The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change discuss changes ahead, but they also describe how existing solutions can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help people adjust to impacts of climate change that can’t be avoided.
To slow climate change and adapt to the damage already underway, the world will have to shift how it generates and uses energy, transports people and goods, designs buildings and grows food. That starts with embracing innovation and change.
Fear of change can lead to worsening change
From the industrial revolution to the rise of social media, societies have undergone fundamental changes in how people live and understand their place in the world.
Other transformations have had both good and bad effects. The industrial revolution vastly raised standards of living for many people, but it spawned inequality, social disruption and environmental destruction.
People often resist transformation because their fear of losing what they have is more powerful than knowing they might gain something better. Wanting to retain things as they are – known as status quo bias – explains all sorts of individual decisions, from sticking with incumbent politicians to not enrolling in retirement or health plans even when the alternatives may be rationally better.
The IPCC reports make clear that the future inevitably involves more and larger climate-related transformations. The question is what the mix of good and bad will be in those transformations.
If countries allow greenhouse gas emissions to continue at a high rate and communities adapt only incrementally to the resulting climate change, the transformations will be mostly forced and mostly bad.
For example, a riverside town might raise its levees as spring flooding worsens. At some point, as the scale of flooding increases, such adaptation hits its limits. The levees necessary to hold back the water may become too expensive or so intrusive that they undermine any benefit of living near the river. The community may wither away.
The riverside community could also take a more deliberate and anticipatory approach to transformation. It might shift to higher ground, turn its riverfront into parkland while developing affordable housing for people who are displaced by the project, and collaborate with upstream communities to expand landscapes that capture floodwaters.
Simultaneously, the community can shift to renewable energy and electrified transportation to help slow global warming.
Optimism resides in deliberate action
The IPCC reports include numerous examples that can help steer such positive transformation.
For example, renewable energy is now generally less expensive than fossil fuels, so a shift to clean energy can often save money. Communities can also be redesigned to better survive natural hazards through steps such as maintaining natural wildfire breaks and building homes to be less susceptible to burning.
No one group can enact these changes alone. Everyone must be involved, including governments that can mandate and incentivize changes, businesses that often control decisions about greenhouse gas emissions, and citizens who can turn up the pressure on both.
Doing more to disrupt the status quo with proven solutions can help smooth these transformations and create a better future in the process.
This article was written by Robert Lempert, a professor of Policy Analysis at Pardee RAND Graduate School and Elisabeth Gilmore, an associate professor of Climate Change, Technology and Policy at Carleton University. It is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.