Monday, November 18, 2013

Adaptation For Those That Can Afford It

Eli has always pointed out the moral dimension to humans ruining the blue marble, and how this burden falls upon those at the bottom of the barrel.

We are sailing into a moral storm.

The moral dimensions associated with the Anthropocene has long interested Eli, and to be honest many others on a deeper level.  While philosophy is associated with personal responsibility, law concerns itself with assignment of responsibility to others.  As our command of the Earth increases, these must come together
In particular the Bunny has relied upon Stephan Gardiner's description of climate change as a perfect moral storm
the presence of the problem of moral corruption reveals another sense in which climate change may be a perfect moral storm. This is that its complexity may turn out to be perfectly convenient for us, the current generation, and indeed for each successor generation as it comes to occupy our position. For one thing, it provides each generation with the cover under which it can seem to be taking the issue seriously – by negotiating weak and largely substanceless global accords, for example, and then heralding them as great achievements – when really it is simply exploiting its temporal position. For another, all of this can occur without the exploitative generation actually having to acknowledge that this is what it is doing. By avoiding overtly selfish behaviour, earlier generations can take advantage of the future without the unpleasantness of admitting it – either to others, or, perhaps more importantly, to itself.
The storm has arrived

The cop outs are accumulating
Japan could set a new 2020 emissions reductions target of 3.8% on 2005 levels, the Nikkei newspaper reports.

It says Minister of the Environment Nobuteru Ishihara will announce the new goal at UN talks in Warsaw next month
If accurate, the new goal would be considerably lower than the 25% emissions reduction on 1990 levels Japan agreed to aim for in 2009.
Todd Stern, the US lead in the climate negotiations was not helpful. He laid out a position that the US and the other rich nations would  not provide the needed funding.  No, really no.
Munjurul Hannan Khan, representing the world's 47 least affluent countries, said: "They are behaving irrationally and unacceptably. The way they are talking to the most vulnerable countries is not acceptable. Today the poor are suffering from climate change. But tomorrow the rich countries will be. It starts with us but it goes to them."
In light of all this, Eli's friend Dano has a question
In the wake of the destruction from recent typhoons Phailin and Haiyan - Haiyan being the third “most destructive” storm ever in the Philippines in the span of 12 months*, I’ve been reflecting on my membership in the National Adaptation Forum (NAF).

 Many members of the NAF signed up because they found themselves suddenly thrust into a newly-created position and are simply trying to find their way forward and seek other voices of sanity. Plus there is the advantage, in my view, that it is easier to get traction and a few words in a comprehensive plan by saying you want to adapt to changes instead of spending money to reduce emissions to mitigate future changes, so at least there is something to plan for. Cynical, I know: but this is Dano, remember? Mitgation costs money, and who spends money on the commonweal these days? That is: who seriously is considering flood barriers in New York in the wake of Sandy, to control the sea like the Dutch have done?

 But back to adaptation: who were the victims of Phailin and Haiyan? The rich in their fortified and provisioned hilltops, or the lowland poor? That question raises the important question of “who pays for adaptation, and who pays for mitigation?” Or perhaps a related question: “who can afford adaptation protection?” That’s right: the rich can afford to purchase grain, no matter how high the price goes, and the rich already live on high ground, protected from sea level rise and flooding from episodic downpours.

There is no doubt the incidences of severe weather are increasing

and insurers are increasingly incurring losses from severe weather events. But what of the uninsured losses that rarely make the news?

When we talk about adaptation, we should ask “adaptation for whom”, because right now, the answer is “those who can afford it”. Concepts like resilience and “sustainability” (whether we can ever be “sustainable” must wait for another post) are ignored when all we do is adapt. And adaptation is for those people in the future, anyways. Oh sure, mitigation has benefits in the future as well, which is another reason adaptation is so compelling an argument if you don’t think too much about it.

*Dano wrote this soon after Haiyan passed over the islands and before she struck Vietnam, although she appeared to be recurving as of the 21z sat foto.


Aaron said...

As carbon feedbacks ramp up, our ability to control Earth plummets.

The truth of the matter is that it does not matter if you are the first anchovy gutted, salted, and tossed in the barrel, or the last anchovy gutted, salted, and tossed in the barrel. In a few days, you are both salt fish, and global warming lasts longer than a few days. If one wants to avoid the barrel, one must avoid the cutting table, and the net.

The assumption has always been that the rich could flop off the cutting table at the last minute. However, they will only land on the stone quay, and get stepped on. They may not end up salted in a barrel, but their end is no better.

Anonymous said...

Humanity will never achieve an effective pre-emptive response to climate change.

It's as simple as that.

Oh, I think that we had a few instances where it seemed that rationality might prevail but really, the odds were always stacked against us. The trouble is that just as shit rises, the worst of human nature bludgeons its way to power. Too many people in authority gained it through nepotism, backroom dealing, sociopathy, apealings to (invalid) populism, megalomania and other presentations of self-serving interest. Too many people with the wisdom and humanity that would make them good leaders are (ironically) side-lined by the process whereby leaders are chosen.

We're an evolutionary experiment that was going along swimmingly until our intelligence was diverted from the enterprise of gathering our energy directly from our food species to accumulating it indirectly through the use of fire. Since that time we've been out of equilibrium with the biosphere, and that dis-equilibrium is approaching a tipping point. The trouble is that although we have the intelligence to change the world, few of us have the wisdom to appreciate the consequences of that ability - most of our species is still ruled by the amygdala that wasn't properly upgraded when the intelligence app was installed.

And so we're on the threshold of the point where natural selection and thermodynamics kick in and reset the operating system, which won't include a planet where human civilisation as we know it lasts beyond this century.

If it was otherwise we'd already have effective global action against climate change. We don't, and we won't until it's far too late, and so we are stuffed.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to save some of the furniture, but it's important to be realistic about what will not happen compared to what may yet be (possibly) salvaged.

Bernard J.

Dano said...

Dan Farber wrote something today that echoes my thoughts in this piece.



Brian said...

I don't know about Farber's piece. In 2060 they'll be in a similar position to us in terms of thinking how the next 40-50 years will be different from the present year of 2060 and how they need to adapt to it, and maybe worry they're overemphasizing adaptation over mitigation.

Assuming no Singularity, of course.

dbostrom said...

Adaptation is a storm surge erasing a village and violently forcing change, just as much or more than the comfy, upholstered style of adaptation promoted by Lomborgian sophists.

See the natural world: adaptation is the fraternal twin of destruction. Our adaptation might not be that way, we have notional choices, but our human nature says our adaption to climate change will be viewed in history as heavily punctuated by horrific violence How do we know? Look at us now. Are we going to be different soon? When? Why should we think so? Are we so unique in history that this story will play out as we'd like?

Adaptation is brutal.

jyyh said...

Nothing much to add to Bernard J.'s "to accumulating it indirectly through the use of fire.", but to change just 'fire' to 'fossil fuel fire'. It appears a remake of PETM is in order, a desert battle between lizards, snakes and other animals having their core temperature higher than humans, on large areas tropical, where plants still can do their thing, and every resource (like soil) decreasing due excessive rains and overgrazing (overuse) and sea level rise on cooler areas. Can't say what comes of humans after all of it is over, may be some extant nomadic peoples still do what they've done with different sort of animals on northernmost or southernmost continents, some isolated fishing communities may revert back to the ways of 1800s, but what most people will do is out of my scope here. Being overtly pessimistic here since some countries like Germany could pretty well convert to living standards of 1930s (an estimate) using only renewable energy right now. Made a story about fire before Copenhagen.

Dano said...

Really, the question is: in a world that has a climate with which our societies are unfamiliar and structured on something that is not in existence any more, what good will adaptation do overall?

The rich will buy their way to comfort, but the rest?



Anonymous said...

Eunice is really concerned for your collective mental health.

Fortunately, Neanderthals roaming the continents going into the glacials as well as into the Eemian and Holocene Altithermal were not so anxious. They went about the business of living, finding some time to paint a cave or two. Perhaps they have a lesson for you.


a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

So Eunice is advocating a civilization in which the highest art is cave painting?

That would make her sanguine attitude more comprehensible.

Mal Adapted said...

I'm worried about Eunice's mental health. Is she aware that there aren't any Neanderthals around anymore?

Anonymous said...

"Is she aware that there aren't any Neanderthals around anymore?"

Perhaps not, but there sure seem to be a lot of Neander-tols on climate change blogs.

Hank Roberts said...

Climate change will help kill seven billion human beings during this century. Not to mention an inordinate number of beetles.

We ought to do something beyond

"... negotiating weak and largely substanceless global accords ... and then heralding them as great achievements ... exploiting [our] temporal position.... take advantage of the future without the unpleasantness of admitting it"

I mean, seven billion people .... won't leave much if we're greedy while we're alive.

Oh, excuse me, youngsters.
Yep, I helped eat it.
It was delicious....

Anonymous said...

"Todd Stern, the US lead in the climate negotiations was not helpful. He laid out a position that the US and the other rich nations would not provide the needed funding."

"Not helpful"?

What a quaint way to characterize Stern's approach to climate "negotiations" (more like "dictations" where the US tells small countries "Here's what we're not going to do. Now run along like good little boys and girls")

Unfortunately, "being unhelpful" has been standard operating procedure for Stern (and his boss) at climate summits since day one.

Not only don't we lead, but we actually impede.

Anonymous said...


I'd argue that even the use of wood-fire had a discernible effect on the progress of humans over the last 100k years, and consequently on the equilibrium of the planet's ecology.

Heating helped move us to colder climes, helped us to change the way we acquired nutrition, helped us to modify environments. Each of these things put us out of balance with the environment in which we evolved, albeit at a much more subtle level.

Fossil fuel fire was simply an exponential ramping up of the process, and concomitant with that is the timing and the magnitude of the re-establishment of an ecological equilibrium.

Which, as we are all aware (pre-Neandertal trolls excepted) is not going to be pretty.

Bernard J.


Ethon should drop a few leaflets on the 47 least affluent countries inviting them to weigh in on whether they worry more about a repeat of 20th century warming, or the prospect of reduced economic improvement in the century to come.

The flow of emigrants towards nations with larger carbon footpints speaks for itself- many of the least carbon intensive nations are severely lifespan challenged.

Sloop said...

A relevant quote from Clive Hamilton:

"The success of climate denialism in its various guises reveals how shallow the roots of the Enlightenment sink. When superstition was swept away by science and reason, our penchant for self-deception merely lost its cover. In the most vital test of our capacity to protect the future through the deployment of rationality and well-informed foresight the “rational animal” is manifestly failing. We see now that the forces unleashed by science and the commitment to a rational social order had entered into a contingent alliance only."

Sloop said...

Nevertheless, tomorrow I'll try to plant more trees, even if the ignorant keep ripping them out.

Sloop said...

except of course that 21st century warming is going to make 20th century warming look like a frolic in the park; and they're likely to respond in full knowledge that that is a false choice.

They, and we, know that we the affluent have consumed our share of the planetary carbon sink.

Yet George Bailey and Clarence keep singing with the the drunks while Henry Potter sits in his office counting money.

joe said...

Where is that .gif from? Its incredible.

Steve Bloom said...

See here, Joe, although searching Youtube may well turn up more footage.

Anonymous said...

"We're an evolutionary experiment that was going along swimmingly until our intelligence was diverted from the enterprise of gathering our energy directly from our food species to accumulating it indirectly through the use of fire. Since that time we've been out of equilibrium with the biosphere, and that dis-equilibrium is approaching a tipping point. The trouble is that although we have the intelligence to change the world, few of us have the wisdom to appreciate the consequences of that ability"

Generally I'd agree with this, but I think back to my first recognition that fossils and climate change were a problem.
Say from the mid-70s onwards.

At that time we were acknowledging and began dealing with other negatives of various technologies - acid rain, DDT, asbestos, the ozone hole. I honestly, seriously, obliviously thought that AGW would be just one more technical problem. The scientists would come up with stuff. The relevant industries would wail and moan. International negotiations would go back and forward. But one way or another, it would get "done". And it would become part of our long and inglorious history of making mistakes and putting them right - even though the fixes were sometimes as bad as the original problems.

I thought it was obvious. I thought it was routine for technological problems. I was wrong.

When we installed a domestic solar hot water service in the mid 80s, I naively believed that we were merely getting ahead of the trend. That by a not-very-distant date, say 2000, solar hot water would be obligatory in new buildings everywhere in Australia. And in similar climates.

I sometimes feel quite guilty for not seeing that this issue would go differently from these others. There were clues - take a bow, Ronald Reagan - that this could go badly wrong. But I'm sure I'm not alone in having missed the signals that urgent action to get things going in the right direction was so much more important for this issue than it was for the others.

minnies mum

The Old Man is back said...

are you familiar with Singer's response to Gardiner? It is particularly relevant in the current situation (COP19). I can send or post a copy if you want.

Anonymous said...

"The flow of emigrants towards nations with larger carbon footpints speaks for itself- many of the least carbon intensive nations are severely lifespan challenged."

The lesson being we should increase development with fossil fuels.

The wonderful consequence being increased education, decreased fertility, and ultimately decreased fossil fuel use.

Dano said...

They're Adapting!

Leading Texas Gubernatorial Candidate Waters Lawn By Drilling A Well During Drought



Susan Anderson said...

More adaptation:

"Gee, wouldn’t it be great if the alien lifeforms of the plastisphere could just go all-you-can eat on the mess we have made? Unfortunately, the plastic raft of microbes also could also potentially serve as a vector for harmful pathogens, since plastic can travel much farther on ocean currents than other materials. Researchers found one genus of bacteria called Vibrio, a few species of which are associated with fun gastrointestinal diseases like cholera, which normally cannot survive in the open ocean. I guess we’ll have to wait to see if the plastisphere ends up being more like Alien or Wall-E."

EliRabett said...

Color Eli dubious about the claims of a number

Susan Anderson said...

Fergus Brown:

Singer's response to Gardiner? I couldn't help assuming you meant obfuscator Fred Singer; I cannot believe anything he might say would be acceptable to you.

Please do provide a link.


Meanwhile back in blighty, Hamilton is behind on points , and the debate hasn't started yet:

Andrew said...

Minnies mum -

You could argue that through to the late 1970s we were doing something about it. Plans were in place to replace coal fired electricity generation with nuclear plants; and the oil shocks gave us the first electric cars.

Certainly, an engineer looking forward from 1973 would probably be astonished to see us still burning stuff in power plants. And even more astonished to see that our cars are, with a few exceptions, essentially identical - more reliable and more gadget-stuffed, yes, but otherwise practically unchanged.

Much of this is to do, I suspect, with the neoconservative movement which has spent much of the past few decades convincing us of our inability to take collective action of any kind. And this is reflected everywhere; even the environmental movement is convinced that the only solution possible is that obtained by individuals making isolated choices - perhaps in response to a tax - but in any case we are not allowed to just do what needs to be done.

Of course, when the financial sector decided that it needed it, we were able to find capital and loan guarantees to save it within a matter of days, and the magnitude of these was sufficient to reduce carbon emissions to zero in a couple of decades, were they applied to energy supplies. Surprising, really, given that the complete reset of the financial system would change nothing in the physical economy..

The Old Man is back said...

Heavens, no! Peter Singer, Ethicist and environmentalist (developed the concept of Speciesism. I have a pdf of the essay but am not sure if there is a link; you might try his web pages at Princeton. it's called 'Ethics and Climate Change: A Commentary on MacCracken, Toman and Gardiner'.Environmental Values 15 (2006): 415–22.