Once derided, ways of adapting to climate change are gaining steam
Recognition is spreading that communities need to build resilience to climatic and coastal threats even as the world seeks ways to curb emissions driving global warming.
From chronically flooded Midwestern towns to fire-charred California suburbs, from Bangladesh’s sodden delta to low island nations facing rising seas, a long-underplayed strategy for cutting risks related to human-driven climate change is coming to the fore—adaptation.
Through 30 years of efforts to limit global warming, the dominant goal was cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases, most importantly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Efforts to adapt communities or agriculture to warming and the related rise in seas and other impacts were often seen as a copout.
The spotty nature of adaptation efforts so far can be seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael—where one reinforced, raised home famously survived, nearly alone, along Mexico Beach, Florida, after the strongest Panhandle hurricane in at least 155 years. In the Camp Fire that devastated Paradise, California, and killed 85 people, a sprinkling of houses built and maintained to withstand embers survived, but—again—were the rare exception.
But signs are emerging that a significant shift is under way, dividing the climate challenge into two related, but distinct, priorities: working to curb greenhouse gases to limit odds of worst-case outcomes later this century while boosting resilience to current and anticipated climatic and coastal hazards with just as much fervor. There’s action from the top down, and—perhaps more significant in the long run—from the bottom up.
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