Adaptation and political context
The U.S. should be doing more to prepare for changes in the climate that are already inevitable. As many folks have pointed out, even if we completely stopped emitting CO2 tomorrow, the gases already in the atmosphere will yield climate weirdness 30 to 40 years from now.
Adaptation — the term of art for these sorts of adjustments — is necessary. And it probably doesn’t get the attention it should in policy discussions.
Nevertheless, I’m leery about discussing it too much. Why? Because there’s more to policy discussions than policy discussions. There’s also the political and cultural context in which such discussions take place. Focusing purely on policy details without taking the larger context into account is not a virtue, as some would have it. It’s irresponsible.
Kevin Drum recently made this argument with regard to another subject, namely Iran. Should progressives spend more time criticizing Iran’s repressive, authoritarian regime? Well …
Sure. It’s a repressive, misogynistic, theocratic, terrorist-sponsoring state that stands for everything I stand against. Of course I should speak out against them.
And yet, I know perfectly well that criticism of Iran is not just criticism of Iran. Whether I want it to or not, it also provides support for the Bush administration’s determined and deliberate effort to whip up enthusiasm for a military strike. Only a naif would view criticism of Iran in a vacuum, without also seeing the way it will be used by an administration that has demonstrated time and again that it can’t be trusted to act wisely.
So what to do? For the most part, I end up saying very little. And [Peter] Beinart is right: there’s a sense in which that betrays my own liberal ideals. But he’s also wrong, because like it or not, my words — and those of other liberals — would end up being used to advance George Bush’s distinctly illiberal ends. And I’m simply not willing to be a pawn in the Bush administration’s latest marketing campaign.
Kevin expresses some mixed feelings and regret about the situation, but Matt Yglesias doesn’t:
My thinking on this has really become totally unmixed. I worry about the fates of the populations of, say, Iran and Venezuela. But realistically the most helpful thing I can do for Iranians and Venezuelans is use my platform as a pundit to discourage the United States from launching a war with the former country or mounting a coup in the latter country. Extravagant denunciations of the Iranian regime do much more to increase the odds of a war with Iran (bad for Iranians) than to boost the fortunes of Iranian democracy. Enhancing my own sense of self-righteousness is not a real value.
This argument transfers straightforwardly to the mitigation vs. adaptation question. Advocating that adaptation play a larger role in U.S. policy, in the current political context, does not increase the odds of sensible, balanced climate policy. It simply, if inadvertently, helps the corporatist right cloud the debate and avoid the difficult steps required to cut GHG emissions.
And whatever else we do, that task is paramount.
In an ideal, abstract policy debate, sure, I’d say we should boost our attention to adaptation. But in the current political situation, I don’t want to provide any ammunition for the moral cretins who are squirming frantically to avoid policies that might impact their corporate donors. Until they’re gone from the scene — until we have an administration serious about addressing this problem — I’m going to focus on cutting emissions.