Roger Pielke Jr. has an overheated post up today wondering why I don’t care about the suffering of "millions, perhaps billions" of people around the world adversely affected by climate. Oy. I hesitate to reply, but here goes.
People, mainly poor people — in the U.S., but far more so in developing countries — are increasingly vulnerable to severe weather: floods, droughts, hurricanes, etc. The reasons have mainly to do with growing population, bad land-use decisions, economic dislocation, oligarchic greed, and other socioeconomic forces. Global warming plays some role at the margins, increasing the severity of the weather, but for now it only adds incrementally to the damages primarily attributable to those social forces. As global warming proceeds, its role will likely increase, but for the foreseeable future it will be socioeconomic changes that most increase vulnerability to climate. This is, I hardly need to point out, Roger’s Point, which he finds endless, ingenious ways to rephrase.
The U.S. government ought to be doing what it can to reduce the vulnerability of the poor, in this country and elsewhere, to climate, by counterbalancing those socioeconomic forces. This would mean better land-use policy, better family planning services, sustainable development assistance, less corporatism, and, well, giving a damn. All indications are that the Bush administration doesn’t give a damn. But it ought to. Roger and I, and as far as I know every other sentient being, agree on this. And indeed, it is environmentalists that have done more than anybody else to advocate for these sorts of policies.
But those policies would not be responses to climate change. They would simply be responses to human suffering.
The debate over climate change is a separate beast. In that context, "adaptation" simply means doing the sorts of things we ought to be doing anyway to reduce vulnerability to climate — i.e., it means doing nothing in particular about climate change. There’s one way to directly address climate change, and that’s reducing the GHG emissions that drive it. In the context of the climate-change debate, advocating for adaptation means advocating for a non-response. It means advocating for nothing.
I, for one, am not going to provide that kind of political cover for those who are protecting their corporate contributors. Roger’s calculus may be different. But neither of us suffers from any deficit of empathy or concern for the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable.