Adaptation, Prosperity, and Environmental Stewardship
Given the uncertainty about future climate states and the improbability that humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions are having a significant influence, there are only three sensible responses to the public’s concerns about climate change:
Preparation for, and adaptation to, whatever climate and weather actually unfold
Human societies have always suffered due to climate variability and violent weather. This is because climate change and extreme weather happen continuously on planets with dynamic atmospheres such as the Earth. Natural variations in our planet’s ‘average temperature’ have ranged over a span of almost 35 degrees Celsius over the ages. It is clearly a mistake to think that Earthly climate was stagnant until we started burning fossil fuels.
Consequently, preparing society for these inevitable events is one of the most critical functions of government. Societies that did not sensibly prepare for climate changes and extreme weather are long gone. For example, the Greenland Viking colonies were established during the Medieval Warm Period (1100 – 1300 AD) but collapsed when they failed to adapt to the extreme cold of the Little Ice Age. Even today, indigenous populations in the far north and the Sahel region of Africa must prepare for natural climate change, or die.
India has demonstrated sensible measures in this regard. They have built multi-story storm shelters designed to house hundreds of people for days at a time above the waves. These are situated at one-kilometer intervals all along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, where most of their tropical cyclones occur. Citizen need walk only a half-kilometer or less to be safe when cyclones hit.
In the industrialized world, we need to harden our societies to withstand extreme events of all kinds, independent of causes. Sensible adaptation measures would include reinforcing buildings, burying cables underground and strengthening public infrastructure by building levees and upgrading our irrigation systems where needed. We also need to relocate populations living on flood plains or at extreme risk from tornadoes and hurricanes.
2. We also must make societies as prosperous as possible.
Only wealthy societies have the resources to properly prepare for extreme events. Similarly, only prosperous nations care about environmental protection. Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels (CCRII: Fossil Fuels), a 780-page report issued last year by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) put it well:
“Prosperity leads to environmental protection becoming a higher social value and provides the resources needed to make it possible.”
The Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) diagram, shown below (extracted from CCRII: Fossil Fuels), shows that, as development begins, environmental degradation increases until a per-capita income tipping point is reached, after which the environment begins to improve.
3. We also need a focus on real environmental stewardship instead of the current concentration on reducing the benign gas carbon dioxide.
Proper environmental stewardship would include reducing land, air and water pollution to levels at which the harm they cause is considered acceptable. It would also include protecting species at risk (the polar bear is not one of them) and conserving natural resources for future human use, both as consumables and for recreation.
Read more about a sensible approach to climate change as promoted by The Heartland Institute here.