Adaptation

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by william defebaugh

photograph by will warasila

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Due to the planet’s warming surface temperature, sea levels have risen about 8 inches over the last century, which might not seem like a monumental shift—unless your home is less than a meter above sea level. As the first entire country facing potential displacement due to climate change, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati has been dubbed a “modern-day Atlantis.” Tired of watching rising ocean levels decimate crops but not wanting to leave their homeland, the I-Kiribati decided to adapt instead, integrating raised hydroponics that protect crops from the changing tides.

 

As Atmos writer Janice Cantieri points out in “Adapting to the Anthropocene,” the I-Kiribati are one among many indigenous communities who are being forced to adapt to their shifting landscapes. Of course, climate change affects nations small and large. Throughout its entire history, Indonesia’s capital has been Jakarta—population 10 million—but not for long. Parts of the coastal city have already sunk below sea level by as much as 13 feet in the last 30 years, prompting President Joko Widodo to announce on Monday that the capital will move.

Societies with less immediate ties to the land have been slower in responding to the same realities. For many Americans, agricultural awareness is limited to what they see at the grocery store, but the food industry is a massive, interdependent ecosystem of supply chains that are ultimately quite fragile—and susceptible to climate change. As a result, farmers are having to reevaluate many American staples, including organic apples, berries, and rice.

 

Speaking of reevaluation in America: 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke released his first policy proposal this week, which cements climate change as the central focus of his platform. The aim of his $5 trillion plan is to get the country to net-zero emissions by 2050. Elsewhere in the U.S., California has started paying its farmers to grow more plants that can absorb carbon and sequester it in soil—a promising initiative that will ultimately require more funding to be effective.

 

Across the pond, the U.K. parliament declared a “climate emergency” on Wednesday (as demanded by the Extinction Rebellion in a number of recent protests). “We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to U.S. President Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis,” said Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader responsible for the motion. The declaration gives the U.K. government a six month deadline to devise a plan to make its economy carbon-neutral by 2050.

 

The recently-formed New Standard Institute is well aware of the need for large-scale adaptation, especially in the fashion industry. Sustainable clothing connoisseur Maxine Bédat was tired of fashion’s greenwashing—making up its own definitions for ‘eco-friendly’ that are unrooted in science—so she founded NSI as a resource for designers and brands who are looking to alter their environmental impact based on facts.

 

Denial is a luxury that is no longer affordable for anyone, sinking cities and supposed world powers alike. Ultimately, our capacity to survive climate change will be determined by our own ability to change. As H.G. Wells put it: “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”

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