Adaptation vs. Mitigation: What Does Each Mean for the Environment?

Hands, Globe, Earth, Protection, Planet, World, Global

{We can either choose to adapt to climate change or mitigate its effects. No matter what, the planet’s in our hands.}

Human beings are resilient creatures who learn from an early age to roll with the times. That skill is likely going to be tested in the coming years as climate change intensifies. 

As that happens, one question should come to the forefront of the discussion: Is it better to adapt to climate change? Or should we try to mitigate its impact?

This article seeks to answer that question. Keep reading to get an in-depth look at the differences between adaptation and mitigation and to see how we might use each of them to ease our adjustment to climate change.

Climate adaptation: minimizing the effects  

What is climate adaptation?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines climate adaption as, “The process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects.” So what does that mean?

Essentially, when we talk about climate adaptation, we’re talking about changing our behaviors so that they align with what the climate looks like.

For example, if it’s a very hot day outside, you might stay inside in your air-conditioned home to keep cool. That’s an example of you adapting your behavior because of a change in your climate.

What are some ways we can adapt to climate change?

Climate change experts have come up with lots of good ideas about the things that we can do to adapt to climate change. Here are some examples:

  • Prepare for more severe fire seasons by dedicating more resources to clearing brush and other types of fire preparation
  • Strengthen sea walls, drain pipes, and pumps to prepare for rising sea levels
  • Build disaster and public health plans for more severe types of weather
  • Develop new crop varieties and farming technologies to protect the food supply from prolonged droughts and extreme storms
  • Prepare for managed retreats, which are large scale resettlements due to climate impacts

Climate mitigation: tackling the causes 

What is climate mitigation?

Whereas climate adaption attempts to make the effects of climate change less pronounced, mitigation seeks to address the problem at its root.

According to the European Environment Agency, the idea of mitigation is to, “[make] the impacts of climate change less severe by preventing or reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

If you decide to swap from a gas-powered vehicle to an electric one, that would be an example of mitigation, because you’re taking an action that will reduce the amount of greenhouse gas that goes into the atmosphere.

What are some ways we can mitigate climate change?

Companies and governments are creating innovative solutions for mitigating the impact of climate change. Some examples of this include:

  • Investing in renewable sources of energy and encouraging others to do so through incentive programs
  • Increasing the size of forests and other resources that provide natural mitigation
  • Swapping from gas-powered vehicles to electric ones

Factors that affect adaptation and mitigation

In this section, we’ll cover the main factors that impact the discussion around climate adaptation and mitigation. We’ll also tell you what you can do as an individual to have an impact in each category.

Resource consumption

Our planet is full of resources that humans find useful. Many of these, such as timber from forests, can replenish over time. But that only happens when we use the resources sustainably–and we’re currently not even close to doing that.

According to Population Matters, we’re currently using up the renewable resources of 1.7 earths and unless we change things, we would need 3 earths to satisfy our consumption habits by the year 2050.

The meaning is clear: we’re currently using more renewable resources than we can afford to. If we don’t change our ways, then there’s a good chance that many of the resources we depend upon today won’t be available for future generations to enjoy.

One of the biggest examples of this is our planet’s uneven consumption of food. There are more than 800 million people who don’t get enough food to meet their daily nutritional needs. Meanwhile, more than 650 million people are obese.

Part of the problem is our exploding population numbers, which have led the UN to predict that we’ll need 70% more food by 2050.

So what can you do about this? One place to start is by trying to consume fewer resources than you do currently and by encouraging the other people in your life to do the same. You may not feel like you can make a difference individually. But if everyone just did their part, we’d be in a much better position to leave future generations the same resources we enjoy.

Global and local climate policy 

Scientists have told us that we can have an impact on the rate at which climate change occurs. 

But to do so, we need to take aggressive action to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas that gets released into the atmosphere. And the most effective way to do that is by creating new laws that regulate the amount of greenhouse emissions that companies and people are allowed to release.

Unfortunately, getting buy-in from national, state, and local governments across the planet has proven to be an exceptionally difficult task. But things are slowly improving, and the Paris Agreement represents the best attempt at this. Countries responsible for about 97% of global greenhouse gas emissions have joined the agreement, which seeks to reduce emissions over time.

Although the Paris Agreement is a big step forward, it isn’t a complete solution for climate policy. National, state, and local governments can still do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their territories. And individuals can make this action more likely by reaching out to their representatives and asking them to do more about climate change.

Social and cultural attitudes

We also still have a lot of work to do when it comes to adjusting cultural attitudes towards climate change–especially in the United States. 

A sizable portion of the population doesn’t believe in climate change, despite the fact that nearly all actively publishing climate scientists support the consensus opinion on climate change.

There isn’t a single reason for this. Some of the refusal to believe in climate change comes from the fact that people in many locations aren’t feeling the impact of it yet. Additionally, many conservative U.S. media sources make it a point of emphasis to cast doubt on climate change and this certainly has an impact on the beliefs of those who watch or read these news sources.

That being said, individuals can still have an impact here. You can do so by challenging the beliefs of people who profess not to believe in climate change. Come armed with statistics and don’t speak down to them. 

Instead, try to understand what’s fueling their climate change denial and use logic and statistics to encourage them to reexamine their beliefs without getting confrontational.

Inequality of finance and resources 

Inequality is another factor that makes both climate mitigation and adaptation a challenge. Communities with few available resources likely won’t be able to invest heavily in climate adaption technologies.

Similarly, poorer nations may not have the financial capability to turn away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of energy. Though renewable energy usually saves money over time, it can be expensive to set up the infrastructure needed to reliably create it.

It’s difficult to address this problem on an individual level. But the best way to do so is by lobbying your representatives to make fighting global climate change more of a priority. The United States spends billions on foreign aid. We can advocate for a portion of that to go to creating the infrastructure needed for poorer countries to fight global warming.

Lack of awareness of the problem

Some people are still unaware of the severity of the problems that climate change represents. These individuals see no reason to adopt a greener lifestyle because they don’t understand why doing so is necessary.

This is one area where individuals can have a big impact. If we all committed to teaching our circle about the importance of mitigating and adapting to climate change, many more people would know the significance of the problem than they do now.

So consider committing to educating your friends and family about climate change if you know they’re not very familiar with it. Once again, be sure not to talk down to them when you do. Use friendly language and facts to outline climate change for them and take the time to answer any questions they may have for you.

Want to do your bit for the environment?

Thinking about where we’re at with climate change and adaptation and where we still need to go can feel overwhelming. But the good news is that there are a ton of things we can do as individuals to have an impact and get us closer to our goals.

One way that you can make a difference is by using a green banking service like Aspiration instead of a traditional one.

Consider checking out the Aspiration Zero credit card. We’ll plant a tree every time you make a purchase and will help you go carbon-neutral by giving you access to an app you can use to track your monthly progress. Visit our website today to learn more.

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