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Adaptation key to dealing with climate change

  • Terry Anderson
  • Originally appeared in USA Today, on June 4, 2014.

    In his weekly radio address, President Obama continued his war on climate change and prepared for the battle in Congress for regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gases by as much as 25% over 15 years. “As president, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

    His all-too-familiar refrain comes on the heels of a House committee hearing“Examining the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Process.” Testifying at the hearing, Daniel Botkin, one of nation’s most respected ecologists, said of the climate change hysteria, “my biggest concern is that both the reports [2014 IPCC Report and the administration’s National Climate Assessment (NCA)] present a number of speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve.” Botkin acknowledged that the climate is changing as it always has — “The Northwest Passage of North America has gone and come again” — but “these environmental changes are not apocalyptic nor irreversible.”

    At the same committee meeting, Colorado State University Professor Roger Pielke concluded that the models used in the IPCC and NCA reports are “poorly suited for use as forecasting tools until they have shown a better ability to predict changes in regional climate statistics over the last several decades.”

    Apparently pragmatic Americans recognize these inadequacies. An April 2014 Associated Press-GfK poll found that 37% of respondents were “not too/not at all confident” and another 28% were only “somewhat confident” that “the average temperature of the world is rising, mostly because of man made heat-trapping green house gases.” A January Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found 41% saying that addressing global warming could be delayed until next year and 29% saying it should not be pursued at all.

    Nonetheless, President Obama continues his march to “mitigate” climate change by reducing fossil fuel emissions. To the standard decarbonization solutions such as more wind and solar generation and less fossil fuel production, the report emphasizes spending more taxpayer dollars on additional measures such as carbon sequestration , ocean fertilizing to make oceans absorb more carbon, and sunlight reflection technology.

    Even if all the mitigation were successful at reducing carbon emissions, however, it will have no appreciable effect on global temperatures. The assessment admits that “some additional climate change and related impacts are now unavoidable” due to greenhouse gasses already in the atmosphere. According to the EPA, “if emissions stopped increasing, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations would continue to increase and remain elevated for hundreds of years” and “surface air temperatures would continue to warm.” An article in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that climate change resulting from increases in carbon dioxide concentration is “largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.”

    Such pessimism about the prospects of mitigation may explain why the 2014 IPCC report focuses more on adaption than mitigation, mentioning mitigation only once and adaptation 12 times in the press release.

    What both the IPCC and NCA reports ignore are the ways in which markets are already adapting. For example, vintner Matthieu Elzinga moved from his vineyard in the Loire Valley of France to an emerging wine region in southern England, a move consistent with scientific predictions that current wine producing areas will decline by 25 to 73% by 2050. This prediction prompted the headline, “Wine from Wyoming? How Yellowstone and Yukon will steal Napa’s crown.” John Dickerson, founder of Summit Water Development Group, is purchasing and brokering water rights in the American West and Australia in response to his prediction that climate change is causing “the percentage (of water) that is freshwater is getting smaller, (while) the percentage that is salt water is getting larger, and the maldistribution of freshwater is getting much more severe.”

    In his book, Windfall: The Booming Business of Global WarmingMcKenzie Funk documents dozens of other business ventures including the development of giant water bags to float fresh water across oceans, the construction of sea walls pioneered by the Dutch to keep the sea at bay, and the planting of a Great Green Wall of trees to stop the advance of the Sahara.

    The good news is that, unlike politicians who preach gloom and doom, entrepreneurs are not just talking about the weather, they are doing something about it.

    Written By
    • Terry Anderson

      Terry L. Anderson is the former president and executive director of PERC, and the John and Jean De Nault Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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