Climate adaptation options

Humans are not doing enough mitigation to slow — let alone reverse — climate change chaos. Average global temperature is now +1.2C, far above which is on track to exceed the 2015 Paris Agreement’s target of “holding the increase in the global average temperature… increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels…” by 2034.*

In this 2011 post (“We’re screwed, now what?”), I wrote:

Mitigation-focused investments (solar, biofuels, zero-emissions stuff) are wasted if there’s no “carbon reduction payback” — this means that a lot of projects are going to turn instantly unprofitable.

Thus, it’s time to adapt: lift your skirts for floods and prepare for droughts.

So which countries will do better with adapting — and which will not?

Here are four factors**

  1. Climate chaos will arrive in all places in different ways. No physical geography will consistently be “better” or “safer.” Winners and losers will change places. Chance and planning will battle. Nature always bats last!***
  2. Wealth is a double-edged sword. It correlates with more resources (useful but not necessary), but it is not sufficient to overcome social divisions and political opportunism.
  3. Poverty can be a blessing in communities that have practiced mutual aid while having to adjust to various shocks and injustices. The poor will abandon a cardboard shack before it floods. Will the wealthy abandon Miami as the waters rise?
  4. Corruption — the abuse of public office for private gain — will get worse before it gets better, for the same reasons as always: stealing is easier than working. The temptation to steal in a “shrinking pieworld — a world that humans have not faced for centuries — will rise as we tell ourselves “I deserve. You don’t.”

Look around you — is your community ready? Do you even have a community?

* Global average temperatures were +1.58C in April 2024, but that’s not the long-term average? Small consolation.

** What factors have I missed?

*** IMO, homo sapiens will not go extinct, as we are more tenacious than mosquitoes. I see three steps “down” from our current status as the world’s dominant organism. I think each step will take a few hundred years.

  1. We fight over a shrinking pie, but maintain a semblance of today’s nation-states, technological advances, and so on.
  2. We start to forget key elements of knowledge (e.g., nuclear power or silicon chips) and civility (e.g., more slavery).
  3. We are reduced to tribes of social primates who cooperate to survive, but we are too few, and the Anthropocene slowly starts to end.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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