Last week I had the opportunity to attend two events on adapting to climate change.  I was initially excited to attend, as the speakers were excellent and I had  done research on adaption to climate change in the past.  My research had been on the necessity of adapting to the effects of climate change like building sturdier houses to withstand flooding, or making changes to water storage methods to prepare better for droughts.

These events brought up a completely different aspect of adaption to climate change.  Rather than discussing how people will have to adapt to climate change, the information presented focused on the ‘benefits’ of climate change — namely, that certain latitudes (the ones the United States, Europe and most developed countries happen to be in) will actually benefit from the warming of the globe.  With an increase in warmth, agriculture can flourish more in the lower latitudes, while areas in the higher latitudes around the equator will not benefit from the warmer weather.

Another point made by these climate experts was that there is no concern for water scarcity, because climate change will actually bring more precipitation.  Just how that precipitation would occur was not mentioned, nor was how people would be able to collect precipitation that came down in the form of blizzards, hurricanes, and tsunamis.

My final point of contention with these events is that both were supposed to be about adapting to climate change in developing countries. Yet developing countries were brought up only a handful of times during both events.  At the first event, a seminar at the Elliot School on George Washington University’s campus, developing countries were only referred to as ‘poor people’ and only mentioned to point out that poor people wouldn’t be able to adapt well, and that there wasn’t much hope for them.

At the second event, a mini-conference put together by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, developing countries were brought up as examples of potential markets for genetically engineered seeds and new agricultural technologies.  Forget my feelings toward genetically modified food/seeds/ and the switch to ‘modern agriculture,’ the plan for developing countries to adapt to climate change involves opening them up as new markets for technology? Sounds too familiar.

I give the speaker and presenters at these two events credit for their science — the data for what they were looking at is legitimate.  The problem was in what they left out of their models and business plans: the people who will be affected.  We can’t forget that there is a human face to climate change — and that it is fellow human beings that will be affected.  Hearing leading policy makers in the efforts for climate change talk about people in developing countries as if they were disposable was really discouraging, and quite frankly, I was outraged.  The key to adapting to climate change isn’t to ignore problems or try to ‘invent our way out’ of them,  but to change our lifestyles to counteract what climate change we can no longer change, and prevent any future climate change.

For more information on adapting to climate change, check out the CSIS website on climate change.

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