ETHICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION AND MITIGATION
The desirability of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate future climate change impacts has been generally appreciated for several decades. Indeed, the principal focus of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted at the “Rio Earth Summit” of 1992 was on mitigation. As the immediacy of serious impacts has been more widely recognized in recent years, increasing attention has been directed to the necessity of adaptation as well. Because of the chemical and thermal inertia of Earth’s climate system, significant additional changes and impacts are inevitable.
Hurricane Sandy’s unusual behavior in October, 2012, demonstrated for many previously uncertain observers the increasing risk of extreme weather and climate-related events. The necessity of planning for the new realities of rising sea levels and more severe storms has become apparent, and preparation and protection strategies are now being widely discussed and adopted as increased emphasis is placed on strategies of adaptation.
However, the responsibility to assist threatened populations in adapting to accumulating changes in the near term in no way relieves humankind of the responsibility to mitigate far greater planetary perturbations in the long term. Because of the formidable political and economic challenges central to mitigation – transitioning away from reliance on fossil fuels -- there is a strong temptation to emphasize adaptation exclusively or excessively. Clearly, without mitigation as the principal albeit complementary strategy, the road to adaptation will be endless and ultimately unattainable. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions is what we must do! It is our ethical requirement, moral imperative and overarching goal.