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Copenhagen / Countdown (2) / Adaptation

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 5:22 AM GMT on December 03, 2009

Copenhagen / Countdown (2) / Adaptation

Still overwhelmed with getting ready for the Conference of Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen in December. There is a UoM/Alma webpage that features blogs from the students. It is here. On that webpage is a podcast by yours truly Rood Interview. Have had numerous calls from various organizations about wanting support for different causes such as Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice , an organization that wants to make sure that adaptation plans don’t come without consideration of the impact on the poor.

There is a lot of position taking and trying to push the COP this way or that. On one hand it is exciting that both the U.S. and China have come out with ideas to push forward CO2 emission reduction. They aren’t exactly stunning commitments, but they do start to push towards rather than away from climate policy. The European Union is calling for funds to help developing nations. The U.S. and China motivate India.

Of course, the leaked “climategate” emails gather a lot of attention. It’s food for those who want to argue and find scandal and conspiracies. I don’t have anything intelligent to add to that conversation.

Based on one of my blogs I was asked to contribute to Euronews Comment visions. There are some interesting comments from interesting people there. This month they are addressing the question: “As the first decade of the 21st Century closes, can we be pleased with the progress we have made in the development of energy efficiency and the mitigation of climate change?”

I was in the November Forum and the question was: “How must society adapt to rapid climate change to minimise severe upheaval?” Here it is at Euronews or >>>>>>

“How must society adapt to rapid climate change to minimise severe upheaval?”

Societies and civilizations have always had to adapt to climate change. As it has gotten warmer and colder, wetter and drier, people have sometimes thrived and expanded their dominion, and at other times have been forced into migrations, dissolution of societies, and death. Until our time, we have only had the ability to respond to changes in the climate, to wonder what will come next. The predictions of global warming based observations and physical climate models offer us a unique and extraordinary opportunity. We know with significant certainty that the surface of the Earth will warm, sea level will rise, and the weather will change. We have evolved to function with a certain set of expectations of, for example, rainfall and snowmelt, the onset of spring, the intensity of summer heat. The changes in the climate will impact our evolved behavior in both expected and unexpected ways.

What are sensible strategies for societal adaptation? There are some obvious answers - we need to decouple our consumption of energy and economic success from burning of fossil fuels with uncontrolled emissions of waste products into the atmosphere, ocean, and land. We need secure and reliable sources of energy and water. These are enormous challenges in a world of more than six billion people even without the prospect of global warming.

The accepted definition of adaptation to global warming is what do we do in response to the consequences of a warming planet? How do we react in the face of sea level rise and the alteration of availability and scarcity of water? We can imagine sea walls, dikes and levees, dams, tunnels and canals, and these will be required. Real upheaval comes, however, from people and governments. Bangladesh faces displacement of people due to sea level rise and larger storm surges. This is in a crowded country that cannot absorb this disruption into the interior. Bangladesh relies on the flow of fresh water from the high Himalaya, where rain and snow and snow melt will, with confidence, change. The head waters of the rivers that supply Bangladesh its water are not in Bangladesh; they are in larger, wealthier neighboring countries. Adaptation is as much issues of diplomacy, policy, and management as it is a technological and engineering problem.

To avoid serious upheaval, we must use the knowledge that we have extracted from the study of climate, anticipate change, and find policies and practices that advance development at the same time as accommodating adaptation to climate change. Development activities often address existing problems of water management, water policy, and land use. Climate change exacerbates existing problems, and global warming might push things to crisis and upheaval. Aligning policy, practices, and the development of infrastructure to anticipate the impacts of global warming, to assure the availability of water, and to prepare for the disruption and displacement of coastal populations, all are critical if we are to minimize severe upheaval from rapid global warming.


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