I’ve got a bit of a soap opera on my hands here. I’d appreciate some advice.
I suggested to Keith Kloor (#46) that he ought to mention the bizarre anomalies of 2010 on his blog:
Keith, it is hard for me to take this enterprise seriously if you don’t find space for some talk about what is happening in Russia, Pakistan, China and the eastern US this summer.
The situation on the ground has changed in the last couple of months, folks. You’d think that might have some effect on the argument.
Keith deflects this (#48) by making a similar challenge to me:
No, let’s talk about adaptation. Michael (46) writes:
“The situation on the ground has changed in the last couple of months, folks. You’d think that might have some effect on the argument.”
Well, for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right: that these events you refer to have a AGW fingerprint. Well, realistically, you must know that this doesn’t change the other facts on the ground: that fossil fuels will still be the dominant source of the world’s energy for the foreseable future, even if tomorrow China, India, Russia and the U.S. all agreed to curtail their carbon emissions.
So where does that leave you with your high-minded concerns for the people of Pakistan, Russia, etc? Surely you’ll start arguing forcefully that we should start to pay equal attention to adaptation, in order to mitigate future suffering that is bound to come from more AGW-related floods, fires, and heatwaves?
Can I expect this to have some effect on your argument? Can I expect you to talk more about adaptation?
I responded to his request (#59) as follows:
Regarding adaptation, a few points.
Adaptation is crucial. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient.
As Eli says, “no adaptation without mitigation”. Without mitigation, the size of the disruption we are adapting to grows without any meaningful bound. If we are determined to get to the worst case, it will be pretty much the worst.
Adaptation is relatively local and relatively short-term. Mitigation is global and long-term. So we don’t need to talk about century time scales for adaptation, nor do we need to talk about global policy alignment and international governance.
A given level of climate change will have a larger effect in poorly governed countries than in well-run ones. Russia is as rich as, say, Chile, which responded very effectively to a recent (albeit nonanthropogenic) disaster. Russia has little tradition of effective local governance, and a long history of environmental neglect, and it is showing. I don’t think anybody is saying otherwise.
Wealthy countries are not immune, especially if they neglect infrastructure as if they couldn’t afford it. (That’s the real lesson of the arguably entirely natural Katrina, isn’t it?) See recent comments by the governor of Iowa “This is the new normal”.
While some polities are better at optimizing good times and others are better at preparing for bad times and others are good for nothing at all, there is plenty of precedent for adaptation at the regional scale. We know, intellectually and practically, how to do it, even if some of us chose not to.
We have no comparable skills in making global decisions. Mitigation, after all, is just adaptation writ large; adaptation that won’t work unless everybody cooperates. So adaptation is just ordinary, local politics and should be discussed in locally focussed fora. In large countries like the US, or at the international aid level, there are perhaps some issues about cross-subsidies, but while important, they are not qualitatively dissimilar from disaster relief and infrastructure assistance issues in the past. Mitigation, however, presents new and urgent difficulties which require changes in how the whole world operates.
There is a cliche metaphor about adaptation without mitigation: deck chairs.
In short, adaptation and mitigation are not a tradeoff. They are two faces of the same coin. The longer mitigation is delayed, the more mitigation will cost and the more adaptation will cost. But most adaptation discussion needs to focus on particular regions and particular vulnerabilities.
None of this makes the present hemispheric meteorological configuration any less weird. This is, arguably, not “weather” in the ordinary sense. It should cause people to rethink their opinions.
I for one feel very differently about the situation now than I did a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago I thought “major impacts in the future are very likely”. Now I think “major impacts have very likely started”.
Really, I thought that was fair and responsive and pretty useful. So, since I responded (I thought reasonably and responsibly) to his challenge, did he respond to mine?
See for yourself. He responded with a top-level article, mostly about what I take to be some imaginary version of me, called The Ethical Hypocrites. He summarizes my response (he links to exactly the text quoted above) about mitigation thus:
Tobis countered with the typical zero-sum talking point, that mitigation (curbing carbon emissions) has to take precedence over adaptation, and that in any event, adaptation was largely a local matter.
This is the standard argument from climate advocates, who believe that encouraging talk about adaptation will undermine the urgency that should be paid to mitigation. Thus, the emphasis has to remain on mitigation, they argue.
But now that climate advocates such as Tobis are asserting that climate change has arrived with a vengeance, with tragic human consequences, I’m wondering: is it not irresponsible and unethical of them to play down the need for adaptation in order to keep the focus on mitigation?
Is that a fair summary?
Did I really “play down” the need for adaptation?
I’m happy to discuss any of the points here. I can imagine somebody thinking I am wrong about this, but I’d really like some insight into how someone would see what I said as hypocritical.
At first I thought Keith was being defensive, just trying to avoid the factual questions about 2010 as entering a new phase in climate change. But he seems bound and determined to accuse me of something now; that seems more than just ducking the question I asked him. I wonder what this is about.