COPENHAGEN – Striking the right balance between preventing global warming and adapting to its effects is one of the most important – and most vexing – policy questions of our age. It is also often ignored.
According to the conventional wisdom of many environmental campaigners, we should first do everything we can to mitigate global warming, and only then focus on adaptation strategies. This seems wrong – even immoral – if we could do more for people and the planet through adaptation.
Moreover, it is inconsistent with the inescapable fact that, whatever we do, we cannot prevent all of global warming’s effects. If we are ill-prepared, global warming will cause more deaths and devastation, especially in poor countries and fragile societies. Adaptation would also mean saving many lives from catastrophes not related to global warming. If we prepare societies for more ferocious hurricanes in the future, for example, we are also helping them to cope better with today’s extreme weather.
There has been a huge amount of research into the ways that humans cause climate change, and how we can reduce it. Much less work has been devoted to adaptation.