Monday, July 13, 2009

Time for Climate Change Insurance

Two recent articles/blogs by Oberlin College environmentalist David Orr and technologist Tim O'Reilly take on the debate of choices and chance in dealing with the issues of climate change. Both agree there is great risk, which becomes even greater with inaction, and that we don't need more evidence to act now.

David Orr frames the discussion around two choices - "adapting to a warmer world or mitigating the severity of climate change by sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions". He bases his argument on five points:

  • climate change is occurring faster than expected and results are worse than predicted
  • adaptation most impacts those in society who are least able to adapt
  • mitigation now is easier and less costly than later
  • adaptation is ineffective due to the human behaviors of denial and procrastination
  • political programs and proposals about adaptation offer false hope

Orr's conclusion is echoed in ecologist George Woodwell's words, "The only adaptation is mitigation".

In response to David Orr's article, Bob Doppelt, the Director of Climate Change Initiative at the University of Oregon, offers a twist on the argument. He shifts the words and perspective from adaptation to preparation, because "our experience is that focusing on preparation builds support for mitigation while the focus on adaptation reduces support". To me, the conclusion is not either/or but both preparation and mitigation.

Tim O'Reilly sees the debate as a modern day version of Pascal's wager.

If catastrophic global warming turns out not to happen, the steps we'd take to address it are still worthwhile. Given that there's even a reasonable risk of disruptive climate change, any sensible person should decide to act. It's insurance. The risk of your house burning down is small, yet you carry homeowner's insurance; you don't expect to total your car, but you know that the risk is there, and again, most people carry insurance; you don't expect catastrophic illness to strike you down, but again, you invest in insurance.

We don't need to be 100% sure that the worst fears of climate scientists are correct in order to act. All we need to think about are the consequences of being wrong.

So where are the sensible world citizens who can carry forward these perspectives, and ultimately the behaviors that will alter climate change? As in all things important, it comes down to us, you and me. The time is now for all of us to reconsider our behaviors and to purchase our own climate change insurance.

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