WunderBlog Archive » Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

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Adapting to climate change

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 9:13 PM GMT on May 12, 2007

Adapting to Climate Change

Hello. This week I attended a conference called "Coping with Climate Change." It was a conference about adaptation--as contrasted with mitigation. Just to recall, mitigation is doing things to stop the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Adaptation is responding to climate change; it can be anticipatory, or it can be reactive. Some things we do to adapt can also contribute to mitigation; that is, they release less carbon dioxide.

Adaptation has not been discussed or studied as much as mitigation. This is for a number of reasons. Some people have felt that if we promote the notion that we can adapt to warming temperatures, then we will no longer have any incentive to curb our carbon dioxide emissions. Plus, if we are willing to talk about adaptation, then that implies that we recognize that there is consequential global warming. As I stated in an earlier entry (April 21), both mitigation and adaptation are required.

We have always been an adaptive species. The adaptation might simply be moving after you have had enough of hurricanes and floods. Or it might be building levees and houses on stilts. An adaptation that is more anticipatory is land use policy, which might prohibit building on barrier islands--or at least not insuring buildings on barrier islands, and housing codes that stand up to high winds.

At the conference we spent three days talking about four specific targets of adaptation; energy, water quality, public health, and fisheries. One of the things that you notice quickly is that all of these areas already face significant challenges. Heat waves, for instance, have killed thousands of people in recent years. The actions that reduce heat wave deaths lie in better heat wave warning systems and getting information and helpers distributed through vulnerable communities. Air conditioning is important, so are urban parks. A warming Earth brings increasing severity to an already existing problem.

There are also some important linkages between areas. There are places in the U.S. where the electrical grid is fragile. We reach levels of demands in summer which stress the grid, and sometimes we have regional breakdowns. If the summers are hotter and there is increased demand, the stress on the electrical grid increases. If there are breakdowns during heat waves, a likely scenario, then the impact of the heat wave is larger.

Climate change and energy consumption are two ingredients of modern society that are tightly correlated. What becomes apparent from looking at these scenarios, population is also tightly correlated with climate change and energy. This might be a blatantly obvious statement, and many of the people who write responses here at Wunderground have pointed out that the real problem is a growing and consuming population. In fact, in many cases it is reasonable to view that climate change is an additional stress on top of tension between population and resources.

It interests me that we do not seem to know how to talk about population and population increase these days. When I was a child, in the early 60's, population increase was talked about so much that even as a 10 year old I was more than a little aware of the discussion. These days, increases in population and the right of that population to consume energy seem to be a given in the equation. To talk about these subjects brings us back to core beliefs that are far removed from the predictions of global models and the impact of the warming world on people. Perhaps it is addressing climate change that gives us the entry point into these even more basic problems.


see also my latest entry at climatepolicy.org

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.