Adapting to climate disruption is good… but what about prevention?

New York city is planning how to survive future superstorms. So are the Netherlands. Both are proceeding on the realization that the world is different now, that there’s a new “normal.”

The Dutch are starting to let the water in. They are contriving to live with nature, rather than fight (what will inevitably be, they have come to realize) a losing battle. Why? The reality of rising seas and rivers leaves no choice [New York Times: full article here].

New York has sought to gird itself against extreme weather and swelling seas and to curb emissions of greenhouse gases… but Sandy laid bare the city’s vulnerabilities. As the humbled city begins to rebuild, scientists and engineers are trying to assess what happened during Sandy and what problems New York is likely to face in a warmer future [Nature magazine: full article here].

Even the U.S. government has adaptation plans for climate disruption [see the previous blog post, or read the article here]. And U.S. public opinion may, finally, be supportive: “Sixty-five percent of Americans support the President taking significant steps to address climate change now, including 89 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents and 38 percent of Republicans” [poll by the League of Conservation Voters; full article here].

These look like good news: governments are starting to take action and the public is supportive. But is it the right kind of action? Yes, if you believe that climate disruption is inevitable. That’s a dangerous belief because it’s not inevitable. We humans are causing it, and we humans could prevent it.

It wouldn’t be easy to climb back from the precipice but there are no physical or technical barriers. Difficult? yes. Unlikely, given the hold that Big Carbon has on governments, on media, on disinformation, and on astroturf/artificial citizen groups? yes. But possible? absolutely yes. Unless of course we forget that we’re creating the crisis in the first place, and settle for adapting to it.

A good first step might be to look at the amount of money that cities and countries around the world are planning to spend on adaptation. Start, say, with the $7 billion to $29 billion that New York is looking at for storm-surge protection. Add the planned expenditures in New Orleans and Seattle and other U.S. cities. Add what they’re planning to spend in the Netherlands and in other countries. Then tell me whether that money wouldn’t be better spent on prevention, while we still have time.

– Mike

PS I don’t usually sign blog posts. But there’s a lot of personal opinion above, and I thought people would like to know who it’s coming from. If you have comments, please add them!

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