The other issue that’s come up in Pielke-Roberts Mild Disagreement ’06 is the relative importance of mitigation vs. adaptation, climate-change wise. A couple of issues need to be distinguished here.

First, the substance: According to Roger, the "Kyoto Protocol, as is the FCCC under which it was negotiated, is in fact strongly biased against adaptation." It frames money spent on adaptation as money directly drained from mitigation (which it says would make adaptation unnecessary). I’m no expert on the FCCC, but this jibes with what I’ve read, and I agree with Roger that it’s not a smart way of framing things.

Now, I could be wrong about this, but I think Roger agrees that there’s a limited pot of money; he thinks that adaptation should get more of it and mitigation less. This is, as far as I can tell, what a "non-skeptic heretic" believes. There are several reasons one could believe this: perhaps because global warming won’t be as bad as people say it will; perhaps because mitigation would be too expensive. Maybe Roger can clarify.

Now, I’m probably being idealistic, but it seems to me that many adaptation strategies are also mitigation strategies (or if you prefer, vice versa). To take an example, having a more diverse set of electricity sources, decentralized and site-situated, hooked up to a smart grid, would both reduce GHG emissions and make the power grid less vulnerable to climatic disruptions. Another example: structures built based on the principles of "passive survivability" are designed to be livable even during severe climate events that cause blackouts, etc.; they also emit far fewer GHGs.

Indeed, not to get all philosophical, but it seems to me open systems are in almost every case more secure and resilient than closed systems. Decentralization is more resilient than centralization. Diversity is more resilient than monoculture.

Much of what I advocate as an environmentalist has to do with the U.S. reversing its post-war monoculturizing — that goes for energy, architecture, agriculture, you name it. Doing so serves the dual purposes of climate-change mitigation and adaptation. They are not as much in conflict as both the FCCC and Roger seem to think, IMO.

Now, the politics: Roger quotes me ranting against adaptation, and concludes I’m "squarely against it." Not so. Let me clarify.

There are efforts afoot on the corporatist wing of the right to persuade the public that global warming’s effects won’t be all that bad — that cutting CO2 substantially would cause far worse effects. They say we should continue economic expansion (which they fallaciously equate with emitting GHGs) and simply adapt to the changes global warming brings. (Many of them believe that humans are not actually contributing to climate change, but that scientifically discredited argument is becoming less publicly acceptable, so they’re eliding the point.)

Should they succeed in building consensus around that position, it would be disastrous. We would keep accelerating global warming, the climate would keep changing, we would keep adapting, and eventually we would bankrupt and exhaust ourselves.

The public needs to accept the fact the global warming is happening, that it’s bad, and that we need to stop accelerating it. Once that consensus is solid, I wouldn’t mind spending money preparing for the changes that are already inevitable. In fact, it would be crazy not to. Humans all over the globe are increasingly vulnerable to climate, period — not just the extra wackiness global warming throws in the mix. That problem, like global poverty, disease, etc. needs to be addressed through international cooperation. I don’t think anyone would genuinely object to that.

But until a robust will to action on global warming exists, we must battle to create it. Yes, Kyoto has become something of a fetish in some circles. Yes, some folks preaching for action on climate change have adopted a quasi-religious fervor and dogmatism. And yes, that can be irksome. But is it really the biggest problem we face? Is chipping away at that orthodoxy really where Roger wants to direct his energy? The gauche over-enthusiasm of climate-change advocates seems rather trivial compared to America’s almost complete paralysis in the face the problem.