Climate change is happening; the question is what to do about it. President Obama had one answer: reduce greenhouse-gas emissions aggressively.
Unfortunately, his approach was heavy on cost and light on benefit, and with yesterday’s executive order rolling back those efforts, President Trump has rightly begun the process of reversing it.
But President Trump’s own response to climate change appears to be: nothing. That’s not the right answer either.
Most climate policy falls into one of two categories: There is “mitigation,” which means trying to prevent climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions — think wind farms. And then there is “adaptation,” which means dealing well with whatever change occurs — think sea walls.
The basic problem with Obama’s mitigation-focused approach is that the overwhelming majority of future emissions will come from the developing world as it grows rapidly. U.S. policy has shown little ability to influence that trend, even when we make brave commitments to incur large costs ourselves.
We can — and should — invest in developing new technologies that might reduce emissions more cheaply, but that takes time, and success is not guaranteed.
Without major mitigation, though, adaptation becomes all the more important. And that is a place where good American policy can make a major difference.
For instance, continued research into the likely effects of climate change can inform policymakers and private actors about what to…