Is climate adaptation boring?

Is climate adaptation boring?

The comedian, John Oliver, cleverly and satirically captures America’s growing problem of aging infrastructure in an episode of ‘Last Week Tonight’. Infrastructure, such as transport, energy, water supplies and communications, are essential to every country. However it is rarely seen as a ‘sexy’ issue, and rarely even remotely interesting.

Arguably, the same can be said about climate adaptation.

John Oliver highlights that although American infrastructure is sorely in need of renovation, there is no urgency for maintenance and repair; and it is not seen as important as new builds.   

For infrastructure in the US, the majority of funding comes from the United States Highway Trust Fund. In May this year, it was threatened with bankruptcy due to a lack of governance and legislation of gas taxes. Furthermore, due to a lack of public support, new sources of funding can’t be found, and there has been no new long-term transport legislation for over a decade.

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The problem of aging infrastructure is worse with future climate change impacts—heat waves buckle poorly built roads, floods wash out already unsafe dams, and more.  The challenge facing aging infrastructure is familiar to us as we promote strategic climate adaptation.  Climate change, like infrastructure, is only truly talked about when something significant happens – dramatic images of bridges washing away, baking heat waves wilting plants, mass migration and such.

Successful infrastructure is boring—nothing happens.  Imagine a communications campaign by some public-minded group about their success in achieving resilience. “I’m talking to Joe who has followed our advice and prepared for climate events. Joe, tell what is going on in your business?” Joe, “Nothing”. That is, there are no climate impacts, no dramatic footage to record.

How do we ‘sell’ adaptation, when we can’t even ‘sell’ something so fundamental and essential as infrastructure?  What compels people to seek resilience? What is transformational governance in preparing properly for a warmer world?

If adaptation is effectively mainstreamed, we can expect climate scientists and adaptation experts to say “if anything exciting happens we’ve done it wrong”.

Maybe being boring isn’t such a bad thing.


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