Climate Change Is Inevitable. Here's How We Must Adapt
Eighty years ago, the American government began the mammoth scientific undertaking of developing fully operational nuclear weapons. At its peak, the Manhattan Project employed 130,000 people, and its total cost ran to $2 billion (equivalent to $23 billion today). Nowadays, global efforts to mitigate climate change are reaching an even greater scale. Governments are pledging to slash greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050, investments into renewable energy now account for 70% of funding for new electricity generation, economies are being restructured around the taxation and trading of carbon emissions, climate tech accounts for 6% of early-stage VC funding, and geo-engineering projects may modify our atmosphere to reflect solar radiation or change the biological composition of our oceans to better capture and store carbon.
These are the new Manhattan Projects—aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change. But as existentially necessary as they are, they are insufficient at adapting us to the inevitable climate shocks already unfolding. Our environment is a complex system, always changing in new directions, not snapping back to familiar parameters from centuries past. It will not adapt to us—we will have to adapt to it.
The case for adaptation
The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement and recent COP-26 summit in Glasgow represent a sea-change in commitments to mitigating climate change. 191 nations have pledged to make all efforts to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees celsius, and more than $100 billion has been pledged to help developing countries transition their economies. Still, the fact remains that climate conditions will get worse before they get better—if they ever recover at all.
The most recent IPCC report states that we are on track to exceed the 1.5 degree target by 2040, if not sooner. Already, extreme weather phenomena such as cyclones and heat waves are becoming mass casualty events.
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