Adapting To Global Warming: A Half-Baked Idea
The Los Angeles Times bumbled a story and a concept yesterday when it covered research by Roger A. Pielke Jr., a Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. LA Times staff writer, Alan Zarembo stated:
"The 'non-skeptic heretic club' [Pielke] says it would be easier and cheaper to adapt than fight climate change."
A provocateur in climate mitigation strategy circles, Pielke flatly disagrees with the incorrect interpretation of his statements put forth by the LA Times. A debate quickly emerged between grist's David Roberts and Pielke himself over whether this confusion was intentional or not. Clearly, the obfuscating coverage at the Los Angeles times is regrettable, but we think this is an opportunity to clear up why humanity needs to learn how to both adapt to our environment as well as mitigate and heal the damage to our ecosystems.Swiss Sculptor Jean Tinguely said, "In life, the only stable thing is movement, always and everywhere." He was on to something. Life adapts and evolves to its changing environment, ever seeking to continue itself through time. Over 3.5 billion years it has learned a few things. Astoundingly clear is the message that things change, and so must we. Living "with the land", and understanding the changes around us has been a mantra for sustainability.
But what is less talked about is that most life on Earth enhances, regenerates and stabilizes the environment. A growing body of research shows us that our environmental systems have limits. Organisms have learned to exist and adapt within those natural limits, something we are still struggling to figure out.
As we push our limits and warm the climate, extract minerals, and acidify the ocean we push our environmental systems toward "collapse." The real problem with limits is that we don't know when enough is enough. The tipping point into a collapse is often hard to know until it is too late. Further, it is practically impossible to predict the impact of ecosystem collapse (think Easter Island). Jarred Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, eloquently shows the potential and pitfalls surrounding natural limits and human societies.
Mitigation technologies are a response to reducing our risk of reaching those tipping points. Carbon dioxide sequestration or cap and trade policies are meant to keep us from the worst possible changes of pushing the limits of carbon dioxide in our environment.
Too often we are blinded to what we don't know by what we think we do know. The LA Times article by describing a dichotomy that doesn't exist blinds us to the real solutions that do exist. Those that show us both how to adapt to and heal our environment.
Image credit to visulogik