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Climate Change: Fight it or Adapt to it?


By Scott Fields

Published Mar 12, 2013 1:54 PM


As the planet grapples with the increasing threat of climate change, the question arises: Should we expend resources on reversing the change, or focus on adapting to the effects?

Both, say the experts who participated in a recent Zócalo Public Square panel discussion. Even so, said panelist Alex Hall, associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, which co-produced the event, temperatures will rise by the middle of this century.

Even with the most aggressive possible means of reducing carbon emissions, he said, the Los Angeles area will experience about 70 percent of what it would if we continue "business as usual." But implementing an aggressive carbon emissions control plan now will make a "huge difference" by 2099, Hall noted. He pointed to models predicting that Southern California would see roughly two and a half times less warming than it would with the 'business as usual' scenario.

This gap creates a serious political problem, said panelist Andrew Revkin, author of the award-winning Dot Earth environmental blog for The New York Times. "We don't think for the long term," he said. "If you're an environmental activist, and the long tail of this problem doesn't occur until 2100 and beyond, how do you generate activism?"

'Adaptation' used to be a dirty word

Revkin, Hall and panel moderator Jon Cristensen, adjunct assistant professor of history at the institute, discussed the belief long held by environmentalists that focusing on adaptation forestalls mitigation efforts. Actually, Revkin and Hall agreed, adaptation efforts are likely to generate acceptance that climate change is actually happening, leading to a willingness to assess how to reverse it.

Hall said models predict significantly more warming in the inland sections of Southern California than at the coast by the middle of the century, with a marked increase in the number of extreme heat days. Ideas for adapting to these conditions include altering the color of rooftops to be more reflective of the sunlight; increasing the resiliency of the power grid to meet increasing demands; building heat trauma centers for people without air conditioning; and planting more trees to cool the micro-climate.

"We need to rethink what the good life is," Hall said, noting that when he recently moved to a new home where he can bike and take the bus to work, many Angelenos reacted as if he were making a grim sacrifice.

"I saw it as a chance to exercise in a way that's fun, economical and interactive with the city," Hall said. "It can even be faster than driving a car. Who's the victim there?"