July 1, 2022

Can Humans Adapt to Climate Change?

The dangers of climate change are “no longer over the horizon.” Humanity may soon pass the “point of no return.” These are the phrases U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres used to describe what he called an “utterly inadequate” global response to rising temperatures. In fact, world leaders and environmental advocates have long demanded structural overhauls to the way we consume and produce. Standing in the way, Guterres noted, is a sheer lack of will. But if we were to decisively act, and restructure our global economy with the climate in mind, who would shoulder the burden? Is it actually feasible? Assuming finite resources, where does climate change rank in the pecking order of global problems? Or should our collective focus orient more toward humans’ capacity for adaptation? In this timely debate, Intelligence Squared and the Richmond Forum convene four leading global thinkers on climate science, geopolitics, and international economics to take on this question: Can humans adapt to climate change?   This debate took place in front of a live audience in partnership with the Richmond Forum on April 30, 2022.

Main Points

For The Motion
  • Climate change adaptation is unavoidable. If we are not past the point of no return regarding climate change, then we soon will be, and we must adapt. Efforts to mitigate climate change, rather than to learn to live in the new world, are often not cost-effective or effectual.
  • This, in addition to the fact that many efforts and the dialogue around them are born out of an alarmism that is not warranted by the reality of the situation. Such anxiety leads to hast decision-making that is often not in the best interest of improving life outcomes for humans.
  • We would do better to prioritize adaptation efforts over emissions-cutting efforts, for example, as many mitigation efforts are plagued by the free rider problem to begin with.
Against The Motion
  • Climate change is unavoidable. The effects are going to drastically change the way our world and lives operate. Loss in habitable land to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, supply chain disruptions, and the disappearance of entire biomes are going to disrupt our way of life.
  • Most notably, these changes will more greatly impact the global poor, which in turn will put severe strains on the entire global financial and governance system.
  • These extreme changes are the kind of global disaster that warrant alarm. Unfortunately, such a slow-moving disaster, when people see signs but ignore them, is likely to occur plenty of harm that humans will find it difficult to adapt to. When mitigation is still an option, why would we not act to ensure less severe negative effects.

Pre-Debate

Against the Motion
23 %
Undecided
17 %
For the Motion
60 %

Post-Debate

WINNER

Against the Motion
42 %
Undecided
9 %
For the Motion
50 %

Breakdown

Against the Motion
18% - Remained on the Against Side
14% - Swung from the For Side
8% - Swung from Undecided
Undecided
2% - Swung from the Against Side
3% - Remained Undecided
4% - Swung from the For Side
For the Motion
4% - Swung from the Against Side
41% - Remained on the For Side
5% - Swung from Undecided
CLIPS BLOCK
ABOUT THE DEBATERS
For The Motion
Bjorn Lomborg
Bjorn Lomborg - Author of the Bestsellers Cool It and The Skeptical Environmentalist

Bjorn was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2004, one... read bio

Matthew Kahn
Matthew Kahn - Provost Professor of Economics and Spatial Sciences, University of Southern California
Mathew Kahn is a leading researcher and educator in the field of environmental economics, examining ... read bio
Against The Motion
Michele Wucker
Michele Wucker - Economic Policy Expert & Founder, Gray Rhino & Company 
Michele Wucker is a strategist and policy expert who coined the term “gray rhino” as a call to t... read bio
Kaveh Madani
Kaveh Madani - Environmental Scientist, & Former Vice President of the United Nations Environment Assembly Bureau, & Former Deputy Head of Iran’s Department of Environment 
Kaveh Madani is an environmental scientist, educator, and activist working on complex human-natural ... read bio

Main Points

  • Climate change adaptation is unavoidable. If we are not past the point of no return regarding climate change, then we soon will be, and we must adapt. Efforts to mitigate climate change, rather than to learn to live in the new world, are often not cost-effective or effectual.
  • This, in addition to the fact that many efforts and the dialogue around them are born out of an alarmism that is not warranted by the reality of the situation. Such anxiety leads to hast decision-making that is often not in the best interest of improving life outcomes for humans.
  • We would do better to prioritize adaptation efforts over emissions-cutting efforts, for example, as many mitigation efforts are plagued by the free rider problem to begin with.
  • Climate change is unavoidable. The effects are going to drastically change the way our world and lives operate. Loss in habitable land to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, supply chain disruptions, and the disappearance of entire biomes are going to disrupt our way of life.
  • Most notably, these changes will more greatly impact the global poor, which in turn will put severe strains on the entire global financial and governance system.
  • These extreme changes are the kind of global disaster that warrant alarm. Unfortunately, such a slow-moving disaster, when people see signs but ignore them, is likely to occur plenty of harm that humans will find it difficult to adapt to. When mitigation is still an option, why would we not act to ensure less severe negative effects.