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?

  1. #1 by Victor on April 25, 2013 - 8:28 pm

    American public opinion wasn´t always so polarized on global warming as it is now. But the failed Kyoto Protocol with its unequal treatment of developed and truly developing (China) countries was unsellable in the US. Rejection of the Kyoto Protocol was bipartisan. Both environmentalists and climate deniers make it impossible for the US to deal with climate change.

    The change from coal to shale gas in the US will probably reduce its greenhouse emissions as much as what the EU has been doing.

    On the policy front the EU seems to be more advanced, but on the ground the US is doing a lot of things.

    From electricity generation, to transport, to agriculture both sides need to learn from one another.

  2. #2 by cecelia on April 26, 2013 - 5:50 am

    CO2 emissions in the US are dropping faster than any nation on the planet – good old market forces – cheaper natural gas has resulted in 80% of US power plants now using NG instead of coal or oil. Meanwhile Europe buys the coal no longer selling in the US – ironic huh?

  3. #3 by Joe on April 26, 2013 - 10:19 pm

    It isn’t politically incorrect to think that the hurricane that destroyed Galveston in 1900 was caused by man, it’s PLAINLY RATIONAL to think that it wasn’t caused by man, regardless of ones’ view on the validity of the Climate Change movement’s intended social and societal modifications.

    Europe should take any approach they find a public consensus in, whatever that is, so long as it’s genuine, thoughtful, and not the product of ideological bullying and childhood operant conditioning.

    What Americans do is absolutely none of their business, particularly given that the rate of CO2 emissions has been falling like a brick in the US for more than a decade, and rising uncontrollably in the EU.

    In other words, take your lecturesome pettiness elsewhere. We aren’t buy it.

  4. #4 by stati uniti on April 30, 2013 - 5:25 pm

    Blog da leggere con scrupolo saluti e grazie