Humans and our institutions are ill prepared for the multiple timescales of climate change. More than half of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels stays there for a thousand years. Roughly 20% will be there for tens of thousands of years. Even if carbon dioxide emissions ceased today, the climate would continue to warm for hundreds to thousands of years as oceans slowly warm and ice melts. And it will take at least a century to decarbonize our economy, even with ideal political and economic conditions, given the scale of infrastructure required. All these factors make attention to what has been called “climate adaptation” essential. Human society will have to adapt to the Earth’s changing climate, regardless of what we do to prevent it. A conventional view is that a focus on “adaptation” may distract from efforts towards “mitigation” – the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Although this view is somewhat understandable, Schrag will present an argument for the opposite relationship. He will suggest that a focus on “climate preparedness,” on local actions to protect people, our communities (and perhaps even local ecosystems) by building robustness and resilience, has the potential to build a more durable, sustained willingness to pay for climate mitigation over the long run. One corollary to this point of view is that climate preparedness finesses the troublesome issue of climate change attribution. With a focus on climate preparedness, the question of whether a particular storm, heat wave, or drought was caused by climate change becomes mostly a semantic discussion for academics in ivory towers. A greater focus on preparing for weather-related disaster can lead to a deeper appreciation of the climate challenge and perhaps lay the foundation for an eventual solution.
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