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June 6, 2011

Mitigation: It’s a good word and a better action

by Geoff Grant

Mitigation. It’s a word seldom voiced or written in the raft of stories we see every day now on climate change. Instead, that conversation is mainly focused on our ability to adapt to global warming and the climate chaos that promises to follow.

Take, for instance, this week’s story by Sharon Begley of Newsweek. It’s a good story. It talks about the increasing storms of today, the harrowing future of tomorrow, the history of global warming, and what cities and states are, or aren’t doing, to prepare for the future (just 14 states were planning or taking action to address climate change). In fact, in you haven’t read Mark Hertsgaard‘s excellent book Hot – Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, then read Begley’s piece, which is essentially a primer for the book.

But, like most stories on climate change, the focus of the Newsweek story is skewed right from the start, where the headline reads, in part, “how adapting to the inevitable might be our only option.”

But that’s not true. Because without mitigation, all the adaptation in the world won’t matter. It’s not an either-or proposition. There’s no doubt we’ll need to adapt to the changing environment regardless of how much we may try to mitigate global warming in the future. But without also addressing and limiting things like the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere or factory farming or our insatiable consumption, adaptation alone will not save us or the planet.

As John Holdren, science adviser to Barack Obama, said in Hot:

“We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We’re already doing some of each and will do more of all three. The question is what the mix will be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required, and the less suffering there will be.”

But so far, mitigation has barely entered the global conversation. And that needs to change first, before it has any chance of being a bigger part of the mix.

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