Mitigation, Adaptation, or…Suffering?

As I’m getting ready to head to the annual ArcticNet Conference in Ottawa (December 14-17, 2010), a recent article by Lonnie G. Thompson caught my eye. Published in Behavioural Analyst (2010, 33: 153-170), the article rather grimly lists what Thompson perceives to be the only three options for dealing with the current climate/environmental crisis: mitigate, adapt, or suffer.

“Global warming is here and is already affecting our climate, so prevention is no longer an option. Three options remain for dealing with the crisis: mitigate, adapt, and suffer. Mitigation is proactive, and in the case of anthropogenic climate change it involves doing things to reduce the pace and magnitude of the changes by altering the underlying causes. …Adaptation is reactive. It involves reducing the potential adverse impacts resulting from the by-products of climate change. …Our third option, suffering, means enduring the adverse impacts that cannot be staved off by mitigation or adaptation. Everyone will be affected by global warming, but those with the fewest resources for adapting will suffer most. It is a cruel irony that so many of these people live in or near ecologically sensitive areas, such as grasslands (Outer Mongolia), dry lands (Sudan and Ethiopia), mountain glaciers (the Quechua of the Peruvian Andes), and coastal lowlands(Bangladesh and the South Sea island region). Humans will not be the only species to suffer.

Clearly mitigation is our best option, but so far most societies around the world, including the United States and the other largest emitters of greenhouse gases, have done little more than talk about the importance of mitigation. Many Americans do not even accept the reality of global warming. …As the evidence for human-caused climate change has increased, the number of Americans who believe it has decreased. The latest Pew Research Center (2010) poll in October, 2009, shows that only 57% of Americans believe global warming is real, down from 71% in April, 2008. There are currently no technological quick fixes for global warming. Our only hope is to change our behavior in ways that significantly slow the rate of global warming, thereby giving the engineers time to devise, develop, and deploy technological solutions where possible. Unless large numbers of people take appropriate steps, including supporting governmental regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our only options will be adaptation and suffering. And the longer we delay, the more unpleasant the adaptations and the greater the suffering will be.

Sooner or later, we will all deal with global warming. The only question is how much we will mitigate,adapt, and suffer.”

Thompson certainly raises some important points — and kudos for doing so in such a provocative and up-front manner! — but I think that narrowing the options to three categories is limiting at best. Mitigation is extraordinarily important; adaptation is now a necessity for many people; and suffering…well suffering is certainly being experienced globally as well. But there are also many ways in which we can work in partnership to enhance resilience — emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically — of humans. This will require an understanding of environmentally-based suffering, to the emotional and mental strain that climatic and environmental change brings, to the areas of green grief and solastalgia, so that we can address this ever-more-prominent area of lived experience…and begin to turn our services, research, and work to discovering ways to enhance life and mitigate suffering.

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