Climate changed: some thoughts on adaptation
Climate isn't the same as weather, but for most people, climate change will show up as extreme weather. Business will most certainly not be as usual.
Some of you will have heard this story before, but one of the things that got me interested in the tech around climate change was (not surprisingly) science fiction. Specifically, New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson, which is, put simply, a book about global finance and climate adaptation.
In it, there’s a relatively passing mention of how there’s a diamond coating around the bottom of buildings in a completely flooded New York City, and it keeps the water out so the buildings are still habitable. I fixated on that a bit, because I love these little details that I like to think of as “prepper practical,” and I wondered, “well, is anybody working on the diamond coating? Because that would be a story for me!”
And thus, when I first started covering climate solutions, my lens was adaptation: the idea of coming up with solutions that keep us alive when the winds get stronger, the fires bigger, the droughts longer, the rains harder. That’s the reason I called the resulting reporting series and eventual narrative podcast “How We Survive.”
During this long winter in the US, and through my hyperlocal lens of the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve been thinking about adaptation a lot. See, the thing is, a lot of climate change is already climate changed. The world is 2 degrees Farenheit hotter than it was in 1880, and the rate of warming has more than doubled since 1981. The speed of this warming is because of humans burning fossil fuels (with a few other activities thrown in).
And that brings us to weather. Climate is not the same thing as weather, and weather is not the same thing as climate. That’s why it’s understandable that my dad in Montana (a state that’s currently being sued by teenage activists who say it’s violating their constitutional rights by continuing to support, subsidize, and profit from extracting and burning coal, oil, and natural gas)1, would ask me relatively recently, “how can global warming be real when I’m sitting here buried under 8 feet of snow?”
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And honestly, this is a reasonable question. Or at least, it’s reasonable in an age of deliberate disinformation and confusion about what global warming means, does, and causes. Hence, this brief explainer because, again, I’m sure you’re all the converted, but since my mission here is storytelling, and the simpler the message the better, I think there’s value in putting things in a super straightforward way that you can tell your own dads, should the need arise.
So climate isn’t weather and weather isn’t climate. But global warming is basically steroids for weather. Whatever was already going to happen, like droughts, floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, heat waves, snowstorms, rain—all that is still going to happen. But when it happens, it’s going to be worse. Also, extreme versions of what used to be normal weather are going to happen more often.
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