Here’s a conversation between preeminent climatologist James Hansen and reporter Mark Hertsgaard, hosted by the Open Society Institute. The interchange vectors around the policy issues of climate change and various attempts over the years to recruit political capital toward an effective response to the crisis.
At the spear point of these discussions are two potential responses: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation measures focus on reducing fossil fuel emissions with the ultimate goal of bringing down the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is the “front end” of the problem. The second, more ad hoc, response is adaptation, or the “back end” of the problem, and relates to gathering and putting in place protections from the inevitable repercussions of climate change. The two are not mutually exclusive of course, and it’s likely only a multifront response can countervail what is to come.
One of the revelations Hansen shares here is that the U.S. is not the only nation that has failed to make substantive progress toward these efforts. In his time abroad, foreign governments, including those of Germany and Australia, appear equally apathetic, giving mere lip service to the dangers and ills already upon us while taking only nominal actions that don’t confront the core issues. The most disturbing quote Hansen mentions from foreign leaders: “How can we do anything if the United States refuses to do anything?”
This protracted game of wait-and-see is larger than politics. Much larger. As a global concern, climate change is an issue which transcends national borders. Our atmosphere is a global resource, and thus what one nation pours into it carries a social cost reaped by us all, human and otherwise. Our planet’s leaders must confront the crisis head-on. Human resilience and our ability to adapt is remarkable and well-documented, so it is not out of the question that we can respond effectively to our present crisis. But waiting for our neighbors to act is a recipe for doom.
Of course, universal acknowledgement of the urgency of our situation would help.
External link: Mark Hertsgaard and James Hansen: Adapting to Climate Change Now
Feature image via carbonated.tv