To address the increasingly clear and present dangers of climate change, we must mitigate and adapt. To mitigate is to take action to minimize or reduce the level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere. The lower the level, the less will be the climate change impacts from GHGs. But we have already the loaded the atmosphere with enough GHGs that we will suffer some adverse consequences. To minimize the impacts from these unavoidable adverse consequences we will have to adapt our lives and environment.
The way to mitigate GHGs is clear and the means are generally currently available, e.g., stop extracting and burning fossil fuels, impose carbon taxes world-wide to reduce dependence and use of fossil fuels, develop renewable energy technology and electric power grids. The problem is that international efforts to undertake these measures are very complicated and challenging, and have been largely unsuccessful. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global negotiations over twenty years has struggled but not produced a resolution. Some local governments have been successful but since GHGs come from everywhere and go everywhere, we need everybody engaging in a consensual collaborative effort. Only a global mitigation effort will eventually be successful.
In contrast, adaptation is more a local problem since the impacts from climate change vary according to a host of environmental and social-political factors. Coastal communities will have to adapt to rising sea levels and flooding in ways that communities in the middle of a country do not, but then these interior communities might have to adapt to severe drought. A poor low-laying island community lacks the resources to adapt to rising seas that a major city, like New York, might have. Unlike the general certainty of what has to be done to mitigate, planning on adaptation is more elusive since the precise impacts from climate change will not be clear for years or decades. So to anticipate what might or even what likely will happen is challenging. And to decide how much money to commit today to preventive measures that won’t take effect for decades is a real challenge, especially when there are so many other problems in need of financial support now.
Some actions can qualify as both mitigation and adaptation. For example, undertaking energy efficiency measures like insulating your residence or business will reduce reliance on fossil-fuel energy now and in the future as climate change impacts intensify. At the same time, there exists some competition between these two prongs of the fight against climate change, as funds spent on one are not available for the other. Also, fossil fuel interests spend substantial sums on fighting mitigation, which depends on reducing or eliminating fossil fuels.
Some further ideas to explore on Adaptation and Mitigation
Identify one mitigation action you can take, and take it.
Identify one adaptation measure you can take, and take it.
Get two people to join you in your mitigation and adaptation actions, or negotiate with them for one mitigation action and adaptation measure the three of you can take, and then take them.
IPCC, Adaptation and mitigation options (2007 Report). www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/syr/en/spms4.html
European Environment Agency, Climate change policies. www.eea.europa.eu/themes/climate/policy-context
Richard Pauli, “Mitigate and Adapt – the squabbling twins that will only grow louder,” NoEnergyTomorrow (17 June 2009). www.noenergytomorrow.org/2009/06/squabbling-twins-mitigate-and-adapt-will-grow-louder.html
globalgreenhousewarming, Climate Mitigation and Adaptation, www.global-greenhouse-warming.com/climate-mitigation-and-adaptation.html