The “Death of Environmentalism” boys are at it again. In an op-ed piece in the April 1, 2006 New York Times, Nordhaus and Shellenberger argue that we should stop arguing about the causes of global warming and start talking about adaptation.

Environmentalists and their opponents have spent far too much time debating whether global warming is caused by humans, and whether the transition to cleaner energy sources will be good or bad for the economy. Whatever the causes, warming is a genuine risk.

If the earth’s temperatures continue to rise, we can expect to face melting glaciers and rising sea levels, warmer ocean temperatures and more intense hurricanes, more frequent droughts and other extreme weather. Is the government ready?

No. Which is why we need a Global Warming Preparedness Act.

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My first reaction? It reads remarkably like White House talking points circa 2002, when the U.S. Kyoto delegation tried to shift the conversation from prevention to adaption. You remember how it went: Why squabble over who’s to blame? What we should really be doing is looking at how to adapt.

But perhaps — and this is just supposition here — the real purpose was a kind of media judo. You know, co-opt your opponent’s momentum and use it against them. Under this theory, once people have to go through the scenarios of how to deal with global warming’s effects, they’ll take it more seriously. If that’s the reasoning behind this framing I think it falls down on several points:

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  • Once you start talking about adaption, you implicitly concede the battle of prevention. It’s very hard to go back.
  • Who’s to say the adaptation scenarios will scare? I guarantee you that should their “Global Warming Preparedness Act” be enacted, we’ll see a raft of reports about the benefits of increased temperatures to American agriculture, the boon to the economy from the uptick in the flip-flop and airconditioner industries, etc.

For people still interested in working on prevention, this is an unproductive way to take the conversation.