“Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double . . . ”
The Clash 1982
The question in this song was at the center of a University of Colorado’s Population Center and the National Center for Atmospheric Research workshop earlier this year that brought together leading researchers on the topics of migration, urbanization and climate change.
The intersection of these topics is significant to how we consider the effects of Global Environmental Change (GEC). GEC encompasses climate change, the growth of mega-cities, land degradation, increasing global population and the over-consumption of natural resources.
It was notable that the word adaptation was used frequently by many of the academics in reference to the effects of GEC on the planet’s population systems.
It raises a few questions:
Have we given up on fighting climate change?
Are we passed the tipping point?
What do we do now?
James Hansen noted in a recent New York Times article that “President Obama speaks of a ‘planet in peril,’ but he does not provide the leadership needed to change the world’s course.”
He has provided leadership, though not with the intent of changing the world’s course rather in adapting to what lies ahead. In 2009, the President established the Interagency Climate Adaptation Task Force. The task force has key areas it is examining: building resilience in local communities, safeguarding critical natural resources such as freshwater, and providing accessible climate information and tools to help decision-makers manage climate risks. They have released a progress report with a vision of “a resilient, healthy, and prosperous Nation in a changing climate.”
The World Bank is looking at the economics of adaptation and commissioned a global study whose report provides information on global, country, and sector-level adaptations to climate change to help policymakers.
The United Nations has established a framework convention where they claim “Successful adaptation not only depends on governments but also on the active and sustained engagement of stakeholders including national, regional, multilateral and international organizations, the public and private sectors, civil society and other relevant stakeholders.” On this matter all of us are stakeholders.
Even Lloyd’s of London has gotten in on the act with their Adapt or Bust report. In it they state that “Insurers must also take advantage of scientific advances to factor forecasts for the season ahead into their planning, instead of relying only on long-term trends.” More striking, among their conclusions is that “The insurance industry must now seize the opportunity to make a difference, not just to the future of our own industry, but to the
future of society.”
California has a Climate Adaptation Strategy and is developing an Adaptation Policy Guide and already has a web based tool called Cal-Adapt to help planning officials identify potential climate change risks in their area. You can find these here.
Colorado has the Colorado Climate Preparedness Project whose focus is on agriculture, electricity, forests/wildlife/ecosystems, tourism/recreation, and water. The issues are, hopefully in alphabetical order and not in order of priority.
Here in Boulder, as a result of the 2010 Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP) update section 4.02 on Climate Adaptation Planning was added. It states that “The city and county will cooperatively develop and implement a climate change adaptation plan to identify current vulnerabilities and determine strategies to protect the community against the potential negative impacts associated with climate change.”
These are all good things. Now, however, it seems as though adaptation could become a distracting higher priority. We are already past the tipping point and feeling what a two degrees Celsius change feels like. But lowering our emissions to curb the effects of climate change cannot take a back seat. You need only imagine what a four degree rise might mean. What we need to do now is adapt to and fight climate change all at once. Our collective plate just got fuller.