The extremes of floods and fires are not going away, but adaptation can lessen their impact 

The Economist

In 1745, as the River Liffey, having broken its banks, clawed at the foundations of the house in which he sat, the young Edmund Burke experienced a strange, perverse thrill. The man who would go on to found modern conservatism drew inspiration from this experience in a later essay on the sublime, writing of the unmatched delight that terrible destruction could stir — provided that it is watched from a certain distance.

The most terrible thing about the spectacular scenes of destruction that have played out around the world over the past weeks is that there is no safe place from which to observe them.       

The ground under the German town of Erftstadt is torn apart like tissue paper by flood waters; Lytton in British Columbia is burned from the map just a day after setting a freakishly high 49.6C temperature record; cars float like dead fish through the streets-turned-canals in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. All the world feels at risk, and most of it is.            

Greenhouse-gas emissions have produced a planet more than 1°C (1.8°F) warmer than it was in Burke’s pre-industrial days. Its atmosphere, stoked up and out of joint, is producing heavy weather in ways both predicted and surprising. And, with emissions continuing, it will get worse. 

Unfortunately, 2021 will probably be one of the 21st century’s coolest years. If temperatures rise by 3°C above pre-industrial levels in the coming decades — as they might even if everyone manages to honour today’s firm pledges — large parts of the tropics risk becoming too hot for outdoor work. Coral reefs and the livelihoods that depend on them will vanish and the Amazon rainforest will become a ghost of itself. Severe harvest failures will be commonplace. Ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland will shrink past the point of no return, promising sea rises measured not in millimetres, as today’s are, but in metres. 

Six years ago, in Paris, the countries of the world committed themselves to avoiding the worst of that nightmare by eliminating net greenhouse-gas emissions quickly enough to hold the temperature rise below 2°C. Their progress towards that end remains woefully inadequate. Yet even if their efforts increased dramatically enough to meet the 2°C goal, it would not stop forests from burning today; prairies would still dry out tomorrow, rivers break their banks and mountain glaciers disappear.

CUTTING EMISSIONS IS NOT ENOUGH. The world also urgently needs to invest in adapting to the changing climate. The good news is that adaptation makes political sense. People can clearly see the need for it. When a country invests in flood defences it benefits its own citizens above all others — there is no free-rider problem, as there could be for emissions reduction. Nor does all the money come from the public purse; companies and private individuals can see the need for adaptation and act on it. When they do not do so, insurance companies can open their eyes to the risks they are running.

Some adaptation is fairly easily set in place. Systems for warning Germans of coming floods will surely now improve. But other problems require much larger public investment, like that which has been put into water-management in the Netherlands. Rich countries can afford such things. Poor countries and poor people need help, which is why the Paris climate agreement calls for annual transfers of $100bn from rich to poor.  

The rich countries have not yet lived up to their side of this. On July 20th John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s special envoy on climate change, reiterated America’s pledge to triple its support to $1.5bn for adaptation in poorer countries by 2024, part of a broader move to increase investment in adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. More such efforts are vital.

But they also have limits. Making do with less water may be possible; getting by on none is not. Some levels of temperature and humidity make outdoors activity impossible. There comes one flood too many, after which you abandon the land. When the reef is gone, it is gone.

If the Paris goal of keeping the rise below 2°C is met, the full extent of those limits will not be tested. But emission-cutting zeal may not accelerate as required. And the climate system could prove more sensitive than it has shown itself to be to date, as some scientists believe possible, producing more warming per tonne of carbon in the atmosphere.

Hence it is also prudent to study the most spectacular, and scary, form of adaptation: Solar geoengineering. This seeks to make clouds or particle layers in the atmosphere a bit more mirror-like, reflecting away some sunlight. It cannot provide a straightforward equal and opposite response to greenhouse-gas warming; it will tend, for example, to reduce precipitation somewhat more than temperature, potentially changing rainfall patterns. But research over the past 15 years has suggested that solar geoengineering might significantly reduce some of the harms from greenhouse warming.

What nobody yet knows is how such schemes could be developed so as to reflect not just the interests of their instigators, but also those of all the countries they will affect. Different countries might seek different amounts of cooling; some ways of putting solar geoengineering into effect would help some regions while harming others. Nor is there yet a compelling rejoinder to the risk that the very idea of such things tomorrow reduces the incentive to be ambitious in cutting emissions today.


To think about solar geoengineering requires facing those problems — and the risk that powers with little interest in them may try out such schemes regardless. It also means facing squarely what kind of being humankind has become. Watching the rising waters of the Liffey, Burke “considered how little man is, yet in his mind how great … Master of all things, yet scarce can command anything.”

Manipulating the climate that humanity has destabilised — unwittingly, at first — spurs similar thoughts of simultaneous power and impotence. It is not nature that humans cannot command, but themselves, in all their insignificance and world-altering might. ■

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  • brandli62  On 07/24/2021 at 9:38 am

    Here some additional facts:

    – China (28%), USA (12%) and the EU (8%) are responsible for almost half of the annual CO2 output.

    – Global air traffic is responsible for 2% of global CO2 emissions.

    – Transportation accounts for about 29 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

    Timely, Mercedes has announced that they will stop selling cars with combustion engines by 2025.

    Time for all of us to put solar panels onto the roofs of our homes.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/24/2021 at 10:58 am

    Gonsalves wrote:

    Very scary times ahead for my children and grandchildren. I’m glad I will not be here to witness it.

    • Brother Man  On 07/24/2021 at 1:22 pm

      And what does Duncan have to say about global CO2 emissions?

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/24/2021 at 5:17 pm

    Climate Change: How Bad Could The Future Be If We Do Nothing?
    Prof Mark Maslin | The Conversation

    THE CLIMATE CRISIS IS NO LONGER A LOOMING THREAT – people are now living with the consequences of centuries of greenhouse gas emissions. But there is still everything to fight for.


    The outcome your children and grandchildren will live with depends on what decisions are made today. Happily, the solutions I propose are win-win, or even win-win-win: They reduce emissions, improve the environment and make people healthier and wealthier overall.

    In my book How to Save Our Planet, I imagine two different visions of the future. One in which we do very little to address climate change, and one in which we do everything possible.

    This is what the science suggests those very different realities could look like.



    Global temperatures have risen by over 4°C. In many countries, summer temperatures persistently stay above 40°C. Heatwaves with temperatures as high as 50°C have become common in tropical countries. [“in tropical countries”, the professor says: – the record in Canada in 2021 is 49.6C – and this is NOT even the tropics, and it is still only July 2021]

    Every summer, wildfires rage across every continent except Antarctica, creating plumes of acrid smoke that make breathing outdoors unbearable, causing an annual health crisis.

    OCEAN TEMPERATURES HAVE RISEN DRAMATICALLY. After repeated bleaching events, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been officially declared dead.

    FREQUENT AND PROLONGED DROUGHTS TORMENT VAST SWATHES OF THE EARTH’S LAND. The deserts of the world have expanded, displacing many millions of people. Around 3.5 billion live in areas where water demand exceeds what’s available.


    THE ARCTIC IS FREE OF SEA ICE EVERY SUMMER. Average temperatures in the far north have risen by over 8°C as a result. The Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets have started to melt, releasing a huge amount of freshwater into the oceans.

    MOST MOUNTAIN GLACIERS HAVE COMPLETELY MELTED. Skiing is now a predominantly indoor sport which takes place on giant artificial slopes. Most of the Himalayan plateau’s ice has disappeared, reducing the flows of the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra and Yamuna rivers which over 600 million people rely on for plentiful water.

    THE EXTRA HEAT IN THE OCEAN HAS CAUSED IT TO EXPAND. Combined with water from melting ice sheets, sea levels have risen by more than one metre. Many major cities, including Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro and Miami, are already flooded and uninhabitable. The Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and many other small island nations have been abandoned.

    MANY COASTAL AND RIVER AREAS ARE REGULARLY FLOODED, including the Nile Delta, the Rhine valley and Thailand. Over 20% of Bangladesh is permanently under water. [Perhaps, even Georgetown, Guyana]

    Winter storms are more energetic and unleash more water, causing widespread wind damage and flooding each year.

    TROPICAL CYCLONES HAVE BECOME STRONGER AND AFFECT TENS OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE EVERY YEAR. Mega-cyclones, like 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, have become more common, with sustained wind speeds of over 200 mph.

    South-East Asian monsoons have become more intense and unpredictable, bringing either too much or too little rain to each region, affecting the lives of over three billion people.

    Food and water insecurity have increased around the world, threatening the health and wellbeing of billions of people. Extreme heat and humidity in the tropics and subtropics have increased the number of days that it is impossible to work outside tenfold – slashing farm productivity.

    EXTREME WEATHER IN TEMPERATE REGIONS LIKE EUROPE HAS MADE FOOD PRODUCTION HIGHLY UNPREDICTABLE. Half of the land devoted to agriculture in the past is now unusable, and the capacity of the rest to grow food differs widely from season to season. Crop yields are at their lowest levels since the middle of the 20th Century.

    FISH STOCKS HAVE COLLAPSED. The acidity of the ocean has increased by 125%. The ocean food chain has collapsed in some regions as the small marine organisms that form its base struggle to make calcium carbonate shells and so survive in the more acidic waters.


    Extreme weather events – from heat waves and droughts to storms and floods – are causing large loss of life and leaving millions of people homeless. Disease epidemics have plagued the century, spreading among populations beleaguered by widespread poverty and vulnerability.


    This is what our planet could look like if we do everything in our power to contain climate change.


    Fossil fuels have been replaced by renewable energy. Over a trillion trees have been planted, sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The air is cleaner than it has been since before the industrial revolution.


    Many new buildings have a photoelectric skin which generates solar energy and green roofs which cool the cities, making them a more pleasant place to live. High-speed electric trains reaching 300 mph link many of the world’s major cities. Intercontinental flights still run, using large and efficient planes running on synthetic kerosene that’s made by combining water and carbon dioxide sucked directly from the atmosphere.

    GLOBAL DIETS HAVE SHIFTED AWAY FROM MEAT. Farming efficiency has greatly improved during the transition from industrial-scale meat production to plant-based sustenance, creating more land to rewild and reforest.

    Half of the Earth is dedicated to restoring the natural biosphere and its ecological services. Elsewhere, fusion energy is finally set to work at scale providing unlimited clean energy for the people of the 22nd Century.

    Two very different futures!

  • brandli62  On 07/25/2021 at 3:12 pm

    I am hoping for scenario 2. Otherwise, we and our children will be toasted.

  • wally n  On 09/02/2021 at 5:05 pm

    Kerry talking tough, NOT!
    China owns the biden administration, stop pretending guys, nothing comes of this.

    By Chris Buckley and Lisa Friedman
    Published Sept. 1, 2021Updated Sept. 2, 2021, 1:26 p.m. ET

    Escalating tensions between China and the United States have spilled into their talks over how to stop global warming from hitting catastrophic levels after Chinese officials warned the U.S. climate envoy, John Kerry, that political ill will could undermine cooperation.

    Mr. Kerry emerged Thursday from two and a half days of discussions in the northern city of Tianjin, where Chinese leaders made what he described as “pointed” comments about the worsening relationship. Mr. Kerry, a former secretary of state, said he told the officials he was focused on staving off the worst effects of climate change.

    “My response to them was, ‘Hey look, climate is not ideological. It’s not partisan, it’s not a geostrategic weapon or tool, and it’s certainly not day-to-day politics. It’s a global, not bilateral, challenge,’” he said on a call with reporters.

    And, Mr. Kerry said, when it comes to tackling climate change, “We think China can do more.”

    Mr. Kerry said he and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, agreed to meet again ahead of international negotiations in Glasgow in November. Leaders from nearly 200 countries will try to agree on intensified efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and money to help the poorest nations prepare for the effects of global warming.

  • wally n  On 09/11/2021 at 10:28 am

    I know that you guys are busy fixing the Universe to change your weather but…here is your chance to chew on some hypocrisy to keep your spirits up…enjoy
    It’s completely offside with Canada’s commitments to the Powering Past Coal Alliance and its domestic goal to retire coal-fired generation,” said Adam Scott, director of Toronto-based Shift Action. “It’s completely offside with all of Canada’s climate commitments. And it’s a red flag for Canadians to be worried about their pension savings.”

  • wally n  On 09/14/2021 at 3:01 pm

    and….Every breath you take
    And every move you make……….
    It’s here….NOW!!!
    Money in dem damn hills lots and lots

    Climate Lockdowns: New CO2 monitoring credit card enables tracking of ‘carbon footprint on every purchase’ – ‘Monitors & cuts off spending when we hit our carbon max’ – Mastercard & UN join forces
    DO. Everyday Climate Action – Doconomy

    Come on man…WAKE UP!

  • wally n  On 09/15/2021 at 5:12 pm

    Guyana lucks out…….again, the checks will keep coming..

    Billed as another ‘climate change election’ by green campaigners and the media’s usual eco-warriors, Norway’s new socialist government is almost certain to keep drilling for more oil and gas – indefinitely.
    Victory by the Labor Party at parliamentary polls confirms Norway’s broad intention to make the most of its oil and gas resources despite environmental and legal challenges mounting against the sector across Europe.

  • wally n  On 09/18/2021 at 3:02 pm

    Now we making progress??? WHAT?
    The end is near?
    While they did send representatives, the leaders of India and China, two of the world’s largest contributors to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, were noticeably absent from a follow-up video conference on climate change Friday, hosted by President Joe Biden.

    India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping did not appear at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change Friday, hosted by President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry

  • wally n  On 09/26/2021 at 12:19 pm

    AND…more OOOPS??

    Europe is switching back to coal to survive bleak winter
    3 hours ago
    Charles Rotter
    From the GWPF
    Date: 25/09/21
    GWPF International

    Having banned fracking in much of Europe and with low wind speeds compounding the continent’s energy crisis, gas prices in the UK and much of Europe are going through the roof. A shortage of affordable natural gas is forcing European companies to switch to coal to survive a bleak winter.

    You think might be a bit of a scam..just asking????

  • wally n  On 10/04/2021 at 6:36 pm

    HEY!!! HEY!!!!!
    South Pole posts most severe cold season on record, an anomaly in a warming world ????????????????????????
    Amid a record hot summer in large parts of Northern Hemisphere, beset by devastating fires, floods and hurricanes, Antarctica was mired in a deep, deep freeze. That’s typically the case during the southernmost continent’s winter months, but 2021 was different.

    The chill was exceptional, even for the coldest location on the planet.

    The average temperature at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station between April and September, a frigid minus-78 degrees (minus-61 Celsius), was the coldest on record, dating back to 1957. This was 4.5 degrees lower than the most recent 30-year average.
    I think about $50 billion should fix this??might need an oversized wrench to adjust the SUN

  • dolphinwrite  On 10/05/2021 at 12:10 am

    Reading such articles, when in need of humor, is so demonstrative of finding many in the human race have no common sense. In a simple article (We’ve discussed the insanity of all this in past articles, so no need to reiterate.), we explained humans were not long ago looking at horse and buggies with envy, and in the 50’s, the first satellites went up, no where near to collating information to bring us to any of these questions, and scientists (only pc scientists) would have you believe they understand things we need more than another millennia to ask the correct questions. Like an article about the Earth giving off less light, so we asked, compared to what data? I know. I know. The readers aren’t looking to really understand, but this might help those on the fence between blind acceptance and truly thinking for themselves. **Here’s the thing. It’s easy to make claims such as the Sky is Fallling (Chicken Little) because there’s no real science to claim one way or the other, except common sense.

  • wally n  On 10/25/2021 at 1:07 pm

    The Liberal government announced Tuesday it’s speeding up its goal for when it wants to see every new light-duty vehicle sold in Canada to be zero emissions. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said that by 2035, all new cars and light-duty trucks sold in the country will be zero-emission vehicles.Jun. 29, 2021
    Little weasel….All the liberals pushing this will be dead and gone, with the cash they collected.BTW how much bigger can Al Gore’s house get????
    The electric vehicles will be charged from outlets charged with electricity from coal burning?? Remake the grid for higher voltage to homes??
    Pretend the main culprits you know who, will pollute the crap out of the air, do not exist.
    It is a scam, money grabber, waste of taxpayers money,unless,everyone does their share.
    Maybe Burnham was right and ahead of his time, clean your area, gutters, that you control, don’t pollute.

  • dolphinwrite  On 10/26/2021 at 1:16 pm

    Seems we’re like a bunch of tiny ants with little hills, pondering upon our significance while the Earth doesn’t even know we’re there, volcano eruptions like hiccups is kind of notices.

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