Some links on the evolution of environmentalism and adaptation in the face of climate change:
The Anthropocene: Over at Time, Bryan Walsh has a piece on the rise of the Anthropocene Era - an acknowledgement of the human impact on the Earth. Walsh links to a Slate piece by Keith Kloor on the tension within the environmental movement between pragmatic greens and old-school environmentalists.
Part of the tension is between pragmatism and purity. The idea of adaptation to our environment and the realization that there is no such thing as a pure ecosystem is jarring to older greens. From Kloor’s article:
Leading the charge is a varied group of what I call modernist greens (others refer to them as eco-pragmatists). They are people with deep green bona fides, such as the award-winning U.K. environmental writer Mark Lynas, whose book The God Species champions nuclear power and genetically modified crops as essential for a sustainable planet.
Another is Emma Marris, author of the critically acclaimed Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. She argues that “we must temper our romantic notion of untrammeled wilderness” and embrace the jumbled bits and pieces of nature that are all around us—in our backyards, in city parks, and farms.
You can see this same sort of tension in other places as well, such as the debates around growth within cities.
Adaptation and climate change, part 1: In the aftermath of Sandy, New York is facing questions about how to deal with future storms. Hard barriers and sea walls are apparently off the table, but other hardening of infrastructure is under consideration. Likewise, relocation is on the table, at least in the abstract.
Compare that map of New York’s historical wetlands to the New York Times’ map of flooded areas and depths.
Softer barriers, making use of dunes and other natural elements are one option – embracing the natural ecology of New York’s coastline to defend the city from storms, while manipulating the natural ecosystems for the ends of the city.
At the same time, it’s worth considering how those vulnerable areas ended up densely populated with New York’s poor in the first place.
Adaptation and climate change, part 2: Another change in need of adaptation is not storms, but heat. The Atlantic Cities looks at future heat waves on the east coast, based on climate models. The increased heat isn’t quite as bad as the Mayan Apocalypse forecast, but still a bit on the warm side.
Adaptation via migration: One option under consideration would be to adapt to a changing climate and rising sea levels by simply migrating to places with more favorable conditions. At the Economist, this video conversation featuring Ryan Avent (entitled “Goodbye New York, Hello Minneapolis”) discusses just that.
One topic is the three ways to deal with climate change. Mitigation is one (e.g. reducing greenhouse gases to reduce the impact), adaptation is another (e.g. moving to higher ground), but the third is suffering. A common thread in the two articles linked above discussing the Anthropocene and the new pragmatism among environmentalists is a sense of optimism. Bryan Walsh writes this:
The modern greens paint an optimistic picture, and that in itself is a welcome change from the relentlessly pessimistic scenarios we’ve become accustomed to —a pessimism, it should be noted, that hasn’t been all that effective in marshaling public opinion. But the optimism of the modern greens is conditional on two points: first, that we have the ability and the will—politically and perhaps even biologically as a species—to plan properly for the Anthropocene. (We may be as gods, but I see plenty of evidence to suggest that we’ll never get good at it.) Second, we have to hope that nature really will prove resilient in the face of pollution, growing human population and most of all, climate change, which we show virtually no sign of being able to slow in the near future.
There are questions about both our ability to mitigate and to adapt, but the question of how much suffering is also unknown.