This forum was edited by Jessica Green, an assistant professor in Environmental Studies Department at New York University.
The one-two punch of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has revived the conversation about the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events. Views from the media and politicians range from calls for better climate and adaptation policies to skilled deflection. To provide some insights from political science, I asked experts Josh Busby, David Konisky, Neil Malholtra, Matto Mildenberger, Leah Stokes and Stacy VanDeveer to provide their thoughts on three questions:
1) What are the most important political consequences of Harvey and Irma? Are they a “game changer” for US climate discourse?
2) What is the role of scientific agencies and organizations is in this “post fact” era?
3) What are the most promising levers for promoting better adaptation policies?
All are skeptical that the recent hurricanes and the associated damage will change the tenor of politics around climate change. The issue is too polarized, and memories of disaster fade quickly. While crises such as these natural disasters can create the opportunity for policy change, it is clear that Republican elites must change their tune if any changes are to be implemented.
The role for scientists is a difficult one to navigate. Stacy VanDeveer suggests that scientists need to be more proactive and strategic about communicating their findings. But Neal Malhotra worries that the politicization of science will further erode trust in these institutions. Long term, the best approach is to “re-establish norms that people who work professionally on topics related to science ought to have seats at the table for decision-making” says Josh Busby. Post-fact era or not, Matto Mildenberger and Leah Stokes remind us that “denying climate change does not change the material facts at hand.”
As for how to effect change, the experts have a variety of helpful suggestions. They all share a common thread: don’t focus on climate change. Switch the emphasis to other issues and benefits, and the likelihood of success grows dramatically.
- Focus on tailoring adaptation strategies to specific place; this need not require reinventing the wheel, states Konisky. There are already ample resources about best practices available to communities seeking to enhance their resilience to climate change.
- Emphasize the non-climate benefits of adaptation. To the extent that policies are able to improve resilience and create jobs, expand green spaces, redirect investments into communities or create other tangible local benefits, they will be better received by the electorate.
- Find ways to help politicians capture the benefits of preparation. If adaptation can, say, help lower insurance rates, then politicians will reap more of the rewards of being proactive about future disasters.
- Change land use policies to expand natural buffers and make building codes more stringent as a way to reduce the most devastating impacts of storms.
Of course, while adaptation policies become increasingly necessary, and will surely prevent some future damage and hardship, without mitigation, they become a prohibitively expensive proposition. At this point, we have already locked in some degree of climate change, so adaptation must be part of the game plan. But we cannot adapt our way out of climate change. Mitigation may be the more controversial approach, but in the long term, it will lessen the amount of adaptation needed, and reduce its overall costs.
Their more detailed thoughts follow after the jump. Continue reading