Adaptation and Mitigation amid the Consequences of Failure
Publication: American Journal of Economics and Sociology
Societies once could choose between changing direction or dealing with climatic disaster; now it is necessary to do both at once. The best-laid plans for mitigation would be hard enough to fulfill in a stable climate, but they will be vastly harder in the climate chaos ahead. If simultaneous mitigation and adaptation are still achievable, such a difficult balance cannot also take on the burden of supporting unrestrained economic growth. The failing efforts so far have been dominated by a search for synergistic ways to mitigate, adapt, and grow economies at the same time, while wishing away the predictable trade-offs between these goals. Wealthy polluting countries have enforced this optimistic spirit in international climate debates, in part to counter the language of loss and damage, which they have seen as a direct challenge. Key to their effort has been a reframing of adaptation that flips the focus from the vulnerability of exposed populations to their resilience. However, the reality of implementing plans for resilience is running into problems, and those populations are instead taking up the banner of climate justice. Debt- and disaster-plagued Puerto Rico illustrates the failure of both adaptation and mitigation through growth and the promise of climate justice as a means to articulate other forms of balance.