A new report just released this week says the ice sheets are melting five times faster than in the 1990’s and occurring more rapidly than scientists believed in 2007 (http://science.time.com/2012/11/30/climate-change-polar-ice-sheets-melting-faster-raising-sea-levels/) . At the same time climate discussion occurring over the last week in Doha have been unfruitful and hope that a meaningful agreement can be reached is fading (http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/doha-talks-after-6-days-no-consensus-yetclimate-issue/494234/). At the same time meaningful discussion is starting to take place in the Northeast regarding whether to rebuild in coastal areas destroyed by Sandy (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324595904578120962784383982.html), and to what extent New York City and other major metropolitan areas need to build infrastructure to prevent similar destruction in future storms (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-09/billions-on-flood-barriers-now-might-save-new-york-city-l.html and http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bloomberg-questions-aid-protect-flooding-ny-subways-article-1.1210855).
It seems to me that Sandy has shifted both attitudes about climate change and the conversation itself. Not only is Sandy making believers out of those who may have been on the fence regarding “climate weirding” but based on the fact that any sort of agreement is unlikely both here at home or internationally in terms of meaningful emissions reductions, adaptation is starting to take center stage. After all, if we can’t agree on what is causing climate change we can at least now all agree that the climate is changing rapidly and without steps towards adaptation there will be Sandy-like consequences that become the norm.
Obviously we must continue to fight for a shift away from a fossil fuel economy and towards the use of renewable energy because the risks associated with climate change are not only to human beings, but to the natural environment itself. However, this shift will likely occur too late as time may have already run out in terms of sea level rise, ocean acidification, and other climate related consequences. Therefore, while we must continue to work for climate mitigation, we should work with those who are now on board with climate adaptation, even if they are skeptical about its cause, because the climate is changing and those who will be most impacted by a lack of preparedness will be the working class and poor (as witnessed in Katrina and Sandy). It is our job to make sure they have a voice at the table.
It is important to note that this is not a reason to give up fighting against those who refuse to support renewable energy and are clearly in the pockets of Big Oil (http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/climate-skeptic-group-works-to-reverse-renewable-energy-mandates/2012/11/24/124faaa0-3517-11e2-9cfa-e41bac906cc9_story.html). Even if certain impacts from climate change are irreversible, the degree of those impacts is yet to be determined. If the world continues to burn fossil fuels until the supply is diminished and refuses to shift towards renewables, I fear adaptation will be unachievable. So at the same time we continue to work towards mitigation, we must work with those willing to deal with adaptation, even if they continue to be skeptical that human beings are the main cause of climate change.