Paralysis by analysis should not delay decisions on climate change

Paralysis by analysis should not delay decisions on climate change
The Thames Barrier was built to protect London from floods with a return period of 1000 years up to 2030. Credit:

Uncertainty about how much the climate is changing is not a reason to delay preparing for the harmful impacts of climate change says Professor Jim Hall of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford and colleagues at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, writing today in Nature Climate Change.

The costs of adapting to , sea-level and flooding include the upfront expenses of upgrading infrastructure, installing early-warning systems, and effective organisations, as well as the costs of reducing risk, such as not building on flood plains.

Robert Nicholls, Professor of at the University of Southampton and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, says: "Some are now inevitable, so it is widely agreed that we must adapt. But selecting and funding adaptation remains a challenge."

Professor Nicholls and his co-authors describe two ways of assessing how much adaptation to climate change is enough by balancing the risk of climate change against the cost of adaptation. First they describe cost-benefit analysis where the cost of the adaptation has to be less than the benefit of risk reduction. Alternatively, decision makers can seek the most cost-effective way of maintaining a tolerable level of risk. This approach is easier for to understand, but thresholds of tolerable risk from climate change are not well defined.

The Thames Estuary Gateway is the only place in the UK where a level of protection against flooding is defined in law – a 1 in 1000 year standard of protection which needs to be maintained with . The authors conclude that adaptation decisions need exploration across a variety of different interpretations of risk, not a single answer.

"Like all complex problems several perspectives are needed and any single answer would misrepresent the uncertainty, but let us not let by analysis be an obstacle to action on adaptation," says Professor Hall.

"Adaptation decisions have further benefits. The tenfold increase in the Netherlands standard of flood protection proposed in 2008 has sent a message to global business that the Netherlands will be open in the future, come what may," adds Professor Nicholls.

The research article 'Proportionate adaptation' by Professor Jim Hall (Oxford University), Dr Sally Brown (University of Southampton), Professor Robert Nicholls (University of Southampton), Professor Nick Pidgeon (Cardiff University) and Professor Robert Watson (University of East Anglia) is published in Nature Climate Change December 2012. All of the authors are members of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

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Journal information: Nature Climate Change

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Nov 27, 2012
"Uncertainty about how much the climate is changing is not a reason to delay preparing for the harmful impacts of climate change..."

Wrong. Uncertainty is a perfect reason not to waste trillions. A better step would be to stop building in flood zones, on subsiding lands, and below sea level. Stop doing risky things, and stop government from subsidizing risk. The only things which are actually happening are small sea level rise (which has been going on for 10,000 years, since the end of the last ice age), and thawing of some Arctic seas, which also happened in the 1930's and 1940's.

Nov 27, 2012
Modern spin is a subtle and devious art.

And the modern information age is saturating people with so much information that special interests on all sides know that there is little informed decision making anymore.

So mass media is now less about the content and more about how to structure it to affect the reader's reaction to it.

For example, the phrasing of the headline is to place in peoples mind certain elements as "facts" when they are actually several levels lower in the "strong suspicion" category.

But any phrasing of the issues involved will elicit strong reactions from one camp or another depending on their decided world view. Only the few critical thinkers and those who accept the spirit of scientific process will maintain low emotional reactions and assign "levels of grey" to all possibilities.

Nov 27, 2012
343... your reply almost seems prudent until you included 2 fictitious claims to make your case. Sea level has not been rising for 10,000 years. There's excellent geological and archeological evidence that it had been rather stable for a long while and only recently has been increasing as the oceans began to trap more heat. (most of the rise to date has been from water expansion due to heat than to ice melt). And the polar ice masses in the 1930s/40s did not behave in any similar way to their observed changes today.

Uncertainty in this article refers to the degree of worst case scenario we will face with a warming planet, not whether it's happening or not. It's definitely happening and it's going to cause a host of bad effects, many of which we're beginning to feel. Coastal cities will either adapt or experience what New Orleans and New Jersey/New York have repeatedly over the next few decades and react as they rebuild.

Nov 27, 2012
Yeah, Baconbutts! Wrock-on! You nailed it. Sea level never rises, and we all know it hasn't for 10,000 years. Lol. 343 is a denier propagandist for the right-wing. If he reply to you, don't put up with his crap. Because these anti-science types deserve little pity.

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