Adaptation – something missing

Climate change negotiators are spending more time on adaptation. Adaptation means helping people adapt to the effects of climate change. It means working out how to grow crops in places where the rain stops falling; how to help countries get food when their arable land is flooded by seawater; or what to replace a tourist industry with when there’s nothing left for tourists to come and see.

Adaptation also has an interpretation regarding how economies will replace industries which are made irrelevant by climate change policy. Saudi Arabia, that worthy pioneer in the fight against climate change, for example, is looking for financial assistance from the world community, to help it create a more diverse economy not dependent on fossil fuel sales. Fair enough that taxpayers from Burkino Fasso should pay for Sheiks to go to hat-making classes. Poland’s coalminers will also need support when their communities lose their raison d’être.

But there is a broader interpretation of adaptation which people are not really talking about. The entire societies of Western Europe, North America, Japan, et al are going to have to adapt the way they live and consume resources, and this is not on the agenda.

It is not on the agenda because there is still a happy-go-lucky assumption that there is a technological fix around the corner and the Tescocracy can carry on regardless. In the ample space of forty two [1] years between now and the end of 2050, someone will come up with a 250mpg car, a 50 kgCO2/MWh power station, a 0.1 watt light-bulb, carbon free cement and steel, ammonia by electrolysis, and GMO whales which absolutely thrive on acidic oceans. This assumption is reinforced by the prevailing point-source mentality of most climate discussions.

It is risky and irresponsible to bet the house on the carbon neutral version of shop-till-you-drop.

We should also plan for a huge adaptation in the “developed” world. A massive switch in aspirations, from material to spiritual; fundamental changes in how we use our leisure time; a reorganisation of cities; a root-and-branch restructuring of the way we produce food; a paradigmic change in how we model and understand economic behaviour, and shape economic policy.

This is a lot more than planting a few trees in Africa. Better add an extra day to COP15.


1. Did Douglas Adams know something that we don’t?

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