describes in the first comment is precisely the same, whether your flood or drought or hurricane occurs once a century, once a decade or every year. Filipinos need houses built of concrete, so that the hurricanes that may or may not hit them more frequently than before will kill dozens and not thousands. If they get lower CO2 emissions from the developed countries, they may, just may, get a slightly lower temperature in 50 years time, with slightly less frequent hurricanes. But if the lowering of emissions has a cost (and it does) there’ll be less money to spend on safer houses, and they’ll continue to die in their thousands.
The grandstanding of their UN representative in the wake of the hurricane was understandable as a ploy to get more development aid. But by linking the plight of his country to the global warming story, he risks seeing any extra aid being used for projects which are entirely irrelevant to the country’s needs.
A PS to my reply to Chris above:
You repeat your implication that the inevitable increase in GHG emissions will one day cease and that then remedial action will be possible/necessary. I think you’ll agree that it’s likely to be some (probably many) years before that happens. Therefore, you must believe the world has time before it has to take action – which means you disagree with what I understand is the “mainstream” scientific view that, unless the world makes urgent and substantial emissions reductions, we face most serious, some say catastrophic, problems. Here for example is an extract from the IPCC’s recently published 5th Assessment Review (AR5):
I’d be interested to know why you disagree with that position.
BTW I hope you’re right!
Well yes Robin the increase in greenhouse gas emissions will assuredly cease at some point in the future for a number of reasons likely in response both to adverse impacts/costs of fossil fuel use and enhanced technologies/costs of renewables. Efforts at mitigation involving especially focus on renewable technologies, but also political recognition and discussion of the scientific imperatives can only make a positive impact on the timescales of transitions towards low emission economies.
I’m not sure why that is contradictory to the IPCC 5th Assessment extract you pasted. It’s of course very possible that the rate at which we reduce transitions will be insufficient to mitigate against very damaging impacts and so the net costs (savings due to lack of mitigation minus costs of adaptation) will be negative or even very negative. You suggest that my stance indicates that I believe “the world has time before it has to take action”. In fact I don’t know whether the world has time or not; however I am pretty sure that the more effort we focus on mitigation the more likely it will be that adverse impacts will be minimized. It’s not an all-or-nothing scenario…
Hmm … Chris, to keep this short, I’ll only touch on your vague assertion that GHG emissions “will assuredly cease at some point in the future”. (Within 10 years, 30, 75, 100 … more?) And likewise your interesting observation that it’s “very possible that the rate at which we reduce emissions [I assume “transitions” was a typo] will be insufficient to mitigate against very damaging impacts …”. I say “interesting” because we’ve agreed that, far from being reduced, emissions are most likely to rise over next the several years. (And that’s despite “political recognition and discussion of the scientific imperatives” that have been ongoing for at least 20 years.) I wonder when you expect that predicted reduction to start? You don’t say. All rather vague and not really very helpful.
But at least we agree that there should be a focus on mitigation. But that, I suggest, means a focus on developing new technologies that are effective and affordable – and not on continuing with failed technologies such as those to which I refer (Germany and Denmark) in my reply to Brigitte at 11:47 this morning – see below. The latter would be most likely to bring the concept of mitigation into disrepute.
We don’t know exactly when the increase in emissions will start to reverse, Robin. However we can be confident that more focus we put on mitigation strategies the sooner that transition will take place. The assertion that the increase in emissions will assuredly cease at some point in the future is hardly vague; it’s a truism even if the timescales are quite uncertain.
You suggest that my comments are “All rather vague and not really very helpful”, but your comments are equally vague and unhelpful! I agree with you that emissions will continue to increase in the near future – that’s also a truism, but contains within it no necessary policy towards lack of effort now to prevent emissions from rising as early as possible.
In reality I suggest that a strong focus on mitigation so that the transition to a decrease in rate of emissions occurs sooner than later, is likely to be far more helpful than your assertion of “pointless”ness. The idea that it is “pointless” for the UK and EU to try to prevent emissions from rising engenders a self-fulfilling acceptance of hopelessness. In fact emissions may peak sooner than your gloomy prognosis – it’s reported today that emission reduction targets in China may mean emissions peak by 2020 (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-11/china-cuts-in-coal-use-may-mean-world-emissions-peak-before-2020.html). Everyone should be doing their utmost to reduce emissions within the capabilities of their economies…
Brigitte: you suggested above that CO2 mitigation would improve local air quality. That’s not so: the presence of CO2 does not affect local air quality. The principal pollutants that do are:
Particulates (PM10 and PM2.5)
Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) – especially hydrocarbons (HC)
Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
Carbon monoxide (C)
It’s these pollutants (especially PM10) that are responsible, for example, for the dreadful “smog” in many Chinese cities. So-called clean-burn coal power systems (now being introduced in Germany) remove these pollutants – not CO2.
In contrast, CO2 is a key contributor to photosynthesis – the process by which plants etc. use solar energy to produce glucose from carbon dioxide and water. In so doing it releases oxygen into the atmosphere. It’s essential to life, essential to growth and, ironically perhaps, is the reason why plants are green.
I was thinking more along the lines that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would indirectly rather than directly lead to reducing other pollutants. See http://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air. So for example if there were fewer wildfires, less deforestation, there would, I suppose be fewer particulates etc etc. But I might be wrong there.
And your thinking was correct, Brigitte. The problem however is that trying to eliminate CO2 (as well as being otherwise pointless – see above) is an absurdly inefficient and expensive way of cleaning up local pollution. It’s because of inefficiency and cost that Germany, following its (unwise) decision to abandon nuclear power, has turned to “clean-burn” coal-fired energy to fill the gap rather than extending its failing** “Energiewende” programme.
Re expense and inefficiency, Denmark provides another good example. It has invested heavily in renewables, especially wind-power. Yet its per capita emissions are greater than the UK’s and its domestic energy costs are the highest in the EU.
** See this article (in German). An extract (in English):
I’ve nothing I wish to add to the above – except my thanks to Brigitte for her courteous hosting of a most interesting exchange of views.
I have learned a lot and still have a lot to think about. Thanks to all!
[…] he considers himself a realist.” This is interesting in view of more recent discussions around adaptation and what some call adaptation […]
The third and final part of IPCC AR5 has now been published, “Mitigation of climate change”.
In chapter 1 there is an interesting section on adaptation, very relevant to the discussion here. It acknowledges that there is a move towards thinking more in terms of adaptation. It’s about a page long; here is the first bit.
1.4.5 Rising Attention to Adaptation
For a long time, nearly all climate policy has focused on mitigation. Now, with some change in climate inevitable (and a lot more likely) there has been a shift in emphasis to adaptation. While adaptation is primarily the scope of IPCC’s Working Group II, there are important interactions
between mitigation and adaptation in the development of a mitigation strategy. If it is expected that global mitigation efforts will be limited, then adaptation will play a larger role in overall policy strategy.
Yes…it’s worth adding back the final sentence of the paragraph you pasted Paul since then the entire issue is encompassed:
1.4.5 Rising Attention to Adaptation
For a long time, nearly all climate policy has focused on mitigation. Now, with some change in climate inevitable (and a lot more likely) there has been a shift in emphasis to adaptation. While adaptation is primarily the scope of IPCC’s Working Group II, there are important interactions
between mitigation and adaptation in the development of a mitigation strategy. If it is expected that global mitigation efforts will be limited, then adaptation will play a larger role in overall policy strategy. If it is expected that countries (and natural ecosystems) will find adaptation particularly difficult, then societies should become more heavily invested in the efforts to mitigate emissions.
Sorry on way to village in Germany. But in a way focus on adaptation is sort of obvious, isn’t it?
[…] Adaptation […]
[…] Climate change adaptation […]