The Picture Brightens – Adaptation Starts Now

By: David Miron-Wapner*

KodachromeAs I listened to Paul Simon singing “Kodachrome” (by the way – a film technology breakthrough in the 1960’s) I could not help but think that each and every picture in my most recent photo album from the future with “the nice bright colors” of Kodachrome shows me that climate change has happened and continues to occur. Whether these are five, ten or fifty year glimpses, the overarching reality of climate change appears to be with us for many years to come.

So, what have we done along the way to mitigate impacts or adapt to hotter days and extreme climate events ahead? When did we finally make the serious reductions in the use of carbon intensive fuels to begin stabilizing Greenhouse Gas emissions and in the longer term, the climate itself? How did the pace of our actions compare with the intensity of the changes?

One current answer comes from an important document recently released by the US National Academy of Sciences, stating at the opening of its summary chapter: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. Each additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted commits us to further change and greater risks. In the judgment of the Committee on America’s Climate Choices, the environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks of climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare to adapt to its impacts.”

Even though many have known about the “pressing need for substantial action” for a long-time, it is high time everyone else sharpens their sights – the picture has been clearly laid out by the NAS committee. The time for action is now, at all levels of society and across a broad range of disciplines. As most of the world has procrastinated, the truth has been obfuscated by entrenched interests. Potential risks only heighten over time.

Science, technology and innovation must be focused to offer new, efficient means of supplying our seemingly insatiable, yet unsustainable appetite for consuming energy. Markets must be incentivized to direct investment with climate consequences in mind alongside value to shareholders (measured in cycles longer than quarters) and other stakeholders (all of who need access to potable water and food).

Nations must act responsibly in concert with one another to promote global-scale solutions, and in protecting their citizens must immediately initiate planning to adapt to impacts within their own territory. Those governments that prepare earliest and best will achieve the highest levels of societal resilience, better equipped for the myriad challenges ahead. Sustained, persistent and flexible actions must guide the development of national strategic adaptation plans. Broad public participation is essential in the planning process that should be built from the individual and community level up so our collective responses and adaptive capacities are widely embraced.

Since impacts will be felt in different regions in varied intensities and ways, as the NAS report states: “Much of the work of adaptation will be done by state, local, and tribal governments, private-sector firms, nongovernmental organizations, and representatives of especially vulnerable regions, sectors, or groups.”

Good news for the private sector. Nearly all of the investments of resources and capital in a new sustainable, diversified and decentralized energy economy are ones we probably would make in any case, and promise to yield substantial profits sooner or later whenever markets give the appropriate signals. Similarly, preparatory actions to enhance adaptive capacity will likely strengthen social solidarity and foster business continuity in the face of negative climate change impacts.

In the spirit of the NAS report, may we boldly move forward to meet the twin challenges of mitigation and adaptation. Justice for future generations demands a fair sharing of climate change risks, so we cannot desist in doing our part even if it is not our privilege to complete the work ahead.

*David Miron-Wapner is the Executive Director of the US-Israel Science & Technology Commission —