A collective sigh of disappointment from U.N.-sanctioned climate scientists has found written expression this week via the publication of an 800-page interim Intergovernmental Panel on report on the planetary impacts of unabated global warming.
Suffice to say, the story is not a pretty one. Global temperatures have already risen almost 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In order to keep temperatures from increasing to levels that begin to hurt the global environment, the report insists that the energy demands of transportation, electricity, and agriculture be dramatically curtailed.
[Related: UN calls for 'far-reaching' actions to stop climate change]
This demand by those on the political Left will once again fall on deaf ears among everyone else unless policymakers start focusing on solutions to the problem, not the problem itself. Contrary to common rhetoric, conservatives and libertarians largely accept that humans are causing the Earth to warm faster than is its natural pace. What makes them recoil are the transparent wealth-redistribution schemes that so much of the political Left pushes as the only solution to climate change — and a deeply inadequate solution at that. This is why putting money, both private and public, toward climate adaptation and resiliency must no longer be a taboo subject.
It was increasingly obvious, even before Donald Trump was elected president, that there would not be enough political will to force the global economy to constrain its output in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Even the worst-case assumption that global temperatures could rise as much as 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 haven’t been enough to foster agreement over solutions to global warming.
“Climate adaptation” and “climate resiliency” are controversial phrases among many in the environmental community, but they shouldn’t be; they’re simply policies that reduce the vulnerability of social and biological systems to sudden climate change. Climate adaptation and resiliency policies can appeal to those on the political Right because they use existing wealth to adapt to changing conditions through the invention of post-carbon technologies. Focusing on adaptation and resiliency, therefore, could bring the two sides of the political aisle together to protect human property from negative climate effects.
Examples of proper climate adaptation and resiliency projects abound. Much of the Netherlands’ modern history, for instance, is a story of climate adaptation, since roughly one-third of the country is below sea level. New York City launched a $19.5 billion climate resiliency plan in 2013 to withstand future extreme weather events. Today, Miami Beach is spending $500 million to raise roads and seawalls roughly 2 feet in preparation for higher tides.
In Texas, support is building for construction of the “Ike Dike,” which would stretch 60 miles across the barrier islands. This project would protect Galveston Bay and the $500 billion in industrial property along the Houston Ship Channel.
First envisioned after Hurricane Ike made landfall near Houston in September 2008, causing $30 billion in damage, the push to boost resilience to hurricanes grew stronger when Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in 2017, causing $125 billion in damage. The Ike Dike would cost about $15 billion to construct.
Since the first IPCC report was published in 1990, climate scientists have been warning us of the threats of anthropogenic warming to humans and ecosystems. Nearly three decades later, it’s time to build a new consensus around solutions that both sides of the political spectrum can get behind. Agreeing on the need for adaptation and resiliency projects can build trust between conservatives and environmentalists.
One potential opportunity for bipartisan collaboration is the Green Climate Fund, which initially promised $100 billion by 2020 to help developing countries prepare for climate change. Thus far, the Trump administration has refused to fund the effort. Returning the United States to the funding process could be a start to building a new consensus.
We’ve delayed the next stage of fighting climate change long enough. The next 30 years should be spent fortifying the areas of the world most vulnerable to climate change, as well as funding science and engineering that can ultimately end the root causes of the threat.
William Murray is Federal Energy Manager at the R Street Institute.