Countering The “We Will Adapt” Argument Against Action On Climate Change

adapt to climate change

One of the things I hear quite a lot from people when talking about myself and my desire to live a more sustainable life is the fact that the human race is adaptable and that even if temperatures increase, science will give us ways to maintain our current lifestyles.

This belief that all will be well is one of the most selfish and misguided beliefs you can have and if you find yourself agreeing with it, you need to take a good look around right now, let alone 20 years into the future, and see that things are not going so swimmingly.

I agree with the core principle that the human race is adaptable but this does not mean that adaptation brings or maintains the quality of life that we expect. Adaption comes out of necessity; a necessity to provide food, water and shelter for ourselves and our loved ones.

Look at the poorer countries of the world right now – people survive often harsh conditions, massive political upheaval and life-threatening conflict by adapting but does this mean they enjoy the quality of life we would wish for ourselves? Not by any means.

We Need To Adapt Sooner Rather Than Later

The truth is that climate change will force us to adapt in one way or another; either we can wait for the effects to take hold, allow untold misery to come to large swathes of the world’s population and ruin our natural habitat for the millions of other species that live on this planet….OR….we can adapt now and mitigate the worst of it before it happens.

Which do you think is the right way to go about things?

But Doesn’t Science Exist To Solve The Problems In The World?

Well in a roundabout way yes I suppose it does but again this does not hold up when you look more closely. Science takes time, science cannot solve every problem and science does not have to see the suffering of people around the world.

My point is that while science can and probably will come up with some ingenious solutions to many of the problems we are causing, millions of people will have to endure even more harsh conditions in the meantime.

Record droughts in Africa, extreme flooding in parts of Asia and greater numbers of powerful storms are all present day occurrences and unfortunately it is the people bearing these conditions now who are likely to see things get worse in the future.

While the western world will experience changes, they are unlikely to be as severe as much of the developing world. This is something that science can do nothing about.

The Rich Will Hide Away In Their Ivory Towers

Even if science does manage to solve many of the problems caused by rising temperatures, I wonder just how accessible these solutions will be. The side of me that sees good in the world hopes that such technologies will be used for the benefit of all but my cynical side predicts that the free markets (where many technologies live out their lives) will leave only the richer parts of society with the money to afford them.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle – some new technologies will be the reserve of the ultra-rich while others will be available to all at very low cost. If this is what “adapting” means then it’s really a lie – we already live in this sort of unequal world.

We Are Not Borg

If you don’t get the Star Trek reference, the species known as Borg are heartless, emotionless creatures whose only mandate is to assimilate every other sentient species into one of their own. They are also famed for “adapting”.

Human beings, on the other hand, are famed for being caring, compassionate creatures and this is shown time and time again when disasters strike and the public dig deep into their pockets to help. We hate to see other humans suffering but too often we throw a bit of money at it and go back to our daily lives.

I don’t believe that this is a viable option when it comes to climate change. No amount of money will solve all the problems and it is through our actions that the biggest difference will be made.

Quality Of Life Matters

I guess my main reason for this post is to show that while we can and may adapt to a changing climate, this does not necessarily allow us to maintain a quality of life that we all wish for.

Things such as good health, sufficient food and water and safety in our own homes will likely become harder to achieve. We all imagine that the modern-day is one with the highest quality of life man has ever enjoyed but we work ourselves harder than almost all of our ancestors. When times become tough, we might just find that we have to work even harder to get by.

It is often said that a city life is more stressful than a rural one but, regardless of population rises, the amount of the world that is truly habitable will start to shrink and more and more people will be forced into large, overcrowded cities to find food, water and shelter. Many will lose touch with the natural world (even more so than today!) and their quality of life will suffer because of it.

Indeed, some of the things we hold so dear in the natural world may disappear over the coming decades if we allow climate conditions to change by so much and so rapidly. Is this a quality of life you want for future generations?

They say nature adapts to survive but do we only want to survive or do we want to live?

Stop Relying On Others

Believing that science solves everything and that “we will adapt” allows one to flee from responsibility and this is the reason why so many people hold this view. I urge everyone reading this to spread the word – tell your friends that everything is not going to be ok and that they can’t shirk their duties. We must stop relying on other people to solve the problems that we are causing; we must stop causing those problems in the first place.

Sorry for the massive rant but it’s been bubbling away inside of me for some time now and I heard the same excuse one too many times for me to bite my lip any longer.

Do you ever experience the same resistance to action as I do? How do you address it? Leave me a comment below.

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.


10 Responses to “Countering The “We Will Adapt” Argument Against Action On Climate Change”

  1. July 27, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    Excellent post … you’ve given us so much to think about. I heard a story once and it seems so perfect for what you’re saying … A scientist tossed a frog into a boiling pot of water and the moment it touched the hot water, it jumped right out. Then he put that frog into a pot of cold water and slowly raised the temperature to boiling. The frog didn’t jump out but adapted to the changes … and died. So yeah, I think we’ll adapt and science will help us to do that … but ignoring the changes will ultimately cost us our lives.

    • Steve
      July 27, 2012 at 2:08 PM

      Thanks for the fantastic analogy – so we’re frogs just adapting but with no pleasant ending in sight – I’d rather not boil if it’s all the same with everyone!!

  2. Temesgen.A
    August 9, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    Hi Steve,
    It is quite interesting issue that I want to here about adaptation.We are forced to live in worst circumstances, because we do not have other alternatives. As you mentioned,some people would like to rest on science as the only solution; but they do not understand new inventions are geared towards the rich individuals who can afford it, but not for the commons.

  3. January 3, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    Great post Steve. Very well put. I often feel very powerless in the face of all that is going on around us, and the fact that very few people seem to a) notice or b) care. I don’t know what we can do to effect the major changes that need to be implemented NOW. In a personal level, I am trying to live a more sustainable life by consuming less, wasting less, and using green sources of energy, but it feels very much like a drop in the ocean. It all leaves me feeling very scared to my children’s generation.

    • January 3, 2013 at 10:02 AM

      I think this sense of powerlessness is shared by many people and is a major factor in their inaction but I wouldn’t say that any personal changes towards a more sustainable way of life are drops in the ocean, more like the first few pebbles rolling down a hill that eventually cause an avalanche so keep at it and remember that your children’s generation will thank you for it.

  4. April 3, 2013 at 6:10 AM

    Hi Steve. You’re right, of course. The problems are too many and too vast for science to solve them all, even if the political will was there. And the sense of urgency seems to be absent. I remember the IPCC report in 2007 saying words to the effect that, if we limit warming to 2 degrees, life for our species for the net 200 years will be difficult. But if we let it go much beyond that, it might be impossible.

    Now, I know it’s not our fault. This all started a couple of hundred years ago. But we are the only species capable of acting – and act we must – on a personal level, like Jen. Because all we can do is our best. Mother Theresa pointed out that the ocean is made up of drops. There is hope.

    What do I suggest we all do? Start preparing for climate change now. Buy the weapons you will need to fight it: a spade, a wheelbarrow, a hand saw. Grow more of the food you eat and start getting back in touch with the planet we live on. As your veggies put down roots, so will you. It’s only natural.

    • April 3, 2013 at 10:23 AM

      Very well put Alex, I think the next time I move I will have to ensure I get a garden – although I’m not green fingered, I can learn.

  5. April 3, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    Steve I agree, we need to act and change now vs. waiting until we are forced to adapt. When talking with someone overwhelmed by global warming, I ask them to think of a small thing they could do—like stop buying bottled water or take a reusable shopping bag to the store. Taking action, no matter how seemingly small empowers people to take the next one. It’s a start.

    • April 3, 2013 at 7:23 PM

      Oh most definitely small things can add up, like rolling stones that create an avalanche or ripples that turn into huge waves of action moving through society – it’s all about social norms I think and making green actions the norm rather than the exception.

  6. April 19, 2013 at 5:31 PM

    Hi Steve,
    I couldn’t agree more. My husband and I are embarking on an ambitious retrofit project to make our 30ies house more carbon-efficient. At the same time, we’re growing more of our own food.
    We’re doing the adapting, and our web site aims to show that it can be done.
    I’ve only recently discovered your blog, and I really like what you have to say.

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