Environmentalist shift on climate change

In: Uncategorized

14 Sep 2008

The Economist (11 September) notes a significant shift in the environmentalist attitude towards climate change. Rather than just pushing mitigation they are also promoting adaptation as a complement to it. To quote the opening paragraph of the article:

“‘I used to think adaptation subtracted from our efforts on prevention. But I’ve changed my mind,’ says Al Gore, a former American vice-president and Nobel prize-winner. ‘Poor countries are vulnerable and need our help.’ His words reflect a shift in the priorities of environmentalists and economists.”

The magazine attributes this shift to two factors: evidence that climate change is happening more quickly than previously expected and that the more marginal groups in the world will be hit harder by the trend.

As this blog has already noted it is also clear that many environmentalists are increasingly looking to geo-engineering (see posts of 22 July 2008, 31 July 2008 and 5 September 2008).

Unfortunately all these shifts seem to be driven by a panic reaction to climate change. Few are challenging the implicit assumption that we need to curb consumption growth to deal with the problem.

Even the concept of “mitigation” is problematic. It lumps together measures which are essentially about rationing (such as striving to use less energy in the home) with the development of new or less carbon generating technology (such as atomic power, hydroelectric power, nuclear fusion and more fuel efficient technologies).