So "adaptation" and mere survival is the new normal
is this what you signed up for? Seawalls and indoor summers?
Sorry I was MIA last week (and just as I promised more frequent posting, too!). I got hit with The Rona (much better now thanks!).
I’m aware we have an election about to be announced…but I’ve wanted to put this topic on the agenda - adaptation - for a while. It’s a brutal home-hitter and I really want to talk about it because I’ve looked everywhere and it’s simply not being discussed as a phenomenon that is upon us now. It’s almost like the powers that be are keeping the tricky news from the kids (“Sorry, no Christmas this year.”).
I’ll top-line the basics for now….but will read your comments to see where we could take it further down the track. I write this just as the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was released (two days ago) all about the matter. You can read an overview here, or see my IG Live that I did with Mark Howden, Vice Chair of the report, here. One point that jumped out before me move on: the authors actually single out (finally) high net worth individuals who “are capable of reducing their GHG emissions by becoming role models of low-carbon lifestyles, investing in low-carbon businesses, and advocating for stringent climate policies.” I agree.
So. Adaptation… well, it’s the approach the scientific (and beyond) community are now forced to take to the climate crisis.
We are beyond the point of being able to beat warming (mitigation), so we’ll have to put our efforts to finding ways to simply survive, and to fit in to the new destroyed, uncomfortable and perilous normal that we’ve collectively waded into in what feels like the past six months.
Am I right? Is no one talking about this?
If we were, I think we’d be feeling a very new, heightened anxiety and grief.
There are three ramifications implicit in being firmly in this Plan B phase\:
We have lost the fight to maintain life as it was.
The old normal…it’s gone.
A lot of change and compromise is ahead.
In the interview I did with Mark Howden I asked him to confirm if I had this right:
Scientists were once all about mitigation. That is, the focus was to do everything we could to stop emissions warming the atmosphere. But then they started to see we were not going to be able to do this. We left it too long to act to keep warming under the limit of 1.5C over pre-industrial temperatures deemed critical to keeping us comfortable. Indeed, the climate science community now largely says the chances of keeping temperatures under 2C above is less than 10 per cent. So things in the community switched to adaptation (the theme of the latest IPCC Special Report) - advising the world to find ways to enable humanity to survive. But in the report that came out last month, an admission was made. Things are such that we won’t be able to adapt enough, so we need to do both mitigation and adaption all at once and really really fast.
Howden said I did (have it right).
So I ask, how do we feel about adaptation as our reality going forward?
Q: How do we feel about the fact life will not return to normal again?
Here on the East Coast of Australia, we have not had a “normal summer” for three years. First it was the bushfires, then a pandemic, then floods. In California, it’s been much the same, and throughout parts of Europe. I think we were all waiting for it “to settle”, but three years in, it is hitting a lot of us that this IS the new normal. The new normal is unsettled.
Me, I feel grief. Something is gone for good and I didn’t get a chance to prepare for the loss. Or to say goodbye, you know, to the things that defined my childhood and that we assumed our kids would enjoy too (going to outdoor zoos, playing outdoors), and once defined our shared joy (summers spent at beaches, skiing in winter)?
I know many are still in a state of suspended expectation that normal is just around the corner…we’ll get there again…let’s just wait a bit longer! But I think the purgatory is killing them (not literally, because that would be a weird inversion of the meaning of purgatory).
Q: How do we feel about the fact that life on Earth must now be a process of changing just about every facet of existence to ensure we can….just survive? What will this look like?
It looks like building massive sea walls around cities, which is happening around the world. A new study from Climate Central, a nonprofit research group, shows that roughly 50 major coastal cities will need to implement "unprecedented" adaptation measures to prevent rising seas from swallowing their most populated areas. But as with the one being built around Manhattan, by the time they’re finished they often won’t be high enough for the levels of water rising now expected.
It looks like air-conditioned zoos. And air-conditioned everything, which in turn - of course - threatens to accelerate global warming. (unless we switch to renewables immediately). It’s about reformulating road surfacing so that they can handle heat, GMO’ing more crops so they can withstand drought, heat and floods, painting buildings white.
It looks like changing the genetic makeup of trees to supercharge their ability to suck up carbon dioxide and to generally “perform” as trees (which comes with a host of issues…as per so many human meddling with nature).
It looks like Indonesia moving its capital city Jakarta (because its sinking).
It looks like mass climate migration.
And solar radiation bioengineering, which I cover here (it’s basically where you dump sulphur dioxide into the sky, which deflects the sun’s heat temporarily; problem is, it causes sulfur dioxide poisoning when it falls back to earth…).
Many adaptation efforts double as mitigation efforts, like planting trees upstream to slow excess river flows and shade homes in heatwaves, or restoring mangroves that protect communities from coastal flooding.
**And if I can pause here with a book recommendation. Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future is a sci-fi account of what the future could look like if we go kamikaze-style with mitigation and adaptation measures…all based on stuff currently being developed. Some of the measures are Frankenstein-esque…like dying the arctic sea yellow so that it absorbs less heat, and spending billions to suck up water from under glaciers so they don’t slide. An epic read.
How do we feel about these measures? Frankenstein-esque and desperate? It’s worth thinking about it now…because the experiment is already running.
Finally, how do we fell about our One Wild and Precious Life being reduced to mere “surviving”. Me, born into comfortable Australian privilege, I set off on this life expecting to live, to thrive. I have always had a higher bar than “getting by”.
OK. Enough for now. My call to action however is this. Get alive to this issue, look out for proper discussions about it. The bulk of the world do not have climate adaption policies, because we’re not talking about it enough. We will need these policies. And preferably ones that are not maladaptive (ie make mitigation more impossible). We will need to have ethical discussions around them, no? We will also need leaders who can walk us through the adjustment, hold our hand through the grief, do the moral wrestle with us….Hmmmm….
Rest up so we can fire up!