Saturday, December 05, 2015

Adaptation, mitigation, inundation


For a moral argument about adaptation that mirrors what Eli was saying, ask Thilmeeza Hussain from the Maldives, on To the Point. When asked about how much funding the people of the Maldives might expect to deal with the impacts of climate change, she addresses the real issue:

I think we cannot put a price tag on people's lives. We cannot afford not to act on climate. 
Yes, funding is important for adaptation, but no amount of adaptation can save the islands without mitigation. I think everyone, both rich and poor countries, need to look at what is at stake. 
Maldives is known for its beautiful beaches and people of these islands have lived there in harmony with nature for over three thousand years, and they definitely don't want to trade their homes for some refugee camps. In Paris we cannot afford to be stupid quite frankly.  
Really what is there to negotiate when it comes to climate? I really cannot comprehend the fact that we are negotiating. I think the world should be gathered around to find a solution. There really is nothing to be negotiated when it comes to climate.  
I think only drastic and bold action needs to be taken when it comes to climate change.

There may be a bit of daylight between Eli and me on adaptation - I think it could be a bridge towards mitigation actions for people who are still shaking off denial - but she is right about the core issue.

40 comments:

William Connolley said...

That's not a moral argument, that's propaganda. Do you really think otherwise?

Aaron said...

We need a global war on carbon in the atmosphere. Not just stopping emissions, but active carbon capture to bring the level of all greenhouse gases back towards CO2 350 ppmve.

Any cost less than the total value of human infrastructure, culture, and all human lives is a bargain. We may find ways to do it cheaper, but not defeating AGW is the most expensive path.

William Connolley said...

BTW, I think you forgot to give this post a title. In my feedly, it appears as "(Source)For a moral argument about adaptation that mirrors what Eli was saying, ask Thilmeeza Hussain from the Maldives,..."

dbostrom said...

Adaptation: the cozy word!

In nature adaptation is powered by lots and lots of dying. Adaptation is the outcome of testing to destruction.

The soft-sell needs a more profound euphemism.

David B. Benson said...

The USA spends about US $600 billion per annum on the military. For a like sum we could go a long way towards complete mitigation.

Bernard J. said...

"Really what is there to negotiate when it comes to climate? I really cannot comprehend the fact that we are negotiating. I think the world should be gathered around to find a solution. There really is nothing to be negotiated when it comes to climate.

I think only drastic and bold action needs to be taken when it comes to climate change.
"

That's the take-home message.

Adaptation is what you do once you've already mitigated your pants off. Anyone one who imagines that anything less is okay needs to think on Doug Bostrom's spot-on observation that adaptation involves serious pruning through destruction of individuals, species, and ecosystems.

If anyone doubts this they should contemplate for a while Darwin's seminal phrase "natural selection through survival of the fittest." It's a Law of the Universe, and no amount of happy-clapping and pulpit-thumping changes that fact, even if it makes the clappers and thumpers convince themselves of such.

And given the human inertia on the required action on climate change, there appears to be a lot of selection and not much survival or (evolutionary) fitness in our species' future.

William Connolley said...

Its not Darwin's phrase: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival_of_the_fittest

Kevin O'Neill said...

WC writes: "That's not a moral argument, that's propaganda."

Of course it's a moral argument; it's essentially the same argument Jefferson was making that I quoted at your site. The earth belongs to *future* generations as much as today's generation. It is immoral to take that away from them.

Now, you may disagree with the argument. Or you may claim that there is a net benefit to society (including future generations) accrued by our actions today, but it is disingenuous to claim there is no moral argument at all - especially when the same argument has been put to you so very recently.

William Connolley said...

I know she's trying to talk about morality; but its not an argument; the words are framed as propaganda, not argument. "Maldives is known for its beautiful beaches and people of these islands have lived there in harmony with nature for over three thousand years" is just propaganda.

Russell Seitz said...

The 3,000 years of habitation needs some quantifying- the pre-islamaic archaeology of the archipelago is cant

Russell Seitz said...

That's Islamic and Scant

luminous beauty said...

William, This is the argument: "...and they definitely don't want to trade their homes for some refugee camps."

For reasons. Humane reasons. Moral reasons.

Brian said...

William - thanks, I did leave off the headline.

As for her statement, I originally wrote it was a "heart-felt" version of Eli's argument, but then listened to the someone else on the program call it a moral argument and decided that was fair. Intuitive arguments play a role in ethics - see the trolley problem and the unwillingness to push the fat guy off the bridge to save five people.

You can go all Spock-like and reject intuitive arguments as propaganda I suppose. I'm not convinced we humans are smart enough, or sufficiently capable of overcoming our other base emotions, to ignore moral intuitions. Not that those intuitions should automatically win, though - they can lead in bad directions.

Aside - my pet peeve in moral arguments is the failure to identify ethical frameworks people are using, while everyone assumes the all accept the same rules.

Jim Eager said...

"In nature adaptation is powered by lots and lots of dying. Adaptation is the outcome of testing to destruction."

dbostrom, I am so going to steal that line.

William Connolley said...

I'd have been happier with "heart-felt".

> they can lead in bad directions

Indeed. Intuitive or emotional argument is all very well when you agree with its conclusions; but if you allow it in GW, then you've no answer to those who use it but with their own emotions.

> pet peeve

You do realise that applies to the stuff you've quoted, don't you?

> trade their homes for some refugee camps

Most of them will be dead before climate changes enough for that to matter. Of the others: I'm sure they don't want to, but why should they? There's plenty of land above sea level; the barrier to using it is political. Why automatically assume we're obliged to solve their problems by not destroying their islands?

Kevin O'Neill said...

WC writes: "Most of them will be dead before climate changes enough for that to matter. Of the others: I'm sure they don't want to, but why should they? There's plenty of land above sea level; the barrier to using it is political. Why automatically assume we're obliged to solve their problems by not destroying their islands?"

As I noted at your site, arguments of this type are rarely explicit. Yours is a good example. Whose land where are we giving them? Hey, let's create a state for them in the Middle East - there's precedent for that (and we know well that has worked out). A political barrier is still a barrier. It doesn't make the barrier go away by categorizing it as physical, political, religious, cultural, etc. No one is automatically believing we're obliged, morality says we're obliged. Political theory says we're obliged.

But again, where is the explicit cost-benefit-risk assessment that says we *must* take this land away from them and to compensate (meet our moral obligation) we will do X? You seem to be representing a view that we can embark on a policy of global eminent domain without any justification or compensation.

Brian said...

On my pet peeve, I should rephrase to say that when a disagreement occurs, the sides may be using a different moral framework and be arguing past each other. I think intuitive arguments carry some weight, and William doesn't. It's that principle we should argue about if we want to continue arguing (although there's usually little value to arguing at that point).

Regarding relocation, I don't think as a general matter that the side causing injury to the other side has the right to decide it will also continue to cause injury in the future because it intends to compensate the injured side for future injury. The first, injuring side has an obligation to compensate for past injury, but that's not a right to continue. The second, injured party has the option to accept a deal of compensation for future injury, but no obligation to do so.

I think that argument will hold true for most ethical frameworks, although everything gets tricky in details. Kant said something like let justice be done even if makes the heavens fall to earth, but that's just his opinion, man (and AFAIK he was supposed to be a jerk on a personal level). If something causes too much hardship then we should't do it.

William Connolley said...

> A political barrier is still a barrier

True. And there's a massive political barrier to reducing carbon emissions. Which barrier is higher?

> where is the explicit cost-benefit-risk assessment

No-one is doing anything like that in this thread; its all emotive, as I said. But why is the cost-benefit burden one-sided?

> injuring side has an obligation to compensate for past injury

Morally, yes. In practice it is rather less clear.

Russell Seitz said...


Should indignation at those who build on barrier beaches and desert isles a tenth of a palm tree high be limited to Nantucket Republicans and Tories in the Bahamas?

EliRabett said...


It's not indignation, like any thing of this sort, if they get lucky and the houses last long enough for them to sell it ok. If not, don't expect much help or sympathy. And it goes also for those folks who build in the Hamptons and Martha's Vineyard as well.

Everett F Sargent said...

Well according to Wikipedia ...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maldives

The 'Area' is as follows ...

Area
• Total 298 km2 (206th) 115 sq mi
• Water (%) 110%

I'm sort of thinking that Woy did the above computation with UAH v6.0b666 code.

William Connolley said...

> I think we cannot put a price tag on people's lives.

Note: that's contrary to the std analysis, too. In which countries routinely do this: working out how much to spend on Motorway rescue, for example; or cost-of-medicine-vs-years-of-life stuff.

Bernard J. said...

William Connelly, indeed it wasn't Darwin's phrase, and I had a brain-fart typing it - probably because I followed the comment with the phrase itself, and because I have a bad habit of not proofing.

Darwin's seminal work was popularising the concept, and he was preceded by several others in formulating various parts of the notions although he was probably the one to stitch together a more holistic conception of evolution than any of the others around his time.

It doesn't change the bottom line though. Any strategy that doesn't involve mitigating as much as is possible will result in the demise, from human-caused climate change, of many humans and of non-human species in the future. Such will happen even if we were to stop emitting today. It's just a matter of how much more we're happy to condemn to extinction.

But if anyone thinks that adaptation can replace mitigation, they're crazy, ignorant, or both.

That's the ball from which we must not take our eyes.

Bernard J. said...

"But why is the cost-benefit burden one-sided?"

That's an interesting question. Why indeed is it OK for the West and the newly-developing nations to live off the benefits of fossilised sunlight, to the cost of the poorest on the planet, to the cost of those future generations who will never benefit from the erstwhile existence of fossil carbon, and to the cost of a seriously depauperised global biodiversity?

I've never actually seen or heard a defensible justification for our selfish indulgence. Oh, plenty of explanations, but never a justification. If anyone can put one on the table, I'd be most interested.

William Connolley said...

> Why indeed is it OK for

In the context of this discussion, you have it the wrong way round: everyone here is assuming the burden is on the other side.

Simply trying to dump it on the other side is just as useless.

luminous beauty said...

William, removing emotion from moral consideration, thinking one can decide such matters with purely empirical arguments is as fraught with bad ends as relying solely on emotion. Suffering, which morality and ethics are purportedly designed to minimize, is an emotive response to events, which are objectively just events. Without empathy and compassion, which are emotive responses to the suffering of others, morality and ethics are just lifeless words.

Why scientists aren't usually good care givers.

luminous beauty said...

"...everyone here is assuming the burden is on the other side."

You'll have to clarify what you mean by 'other side'. My assumption is we're all in this together.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

--John Donne

That is the moral argument. I don't know what you're thinking.

William Connolley said...

Sigh. If you're all off in fairy land and no-one but me is prepared to point that out, there's no point in commenting any further. Brian?

luminous beauty said...

What is 'fairyland', William? So you can't defend your assertions. That's OK.

EliRabett said...

Since Everybunny (including the Weasel and RT) agrees that the heaviest burden of the changing climate falls on the poorest nations of the world in Africa and Asia, and Everybunny (including the Weasel and RT) agree that the primary cause of this climate change is net CO2 emissions in the last century and Everybunny (including the Weasel and RT) agree that essentially all of the emissions in the last century have come from the developed world the only thing up for grabs morally is apportioning future emissions.

Now for various reasons including being able to taste the air, China is on board with reducing its emissions. India remains a problem, but the rest of the under-developed world not only has not emitted damn all CO2, but is unlikely to. So the open question is what is India's price. OTOH, they are doing a fine job of screwing up their local atmosphere by burning coal, and at some point somebunny named Modi will wake up and smell the roses.

Tom said...

Except there is no 'burden' of changing climate so far. So far the climate is doing exactly what it has in the past. There is no global increase in drought or heatwaves or storms. Flood's consequences are directly attributable to increased population in flood plains. Sea level rise is doing this century exactly what it did last century.

If you wrote that future climate change will heavily impact the poor I would agree. So would the IPCC. But your statement as it stands is nonsense.

Mal Adapted said...

Tom: "So far the climate is doing exactly what it has in the past. There is no global increase in drought or heatwaves or storms. Flood's consequences are directly attributable to increased population in flood plains. Sea level rise is doing this century exactly what it did last century."

Tom, every time you make this claim, I'm going to remind you that it's unwarranted certainty on your part.

Bernard J. said...

"...in the context of this discussion, you have it the wrong way round."

It seems that my irony was lost: lack of clarity is always a danger.

Brian said...

Sorry, was out of pocket. William is right, you have to put a price on life to do policy tradeoffs, and it's something we all do in our personal choices.

There's still lots of room for ethical debate though - econ analysis would say rich people's lives are worth more than poor people's, but we usually reject that and give a single price.

There's also debate over the claim that, e.g. because Toxic Corp's profits from pollution exceed the econ value of innocent people killed by the pollution that Toxic should get to move pollute. Maybe that's true within the social compact (maybe), but there is no functioning social compact across national borders.

Having said all that, I also get India's position in saying their tens of millions in abject, life-threatening poverty outweigh the tens of thousands of future refugees from Pacific Islands, so unless it's shown or made to be in India's interest to do otherwise, they're not going to develop on the path that gets the people out of energy poverty ASAP.

Hank Roberts said...

"... develop on the path that gets the people out of energy poverty ASAP."

Because look at China, see how well ASAP worked out.

http://www.france24.com/en/20151208-beijing-smog-first-red-alert-air-pollution-climate

Oh, having trouble seeing? That's wealth in the atmosphere.

Brian said...

Wish I didn't fling so many typos around. My last comment may still be partially readable, I hope.

Hank - it's relevant that air pollution is worse in India than in China, but it's China that's doing something about it. The difference is China is much richer.

That's not to say India is making the right choice to choke on pollution - some people have jobs that would go away if you tightened up on pollution controls, but I don't know how it balances out - but it's harder for India than China to get the political will to address the issue.

Hank Roberts said...

http://www.tor.com/2015/12/07/oral-argument-kim-stanley-robinson/#more-198494

Seriously. Supreme Court transcript.
From the near future.

Hank Roberts said...

the followup:

https://theintercept.com/2015/11/27/lamar-smith-murray/

Hank Roberts said...

Speaking of inundation, over at Tamino's, this prediction for the winter in California:

------quote------
Aaron Lewis | December 9, 2015 at 10:51 pm

Right after the 1997 El Nino, West Coast sea level went down see http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/sltrends/sltrends_station.shtml?stnid=9415144, but it will rise again with the 2015 El Nino. see http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/sltrends/sltrends_station.shtml?stnid=9414290

This may be an argument that is made easier by collecting another 2 months worth of West Coast sea level data.

This winter, i expect the sea level of the SF Bay and Delta to be a full meter above the sea level of when many of the old dikes and levees were built. Add tides and storm waves on top of that, and a number of the old dikes and Levees are likely to fail.....
----end quote----

Hank Roberts said...

> China is much richer

No, China has more money.
Not the same thing.

But you know that.
Money destroying riches: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p039bhqp