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Adapting to the Consequences of Climate Change

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.

I don’t often disagree with George Bernard Shaw but I think in this case his argument, like our earth’s resources, may be approaching its limit.

Our progress to date has indeed been led by those unreasonable people who have refused to accept the world as it is and have instead found ways to change it to better accommodate human desire and need. Their stubbornness has created economic wealth, promoted human health, driven technological innovation and generally improved the quality of life for many on the planet.

But now my father’s parting words echo in my head once more. As I walked out the door of my family home to do my chores, his favorite maxim always followed me down the path: “Make sure what you do today doesn’t turn around and bite you in the butt.”

I think we, the unreasonable, through our efforts to make things better have set ourselves up to be nipped pretty hard.

There is no doubt in my mind that we still need unreasonable people. There are places in the world where we need people stubborn enough resist the status quo and the notion that nature will dominate us in order to continue human progress. But I think the hour has come for the reasonable men and women to step up and speak out. We need to recognize what science is telling us, that we are using up all the slack in the system, that the resources we need to produce all the goods and services that ensure progress no longer have the capacity to keep on giving.

What should the unreasonable do when the consequences of our drive towards progress turn around and bite us in the butt? We must seek the perspective of the reasonable.

A few weeks ago I met such a reasonable man. Dr. Juan José Daboub is the Founding Chief Executive Officer of the Global Adaptation Institute. This group of public and private leaders and scientists has taken the pragmatic view that, as tragic as it may be, climate change is a reality and mitigation efforts alone will not solve this problem. We are being bitten. But with the right focus and tools it is not too late to adapt our communities, protect our investments and progress to date, and improve the lives of others in so doing.

These reasonable people have created The Global Adaptation Index™, a compelling online database that summarizes a country’s vulnerability to climate change and contrasts this with its preparedness to adapt to the consequences. It is a powerful tool that illustrates key areas of vulnerability (such as water use, food import dependency, rural population) and ranks the readiness factors that will affect that country’s ability to adapt (such as mobile penetration, political stability, fiscal freedom). By comparing the risks with a country’s readiness to adapt, it allows clear prioritization of the types of investments required and the likelihood of success.

As evidenced by the recent headlines coming out of Durban and supported by the research of the latest IPCCC report, there is increasing awareness that a successful future requires that we adapt to our changing climate. But we cannot wait and assume that someone is going to fix the problem. It is time for the unreasonable people to once again resist, but this time to resist the belief that business as usual will engender the type of progress we expect. The unreasonable people must join with the reasonable and identify our urgent priorities. Mitigation efforts, while important, may take years to have any effect. The key to protecting our hard fought progress to date, and improving the lives of those who are the most vulnerable, is to create more resilient, adaptable communities.

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