The 'A' word


Adaptation used to be a dirty word in climate change circles: the ‘A’ word, but things are changing. National Geographic’s Andrew Revkin has published an article charting Adaptation’s journey from taboo subject to Bill Gates level acceptance. It is a very helpful piece, one to bookmark.

What is striking is that the article is largely US-centric. The majority of case studies highlight the costs and benefits of employing adaptation strategies in hurricane, flood and forest-fire prone communities across the USA. There are mentions for adaptation efforts in other countries, but the article was written in America, by an American, about America.

This is not a criticism, it is a very useful article and we need more like it; they build the case for adaptation, but it is telling.

It has to be noted that Adaptation is losing its forbidden status in the corridors of the UNFCCC at the exact same time as the most powerful country in the world is facing climate change driven catastrophe after catastrophe. That is not a coincidence.

Revkin’s article does not acknowledge this, perhaps it should have because it has great significance in understanding what happens next.

Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann, whose 2018 book ‘Climate Leviathan’ we reviewed last May, drew on Mike Davis to advance a warning:

The possibility of rapid, global carbon mitigation as a climate change abatement strategy has passed. The world’s elites, at least, appear to have abandoned it – if they ever took it seriously. In 2010, Mike Davis imagined a ‘not improbable scenario’ in which mitigation ‘would be tacitly abandoned …. in favour of accelerated investment in selective adaptation for Earth’s first-class passengers.’ His predication may prove prescient.

(Wainwright and Mann, 2018, p. 28)

In the coming decades, possibly years, the pendulum may swing dramatically from mitigation to adaptation in the climate change negotiations. The question is, will the first-class passengers, who have just been hit by the reality of climate change, be the chief beneficiaries? Or, will those who have been calling for adaptation support for decades be prioritised? Of course, it should never be an either/or, all human lives are valuable and the suffering is real wherever you are, but global geopolitics inevitably produce winners and losers.

Our advice is to observe very very carefully how the gradually growing pot of adaptation funding is allocated in the coming years. Watch too whether nation states hoard their funds to enable adaptation at home (‘America First’ style) while gradually reducing their contributions to global efforts on climate change.