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Analyze globally, mitigate regionally
June 13, 2011 - 9:15pm

A lot of us in the sustainability community have gotten hung up on global scale. Maybe not all the time, but much of it. After all, it's global warming. Global climate change. Greenhouse gases emitted anywhere in the world affect the climate everywhere in the world. National interests conflict with global well-being, so national interests must be suspect.

All of that's still true, but increasingly irrelevant.

Bill McKibben published a powerful op-ed piece in the Washington Post last month. It's since been picked up by a lot of other media outlets, and now it's been turned into a video. Take a minute or four, and watch. Listen. See.

What McKibben is saying, on one level, is that global climate change is already upon us. Scientists can scruple not to connect individual weather events with global change, but Bill's not talking about individual events. He's talking about broad, sweeping patterns. Climatic crescendos already underway. We're not at the climax yet -- we can't even see it from here -- but we know in which direction it lies. And we get constantly closer.

On another level, McKibben's piece makes a second case. The symptoms of climate change differ around the world -- even across the country. Record drought here, raging floods there, tornadoes hither, firestorms thither. Not what we're used to, and no fun for anyone, but clear regional differences. The future may well hold weather we haven't seen yet, but even that will likely vary by region of the world. So the steps we can take (if any) to mitigate the effects of climate change, and the infrastructure we'll need to be able to take those steps, will vary regionally as well.

The US Chamber of Commerce stated in a filing with the EPA that the risks of climate change are overblown, since "populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations." Personally, I'd love to learn just what sort of physiological adaptations they have in mind, and how long they think the human race will require for the adaptation process. And when it comes to behavioral and technological adaptation, it strikes me that the Chamber has been channeling immense quantities of money to make certain that those things don't happen. The chamber is funded by profits made in the past, not the future.

But avoidance is clearly not an option any more. An ounce of prevention would have been worth more than many pounds of cure to society as a whole, but there's more profit in selling cures than preventatives. The cure, the mitigation, the infrastructure, the technological adaptation we're going to need will be determined regionally, in response to local conditions and resources. As will the specific constraints which determine our ability to sustain ourselves.

Which raises the question of how much education (including higher education) should also vary (at least in emphasis) by region. Doesn't it?

 

 

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