Individual Statement by a Member of the Synthesis Panel
Jessica Mathews, a member of the Synthesis Panel, disagrees with the conclusions in Chapter 5 with the following statement. ''The analysis does not support the conclusion that greenhouse warming will be no more demanding than past climatic changes. If the change is unprecedented in the experience of the human species, how can it be claimed that people will have no more difficulty adapting to future changes than to those of the past?
"The reasoning used here is that human economic activities are largely divorced from nature and that modern technology effectively buffers us from climate. Combined with assumptions of gradual change, no surprises, and an olympian perspective on national costs, the result is an unduly sanguine outlook. Even as a portrayal of a best case scenario (rather than a most likely one), this is a flawed analysis.
"First, it underestimates the extent to which human societies, even affluent ones, depend on the underpinning of natural systems. While recognizing that the pace of greenhouse warming will most likely exceed the rate at which species and ecosystems can adapt, the study does not go on to examine the resulting impacts of severe ecosystem disruption on human societies.
"Also, the impacts of climate change on economic activities are considered separately, sector by sector (farming, industry, transportation, etc.). This is understandable given the difficulty of analyzing the interactions, but here the compartmentalization of impacts in both the natural and economic spheres seems to lead to the distorted view that people, economic activity, infrastructure, and natural context can be disassociated. The finding that 'expected climatic changes are within the range people now experience … and to which those move usually learn to adapt,' means nothing about adaptation to greenhouse-induced change. The fact that one can move with
ease from Vermont to Miami has nothing to say about the consequences of Vermont acquiring Miami's climate.
"Reasoning from the experience of past adaptations is risky given that in the past societies could usually expect that climate fifty years hence would be reasonably like that of the present. This will probably not be the case during a greenhouse warming, because of the difficulties of forecasting regional impacts, the rate of expected change, and because we may be operating under conditions with which mankind has no past experience.
"Finally, it may be strictly accurate that 'pluses and minuses' will combine to produce 'small net change for a nation of our size.' But the distribution of impacts in time and space matters more than this treatment suggests. Costs that are indisputably enormous (including human suffering) begin to appear deceptively manageable when viewed solely from the perspective of their impacts on a multitrillion dollar economy. For example, in the case of cities, the study finds that while 'adaptation might be costly, the costs would in most cases be lower than the cost of moving the city.'"
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