Adapting to Climate Change: It’s Not About Giving Up, It’s About Getting Real

From Yes Magazine:

Conversations about how we’re going to get through the coming transformation force us to see the full scale of the problem.

posted Nov 01, 2013

It was clear last year at election time that Seattle needed a new sea wall to replace the crumbling, worm-eaten infrastructure that has girded the waterfront since the early 20th century. “Do you want downtown Seattle to slide into motherf-cking Puget Sound during the next earthquake thanks to a towering wave of voter apathy?” wrote the editorial board of The Stranger. (The city’s alt-weekly is not known for demure language.) More than three-fourths of city voters said yes to a small increase in property taxes to fund the construction.


But the whole thing raises tough questions: Any new road, bridge, or housing project, not just here but in every community, will endure or fail based on a set of future, more extreme climate conditions.


Today, President Obama issued an executive order that establishes a task force on “climate preparedness and resilience.” It directs federal agencies to begin dealing with the quandaries of planning for a world of bigger storms and rising seas. The order acknowledges that the impacts of climate change “are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health.”


These problems will only worsen. At this point, there’s no stopping climate change, not altogether. Even if the entire world today abandoned its cars for bicycles and replaced every coal plant with a field of solar panels, the planet would continue getting warmer because of the carbon dioxide we’ve already sent into the atmosphere. The world will still need to drastically rein in carbon emissions if it is going to avoid making the crisis far worse. But we will also need to learn how to live on a warmer planet.


The executive order represents a rapid shift in the approach to climate change, as events like Hurricane Sandy have made it obvious that we’re living in an era of weird weather. Until recent years, environmentalists and policymakers were eerily silent about adapting to climate change. “When I started you couldn’t talk about it,” says Lara Hansen, a scientist and expert on climate-change adaptation who serves on the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “because it was considered giving up”—abandoning the idea that we could slow global warming.

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