Addressing and slowing the consequences of climate change

Many of the policies proposed to address climate change have focused on mitigation or how we can reduce carbon emissions. The need for adaptation strategies, however, also should be underlined because we are now beyond the point at which mitigation of climate change will produce all the answers. We must recognize that adaptation to climate change will be necessary, and that this will require also looking at all of the related environmental problems. Climate change, described recently by the British Government's Chief Scientific Advisor as a threat to society greater than terrorism, may be the driving force behind most environmental change during the 21st century, but climate change does not act in isolation. Our ability to adapt to climate change is heavily dependent on solving other environmental problems, for example, bringing the human population increase under control. Other threats to society include the shortage of water and variations in rainfall already being felt in some areas of the world, the steady depletion of resources and continued existence of the consumptionist society, the accumulation of waste that we don't know what to do with, and the serious, irreparable damage to biodiversity.

Solving climate change and these other environmental problems will require a serious rethinking of economics and the way we value things in general. We need change in a value system that gives primacy to market forces, exploitation of resources and ever-rising consumption. Traditional cost-benefit analysis hardly answers any problems at all, and is, in fact, an important part of the problem. If indeed environmental problems are to be properly addressed, in addition to the traditional costs of research, process and production, prices need to reflect the costs involved in replacing a resource or substituting for it, as well as the cost of any associated environmental or human problems. As has been noted by many others, markets are superb at setting prices but incapable of recognizing costs. Future economics will require the kind of 'green accounting' now being pioneered in China, which moves away from simple measures of GNP and GDP toward an appreciation of human welfare. The aim of this approach is to create a 'well-rounded' society without extremes of poverty or wealth - a society that seems very different from the one we have at the moment.

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