Climate change deniers have had to adjust their story in recent years as the effects of climate change have become more and more apparent to people where they live all around the world. The first iteration was that climate change is good. It will make winters milder and it will help “fertilize” crops with additional carbon dioxide which all plants need to manufacture the food they live on.
While the “greening” effect of rising carbon dioxide concentrations is real, there is a limit to how much it will help plants. As for milder winters, they may be good for some and worse for others. Where they result in diminished snows in critical watersheds such as the Himalayas and the Alps, the effect can be diminished water supplies, particularly at crucial times in summer when mountain snowmelt can stabilize flows in key streams and rivers that might otherwise be very low so that they can provide irrigation water and water for human consumption.
So, now the deniers argue that we can just adapt. This is, of course, the path of least resistance since it requires no major changes in business-as-usual. Let’s see how that’s working out.
In the ongoing European heatwave, airport runways are melting, railroad tracks are melting, and roads are buckling and roofs are melting. The infrastructure we’ve built just isn’t made to stand up to this kind of heat. But the indirect effects of climate change are just as important. Power generation is heavily dependent on water. As drought reduces available water supplies, electricity generation can be affected. Most generation plants use steam to power turbines. When water is in short supply, this hampers generation. Water scarcity is, of course, directly responsible for reductions in hydroelectric generation.
Then there is the problem of increased consumption in no small part due to increased use of air-conditioning. This, of course, creates a vicious cycle in which increased consumption of electricity generated by fossil fuels aggravates climate change which then leads to higher temperatures which then leads to increased use of air-conditioning.
If this is what the climate change deniers mean by adaptation, their argument is defeated on the spot. Adaptation that makes matters worse creates the need for more adaptation and more after that.
There is, of course, the cost of damage done by increasing flooding, both in coastal areas and elsewhere. And, there’s the need to find more water for areas becoming drier due to drought.
Finally, there are the droughts affecting crops worldwide and driving up food prices, droughts now spreading across the globe—just as climate models predicted. Today, we have drought in Europe, United States, Mexico, Argentina, Mauritania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea. There are certainly more and others that don’t encompass a substantial part of the country, but are nevertheless consequential.
Companies are working on more drought-resistant and heat-resistant strains of grain. But they cannot reshape all crops anytime soon, for instance, orchards which are not replanted every year. And, the deniers forget that their preferred policy of inaction means that climate change will be a continuously moving target, increasing in intensity and scope far into the future. There is no definitive maximum for carbon in the atmosphere under the deniers’ plan.
So far, the “adaptation” strategy does not seem like its succeeding. It’s more like coping. And, we have a lot of coping ahead of us for failing to take prevention seriously.
Photo: Drought in a lake in Kerala, India (2018). By Sreyasvalsan. Via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drought_in_a_Lake.jpg