Adapting to Climate Change: Do We Have the Right Answer Yet?

For this post, I want to build off of my previous post a bit and vary a little from our theme of race and gender, although race and gender are certainly not missing from this discussion.

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 shared none of those feelings. 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. I’m sorry…we’re going to talk about benefits of climate change to developed countries??? Just omit the fact that millions of people with become climate refugees when their homes are demolished by floods. Or the millions of people who will starve because they cannot afford the upkeep on their farms anymore because climate change has pushed food prices up.

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. Yes, there will be more precipitation and that will help the higher latitudes grow their argibusiness. But the more intense storms and droughts will do nothing to help or benefit the poorer people in the world, who btw, are mainly people of color. Coincidence that their concerns were not brought up by either of these institutions? I think not. If you ignore people of color, they will just go away, right?

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. The speaker just glossed over that, as if they didn’t matter. The seminar was only about the good that can come from climate change and how wonderful it will be for the US. Anything to get rid of the responsibility for climate change right? If we claim all the benefits, we don’t have to acknowledge the impact of our actions or change the way we live.

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 — do we really need to resurrect horrible neoliberal policies to screw around with markets even more??

I can manage to 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 and scientific research: 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. And I can’t ignore the fact that the people they were forgetting are the same people that are already made invisible by our society’s structure. How can anyone pretend that they are presenting on ways to adapt to climate change in developing countries when they clearly have no concern for anyone but the business paying for their research?

I heard a man from Syngenta, a genetically modified seed organization talk about how climate change would be great in opening up markets for them. I was glad to hear him admit that there were problems with their seeds, like the fact that bugs will adapt to them and other technological advances in herbicides, pesticides, and fertlizers. His response? They’re excited to be able to present new product lines for their consumers. Excited??? That you’re product failed? It doesn’t matter that thousands of farmers lost their livlihoods due to those adatptions and now can’t afford your new products…those silly small farmers aren’t the future of agriculture anyway. It’s all about big aribusiness. The solution to all of this was to celebrate the big farmers. Syngenta-man said that organic farming is a fad and not really good for the environment…and pesticides and herbicides and genetically modified foods are??

If we use the model of big agribusiness as the success story, and add the fact that climate change will make farming harder to do in developing countries, then the result is that we have large factory farms producing primarily feed crops and not able to produce the necessary food to sustain a population. This is a problem. Solution? Stop pretending that we know what’s best for farming (we killed the small farm industry in the US) and stop pretending that we can just invent our way out of the problem and stop pretending that people of color do not matter. They do.

Sorry for the length. Very Very Angry about this (clearly). Thoughts are welcome!

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