Wednesday, April 28

Human nature vs the need to adapt to climate change

Recently economist Terry Anderson sat down with John Batchelor to talk about themes in a book of essays he edited, Adapt and Be Adept: Market Responses to Climate Change.  

The book is indispensable for businesspeople under the gun of changes in weather patterns that are threatening to destroy their companies and entire industries. But the tales Terry recounts, by turns funny, sad, and exasperating, lay out the shrewd ways that people found to profit from climate policies they knew were useless at stopping climate change. 

Now that the new received wisdom is that it's not possible to stop the climate from changing, the tack is to urge everyone to find ways to adapt to climate change. 

Yet what's clear from Terry's crash course is that human nature is most adept at doing what it wants to do for as long as possible. There's a good reason for this. Human societies reflect the "If it ain't broke don't fix it" rule, which works out to defending the status quo.  The business of being adaptable is okay for childless couples, adventurers, and CEOs desperate to keep their companies profitable, but the majority need and demand stability for child-raising and communities made up of families. 

Donald Trump won his first presidential campaign by in effect promising Americans that he would return their society to a stable way of life. Joe Biden won the White House by projecting a very stable personality and by promising that he and not Trump would restore stability to the USA.   

So is the question for the policy experts that Terry quotes how to be adaptable in ways that don't signal vast disruptions in society?  

I think the first question is whether it's true that climate change can't be stopped. When you cut the question into manageable bites, the answer is that it is demonstrably possible to stop and even reverse weather patterns that carbon emissions modelers  insist on terming "climate."  It's not possible to persuade those people to re-think their models, but it's been shown time and again that relatively small changes can produce big changes in the weather. An example I once quoted is that major loss of forest in one part of the USA  produced more rain in another part of the country -- and in direct, cause-and-effect fashion.

So the idea is to first sort out what can and should be changed, and aim adaptability at what can show quick changes. Once people see with their own eyes the success they have with small actions that don't disrupt society, they build up enthusiasm for making more changes.

Well, this is a big discussion, and a good launching point is Terry Anderson's talk on John Batchelor's radio show at CBS Audio Network. (Podcast) But the key is small changes taken by many people. Sweeping policies implemented in the wrong direction are what got us into this "climate" mess in the first place.  


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