Equity must be part of climate adaptation discussions

Interesting discussion about climate change shaping up between Rod Dreher and Noah Millman. Dreher is right that we need to attend to climate adaptation and that some climate activists don’t give adaptation much attention because it feels like giving up. He’s probably not right that it will be impossible to reach any meaningful agreement on mitigation by way of limited greenhouse gas emissions. For many reasons—not just or even primarily the “tragedy of the commons reasons” that Dreher mentions—it has been and will continue to be extraordinarily difficult to reach this agreement. But I don’t think it’s impossible, and I don’t think that’s an unreasonable position to take.

Moreover, mitigation remains important despite the fact that we may have triggered some irreversible climate destabilization. No one wants to see the worst-case scenarios that are likely under business-as-usual-ad-infinitum projections. We may not even be able to adapt to those scenarios.

Or, I should say, to the extent that adaptation is possible, only the wealthiest may be able to adapt their way out of the worst case scenarios.

And this is brings up equity, an issue that any serious discussion of adaptation must include. Discussions of adaptation have to address questions like, “Adaptation by whom? For whom? Implemented by what institutions?”

The poor are largely at greatest and earliest risk. They’ve contributed least to the problem. And they have the fewest resources to invest in adaptation.

Yes, it’s too easy to keep talking about mitigation without making meaningful progress on mitigation or adaptation. This would be a massive failure and a complete disaster for the poor. But it is also too easy to abandon mitigation in favor of adaptation without actually addressing the equity and justice issues related to that choice and related to the implementation of adaptation.

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