Across the Atlantic, another take on risk


EU mitigates, whilst the US adapts to climate change

1900 in Galveston, a hurricane swept the former capital of the Republic of Texas. Some six thousand people died in those winds, which even after Katrina and Sandy remain the deadliest in US history. Once the richest and most important city in the state, today this city remains a shadow of its former self; few seem to be willing to invest too much at hurricane central, and Galveston is full of poor and wind shagged homes.

In Texas, it is politically incorrect to believe in anthropogenic climate change, a theory yet to be proven, like Darwinism it seems. At one of Houston’s main hospitals, the head of staff was granted emergency powers to handle the influx of 27.000 refugees from New Orleans when Katrina struck in 2005. “We are in a war on climate” he explains, whilst denying that man is culprit.
Galveston has become both an argument and a counter argument in the debate here; an example of what might happen to other coastal cities along the Golf and  the Atlantic shores, the city and its history also allow those who question science to point to an extreme weather event eleven decades ago. The increased frequency of these events is discarded, and the existing and solid scientific volume underpinning reports from the world’s leading scientists ridiculed – “tell me the impacts on girls from global warming!”, said one Texan I met.

In the US, risk is opportunity and risk is attractive, and it seems taking on a war on climate is more exciting than paying more for electricity and gasoline. European precautionary principles, including those that deal with environment and health are utterly unfashionable.
Yet whilst this close encounter with risk might still delay emerging political support for climate action, which from a low starting point is on the increase in the US – even in Texas – it might also be risk taking that ultimately enables America to overtake Europe when dealing with the effects of climate change.

Across the country, adaptation in the war on climate takes a myriad of different forms; from the urgent and particular and sometimes draconian response in crisis situations when barbed wire and guards deploy at hospitals to prevent them from being turned into shelters – 2005 in Houston – to foresighted and potentially game changing research into the genetics of plants, such  as cotton, surgeon and camelina. These are draught resistant crops that can be genetically modified to potentially become a valuable – and in the case of camelina – even very healthy source of food for millions of people.

Whilst parts of America remain dogmatic climate change is not real, challenging science and denying the role of fossil fuels, thereby hampering US mitigation efforts to take off and the country to commit to international CO2 reduction targets, the reverse is true when it comes to adaptation in the war on climate; indeed, on GMOs it is Europe that seems to be challenging science.

So while the EU mitigates and debates climate targets for 2030, America adapts much more vividly than Europe to the new 21st century conditions. Might one possibly combine the two approaches and do away with dogmas on both sides of the Atlantic?