Nav: Home

How fast will we need to adapt to climate change?

October 04, 2016

Stanford, CA-- What would we do differently if sea level were to rise one foot per century versus one foot per decade? Until now, most policy and research has focused on adapting to specific amounts of climate change and not on how fast that climate change might happen.

Using sea-level rise as a case study, researchers at Carnegie's Department of Global Ecology have developed a quantitative model that considers different rates of sea-level rise, in addition to economic factors, and shows how consideration of rates of change affect optimal adaptation strategies. If the sea level will rise slowly, it could still make sense to build near the shoreline, but if the sea level is going to rise quickly, then a buffer zone along the shoreline might make more sense.

The research is published in the October 4, 2016, issue of the Environmental Research Letters.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has defined adaptation as "the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects." Nearly all of the literature on the damage from climate change and adaptation to it focuses on amounts of change: that is, the damage from a world that is 3.6°F (2°C) warmer and a sea level that is three feet higher. But the world is more likely to get progressively warmer, with sea-level rise getting progressively higher.

"It is a very different thing to adapt to a sea level that is three feet higher if you think that sea level will rise no farther after that, than to adapt to a sea-level rise that is three feet higher with the expectation that the seas will keep rising," remarked Soheil Shayegh, a former Carnegie postdoc and lead author of the study.

The researchers analyzed how the rate of sea-level rise affects economic decision making in coastal areas in four scenarios. In the first scenario, there is no adaptation, and people build on land that will be flooded. In the second scenario, people take into consideration some future, specific amount of sea level rise, and create a no-build buffer zone prohibiting development along the coast. In the third scenario, people adapt to ongoing rates of change and consider whether buildings are likely to be flooded during their economically productive lifetime. In the last scenario, people try to adapt by protecting themselves with dikes or seawalls.

The researchers calculated the return on investment for each scenario using the discount rate--a measure that investors use to value future income. A high discount rate means investors don't value the future cost as much as if they have a low discount rate.

It makes more sense to build near the coast if buildings don't last very long, because investors are focused on short-term return, and sea level is rising slowly. Durable buildings, low discount rates, and rapid rates of sea level rise would point to building farther from the shoreline.

Of course, ignoring future sea-level rise is a recipe for failure. A buffer zone approach based on a single amount of sea-level rise fails to make productive use of valuable coastal land. The dike approach provides only a temporary hold, but even though they provide no long-lasting solution, they could make sense if the dikes could be made cheaply enough.

While the researchers focused on sea-level rise, they believe that consideration of rates of climate change and sea-level rise should be taken into account in other areas of adaption, including adaptation of agriculture, buildings, and other sectors. The authors point out that their study represents a first step in understanding practical approaches to adaptation, and that more research is needed to understand and manage the response of both human and natural systems to increased rates of change.

Ken Caldeira, of Carnegie Science's Department of Global Ecology, said "Future research on adaptation strategy needs to consider how economic incentives interact with real political systems, so that we might produce better outcomes. Unfortunately, as we have seen after Hurricane Katrina and in other flooding, if politically powerful people are flooded, they can sometimes get the rest of society to pay for the damage. This can set up perverse incentives and result in people building where they should not build, or putting dikes where they make no sense. Developing good policy means taking into consideration both physical and human dimensions of the problem."

Caldeira continued, "I used to live in New Jersey, and there was a river that flooded all the time. Eventually, they turned much of the flood plain into a park. Then, when the river flooded, it was no big deal, and the rest of the year, people could enjoy the park. Future adaptation strategy needs to be more like this, where we think about what the best use of land is, and don't try to fit everything into a 'one size fits all' policy."

Carnegie Institution for Science

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...