Robert W. Adler, Balancing Compassion And Risk In Climate Adaptation: U.S. Water, Drought, And Agricultural Law

64 Fla. L. Rev. 201 (2012)| | |

It is inevitable that the world will experience a significant amount of global warming before efforts to mitigate the buildup of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere can even begin to succeed. Therefore, adaptation to climate change impacts, as well as mitigation, will be necessary to deal with climate disruption. In designing climate change adaptation efforts, a looming issue is how to balance the need and compassionate impulse to provide financial and other relief to victims of climate disruption impacts with the equally compelling need to reduce the overall risk of those impacts. U.S. water, drought, and agricultural law and policy provide a good example of how past disaster relief efforts have sought to compensate drought victims or to insulate them against the effects of drought, but in the process have encouraged behavior that increases long-term risk and vulnerability. For example, past and ongoing water and agricultural law and policy encourage production of crops with high water demand and with inefficient irrigation methods, even in arid regions, and fail to provide significant incentives for sustainable water use.

In the long run, a more “compassionate” approach, particularly as a strategy for climate change adaptation, is to implement systemic policies to reduce vulnerability to drought and other climate-induced disasters by increasing the sustainability of various economic sectors in advance. For example, drought should be defined such that governmental relief is available only for impacts that are beyond the range of reasonable predictability; and drought relief should be conditioned on actions to use water more sustainably, and thereby to reduce drought vulnerability. Similarly, agricultural policy should provide incentives to shift production, particularly of water-intensive crops, to regions with increasing, rather than decreasing, water supply. These efforts to balance compassion and risk will become increasingly important as drought and other impacts of climate disruption become more frequent and more severe.

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