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|Adapting to rising seas and higher
temperatures is expected to be a big topic at the UN climate-change
talks in Copenhagen next week, along with the projected cost —
hundreds of billions of dollars, much of it going to countries that
cannot afford it.
With the world losing the battle against global
warming so far, experts are warning that humans need to follow
nature's example: Adapt or die.
That means elevating buildings, making taller and stronger dams and
seawalls, rerouting water systems, restricting certain developments,
changing farming practices and ultimately moving people, plants and
animals out of harm's way.
Adapting to rising seas and higher temperatures is expected to be a
big topic at the UN climate-change talks in Copenhagen next week,
along with the projected cost — hundreds of billions of dollars,
much of it going to countries that cannot afford it.
That adaptation will be a major focus is remarkable in itself. Until
the past couple of years, experts avoided talking about adjusting to
global warming for fear of sounding fatalistic or causing countries
to back off efforts to reduce emissions.
"It's something that's been neglected, hasn't been talked about and
it's something the world will have to do," said Rajendra Pachauri,
chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"Adaptation is going to be absolutely crucial for some societies."
Some biologists point to how nature has handled the changing
climate. The rare Adonis blue butterfly of Britain looked as if it
was going to disappear because it couldn't fly far and global
warming was making its habitat unbearable. To biologists' surprise,
it evolved longer thoraxes and wings, allowing it to fly farther to
"Society needs to be changing as much as wildlife is changing," said
Texas A&M University biologist Camille Parmesan, an expert on how
species change with global warming.
One difficulty is that climate change is happening rapidly.
"Adaptation will be particularly challenging because the rate of
change is escalating and is moving outside the range to which
society has adapted in the past" when more natural climate changes
happened, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief
Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist, told Congress on Wednesday.
Cities, states and countries are scrambling to adapt or are at least
talking about it and setting aside money for it. Some examples:
•England is strengthening the Thames River flood control barrier at
a cost of around half a billion dollars.
•The Netherlands is making its crucial flood control system
•California is redesigning the gates that move water around the
agriculturally vital Sacramento River Delta so that they can work
when the sea level rises dramatically there.
•Boston elevated a sewage treatment plant to keep it from being
flooded when sea level rises. New York City is looking at similar
maneuvers for water plants.
•Chicago has a program to promote rooftop vegetation and reflective
roofs that absorb less heat. That could keep the temperature down
and ease heat waves.
•Engineers are installing "thermal siphons" along the oil pipeline
in Alaska, which is built on permafrost that is thawing, to draw
heat away from the ground.
•Researchers are uprooting moisture-loving trees along British
Columbia's coastal rainforests and dropping their seedlings in the
dry ponderosa pine forests of Idaho, where they are more likely to
•Singapore plans to cut its flood-prone areas in half by 2011 by
widening and deepening drains and canals and completing a
226-million-dollar dam at the mouth of the city's main river.
•In Thailand, there are large-scale efforts to protect places from
rising sea levels. Monks at one temple outside Bangkok had to raise
the floor by more than three feet.
•Desperately poor Bangladesh is spending more than 50 million
dollars on adaptation. It is trying to fend off the sea with flood
control and buildings on stilts.
President Barack Obama and Congress are talking about 1.2 billion
dollars a year from the US for international climate aid, which
includes adaptation. The UN climate chief, Yvo de Boer, said 10 to
12 billion dollars a year is needed from developed countries through
2012 to "kick-start" things. Then it will get even more expensive.
The World Bank estimates adaptation costs will total 75 to 100
billion dollars a year over the next 40 years. The International
Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a London think
tank, says that number is too low.
It may even be 200 or 300 billion dollars a year, said Chris Hope, a
business school professor at the University of Cambridge and part of
the IIED study.
Nevertheless, Hope said failing to adapt would be even more
expensive — perhaps six trillion dollars a year on average over the
next 200 years. Adaptation could cut that by about two trillion
dollars a year, he said.
As much as three-quarters of the spending will be needed in the
developing world, experts say.