Climate change is known to cause extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, hurricanes, storms, heat waves, wildfires, increasing sea water levels and more. These natural disasters destroy aquatic life, human life and settlements, and agriculture. They also cause water shortages that reduce the length of food growing seasons and fresh water supply for irrigation. Further, diseases such as cholera, malaria, typhoid, and other health issues commonly arise. Immigration, economic instability, and global insecurity, to name a few, are all factors that affect the core of human survival, are being threatened by climate change.
For example, Hurricane Matthew, earlier this month, killed about 1,000 people in Haiti and displaced more than 1.4 million. As of July 2016, the U.S. had suffered 21 severe thunderstorms and wildfires and heat waves. According to the World Food Program (WFP), 795 million individuals do not have sufficient amounts of food to live a healthy and active life. As global warming causes more droughts, food productivity falls significantly, especially in tropical regions. With such occurrences, the real priority lies in countering the effects.
Mitigation involves reducing the magnitude of climate change’s effects by addressing the problem at its source, such as offsetting greenhouse gas emissions or geoengineering schemes, which aim to reverse global warming by reflecting sunlight back into space or storing excess carbon dioxide under the earth’s surface or in the oceans.
However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2014 synthesis report, further warming is inevitable in the next decades, even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped today. Therefore, mitigation will not stop climate change from occurring, which means that humans must learn to live with the changes unfolding around us.
The English idiom “If you cannot beat them, join them” says it all. The only way to manage some of the inevitable impacts of climate change that cannot be mitigated is to adapt to them. Adaptation involves managing human vulnerability to climate change impacts without necessarily dealing with the primary cause of those impacts.
- Changing crop locations would involve one shifting to higher elevation environments that have cooler climates.
- Changing crop rotation patterns, or developing techniques to suit the weather in the crop location. For example, “no-till” agriculture keeps sub-surface soils cooler and wetter, which may help mitigate the effects of warmer and drier conditions.
- Changing crops or crop varieties to those better suited to changing weather patterns is another alternative. Or, one could change planting schedules to fit the shifting seasonal rainfalls and temperatures.
Floating farms for flooded areas may also be used. For example, Bangladeshi farmers build floating rafts out of straw, rice stubble, and water hyacinth before adding upper layers of decaying water Worts as manure. The rafts can then float, replacing the flooded agricultural land. Bangladesh is a flood prone country with about one-fourth of it covered in floods every year and as much as 60% every 4 or 5 years.
Vertical farms provide an enclosed, controlled climate to grow crops in a space-saving setup that proves more efficient than growing crops in open fields. The United States, Sweden, Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore all have begun to experiment with vertical farms.
For water deficiencies, viable options include water recycling, establishing effective water use practices, or utilization of ground water resources. Other alternatives, albeit more expensive and energy intensive, include the desalinization of water or transporting the water from regions with more precipitation.
Adaption to rising sea and water levels
In this case, adaptation may be done in phases. First, developments created near coastlines should be at a reasonable distance to prevent the threat of coastal erosion and water pollution. Most vulnerable countries have established reasonable distances between the sea/water body and inland infrastructure.
Next, rising sea/water levels may be confronted by building structures such as polders that reclaim inundated coastal regions, and coastal defenses such as dikes, beach nourishments, etc., which serve as impediments to rising sea/water levels.
As a last resort, evacuation. Since rising sea/water levels are usually predicted earlier, a retreat strategy may be planned. For example, the island nation of Tuvalu, which is threatened by the imminent impacts of sea level rise, has already established a retreat plan to New Zealand, if necessary.
Floating structures are another alternative to counter land under threat of being submerged by floods or sea. Examples of floating buildings include a floating mosque in the United Arab Emirates, and an entire amphibious village of floating hotels in the Netherlands
Other adaption methods
Underground cities, which already exist, may provide added protection from the harsher extremes of climate change. Setting up power stations or lines, water reservoirs, transport systems or cities underground may protect people and critical infrastructure during severe storms.
Smart energy options should be developed to preempt power interruptions arising from climate change effects. Some of these options include renewable energy sources like solar, wind, tidal or geothermal power.
Is it possible to adapt without mitigating?
Climate change mitigation complements efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding, reducing or delaying impacts. On the other hand, adaptation only concerns the impacts of climate change in relation to human progress and ignores its impacts to the world’s ecosystems and other environments. By contrast, mitigation alone, in the absence of any adaptive measures, or vice versa, would still result in great vulnerability, particularly in tropical regions.
It would seem that there is not really a choice between adaptation and mitigation when one considers that the combination of the two is highly likely to reduce extreme vulnerability to modest levels.
To help withstand shocks to human security and economic development from which recovery can be costly, IPCC stresses that adaptation and mitigation should be integrated both in the short and long term development plans. Governments, businesses, and communities must work in concert to contain worsening climate impacts if humanity is to be sustained.