Monday, July 03, 2017

Climate change: What adaptation means

Under National, the government has effectively given up on serious emissions reduction, and instead started talking about "adaptation". What does that mean in practice? Moving towns away from the sea:

A Buller District councillor has suggested Westport might have to be moved further inland as climate change takes hold.
Westport sign


Councillor Phil Rutherford said it was impossible to ignore that the Tasman Sea was getting closer to Westport's coastal fringes.

At a council meeting last week, when the talk turned to planning for some big-ticket items, Mr Rutherford suggested it might be pointless without some radical thinking such as moving the town further inland.

"My comment was, 'why would we build something for 100 years to service a town that may not be there in 100 years'."

And he's right. Councils (or anyone) making long-term decisions should be planning ahead and factoring in where the coastline is expected to be in a hundred years. There's little point building infrastructure with a hundred year lifespan when it will be under water in half that time. Likewise, allowing beachfront developments is simply an invitation for their residents to be flooded out.

But while planning ahead minimises some costs, it still leaves others. Those people living in areas of Westport (or other towns) which will have to be abandoned? Their homes are worthless. Which is going to make it difficult for them to move. And they'll naturally look to the government for compensation, as we do for other disasters.

Adaptation is going to be very expensive - almost certainly much more expensive than emissions reduction would have been. But that expense will primarily be faced by ordinary kiwis, whereas the expense of emissions reduction would have been faced by farmers and large businesses. And sadly, we know whose side the government is on...