Prevention key to stopping climate change

Exclusive focus on adaptation unfortunately omits the critical necessity of mitigation

Much thanks go to Jim Cooperman’s Market News column, ‘The tip of the melting iceberg.’

In it, he provides a timely review of climate-change characteristics and their current and impending harmful impacts on the Shuswap Watershed.

In his concluding comments, however, he asks that we only determine “what measures are needed to adapt to the (climatic) change(s).”

This exclusive focus on adaptation unfortunately omits the critical necessity of mitigation (preventing climate-change) – like reducing the magnitude of carbon emissions.

Adaptation just involves efforts to limit our vulnerability to climate change impacts by changing infrastructure and institutions, while not necessarily dealing with the underlying cause of those impacts.

Adaptation is very nearly the opposite of preventive mitigation. It is action taken to protect oneself, one’s own city, or nation from the effects of unchecked climate-change. The reference to “our” in a previous sentence is critical, as adaptive measures typically only deal with impacts to humanity; they do not deal with impacts to ecosystems and the environment.

Coral reefs are unlikely to adapt to the twin impacts of global warming and ocean acidification. Polar bears are not likely to adapt to vanishing arctic ice.

A similar case can be made for other ecosystems and living things. At some level, this calls into question what we really mean by adaptation. If we were to truly see the collapse of major ecosystems such as coral reefs, we would in turn see the loss of the ecosystem services they provide – a potentially catastrophic loss for humanity.

Obviously, both mitigation and adaptation are necessary to meet climate-change challenges, but they are not morally equivalent.

For every day mitigation (prevention) is delayed, the need for adaptation grows and, thanks to deep-seated, aspects of human nature, self-interested adaptation is likely to be preferable to more global, altruistic mitigation.

Tom Crowley