Arguably, we should focus our efforts and resources on becoming more resilient and adaptive. As pointed out in an article in Nature by University of Colorado environmental studies professor Roger Pielke Jr., Ph.D., and his collaborators, “vulnerability to climate-related impacts on society is increasing for reasons that have nothing to do with greenhouse-gas emissions, such as rapid population growth along coasts and in areas with limited water supplies.”
The researchers cite the example of the Philippines, where policy-makers are wringing their hands about a possible gradual climate change-mediated rise in sea level of from 1 to 3 millimeters per year while they ignore the primary cause of enhanced flood risk—“excessive groundwater extraction, which is lowering the land surface by several centimeters to more than a decimeter [about 4 inches] per year.” Perhaps more attention should be paid to ways to reduce groundwater extraction, such as desalination, wastewater treatment and recycling, collection of rainwater, and the cultivation of crop plants that require less irrigation.
In a similar vein, the authors observe that “nonclimate factors are by far the most important drivers of increased risk of tropical disease,” although such risk “is repeatedly invoked by climate-mitigation advocates as a key reason to curb emissions.” They cite a study that found that without factoring in the effects of climate change, “the global population at risk from malaria would increase by 100% by 2080, whereas the effect of climate change would increase the risk of malaria by, at most, 7%.”
Dr. Pielke and his colleagues criticize “the political obsession with the idea that climate risks can be reduced by cutting emissions,” because it “distracts attention” from other, more cost-effective approaches. However, for many activists, emissions reduction has become an article of faith in the church of radical environmentalism: Its high priest, Al Gore, has dismissed adaptation as “a kind of laziness, an arrogant faith in our ability to react in time to save our skins.”
He couldn’t be more wrong. Adaptation is often both sensible and cost-effective, as in fire-retardant seat materials in airplanes and airbags in automobiles.
Doctrinaire activism and command-and-control policy-making are inimical to resilience, jeopardizing our survival as individuals and our success as a society. But politicians tend to be short-term thinkers, their purview often limited to the next election, and many of them seem to care less about the public interest and more about scoring political points. Moreover, many of them are just not very smart, and they’re particularly challenged in the realms of science and logic.
If individually and collectively we are to meet economic, environmental, and public health challenges, we need plenty of options and opportunities for innovation—and the wealth to pursue them. But in large and small ways, unimaginative, short-sighted politicians and venal activists have conspired to limit our options, constrain economic growth, and make real solutions elusive. Those who would apply the precautionary principle to climate change—or to nuclear power, chemicals, or genetically engineered plants—take note.