“The Climate Crisis and the Adaptation Myth”— a must read for Obama’s climate change advisors


A new “working paper” issued by Yale University— “The Climate Crisis and the Adaptation Myth” (.pdf)—claims the US is in a poor state of preparedness for climate change impacts.  “Private and public sector organizations face significant obstacles to adaptation” says author Robert Repetto, a Sr. Fellow of the United Nations Foundation and former Yale professor.  In addition to inherent scientific uncertainties slowing response, a variety of human and institutional barriers stand in the way of adaptation measures:  long lead-times for rule changes; ideological resistance; a preoccupation with the near-term; false perceptions that climate impacts either won’t be too painful or are off in the distant future; business-as-usual assumptions; and lack of national leadership.  Repetto warns:  “To say that the United States can adapt to climate change does not imply that the United States will adapt. 

Post by Anne Polansky

In stark terms, there are only three response choices in the face of global climatic disruption says Dr. John Holdren as often as he can say it:  mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. 

Strong mitigation policies at the national level are currently held hostage by slow and cumbersome post-Kyoto international negotiation processes, the public policy mess left behind by Bush and Cheney, and the complex political labyrinth standing between the need to slash emissions and the legislation needed to make it happen, whether that be cap-and-trade or some other policy tool. 

Suffering is being felt as climate change increasingly acts as a threat multiplier for hurricanes, droughts, extreme weather, floods, and other hardships. 

The third and only other choice is adaptation:  somehow, we are going to have to learn to live with a climate future that is markedly different, and more hostile to human life, than anything we have ever seen in the past.  Yet, Robert Repetto is joining a growing group of thinkers who are concerned that we are doing a poor job of preparing for climate disruption. 

We would put this insightful and well-articulated 24-page paper on the must-reading list for President-elect Obama himself, and the team he brings on to tackle the climate change problem head-on. 

The conclusions are worth posting verbatim

Despite a half century of climate change that has significantly affected temperature and precipitation patterns and has already had widespread ecological and hydrological impacts, and despite a near certainty that the United States will experience at least as much climate change in the coming decades, just as a result of the current atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, those organizations in the public and private sectors that are most at risk, that are making long-term investments and commitments, and that have the planning, forecasting and institutional capacity to adapt, have not yet done so.

With few exceptions, even at this time, such organizations are at early stages of developing strategies by which to adapt to climate change risks. There have been very few changes in forecasts, plans, design criteria, investment decisions, budgets or staffing patterns in response to climate risks.

Private and public sector organizations face significant obstacles to adaptation: uncertainty regarding future climate change at regional and local scales; uncertainty regarding the future frequency of extreme weather events; and uncertainty regarding the ecological, economic and other impacts of climate change. Organizations lack relevant data for planning and forecasting, and such data as are available are typically outdated and unrepresentative of future conditions.

Organizations also face institutional and human barriers to adaptation: the need to overcome or revise codes, rules, and regulations that impede change; the lack of clear directions and mandates to take action; political or ideological resistance to the need for responsiveness to climate change; the preoccupation with near-term challenges and priorities and the lingering perception that climate change is a concern only for sometime in the future; and the inertia created by a business-asusual assumption that future conditions will be more or less like those of the past.  Without national leadership and concerted efforts to remove these barriers and obstacles, adaptation to climate change is likely to continue to lag. It will be largely reactive rather than anticipatory and preventive, responding to damaging impacts once they have occurred.

To say that the United States can adapt to climate change does not imply that the United States will adapt.

We thought that last line was worth repeating. 

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