When Is It Time to Retreat from Climate Change?

When Is It Time to Retreat from Climate Change?

When Is It Time to Retreat From Climate Change?

That’s the bad thing about climate change. It’s not just an increase in something or a decrease in something. It’s an increase in variability.

Are citizens and scientists and politicians underestimating climate change’s potential existential threat? From the very first time we become aware of the concept of surviving and playing to win, parents and mentors coach us to “never underestimate the competition,” and become seduced by overconfidence and complacency. As we gain experience, we learn (sometimes the hard way) this simple maxim is true. We know that:

  • smart business professionals never underestimate their competition
  • smart military leaders never underestimate their enemies
  • smart coaches never underestimate the other team
  • smart politicians never underestimate the other candidate

So, a smart scientist should never underestimate the randomness and power of planet earth and the potential existential threats that can arise, such as climate change. History shows, we do so at our peril!

What Climate Justice Means and Why We Should Care by Elizabeth Cripps
Moving to Higher Ground: Rising Sea Level and the Path Forward by John Englander
The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America’s Coasts by Gilbert M. Gaul
Global Views on Climate Relocation and Social Justice: Navigating Retreat by Idowu Jola Ajibade

So the BIG QUESTION is, when is it time to retreat from climate change?


  • climate change is getting too big and complicated to reliably model and solve
  • climate change is going to create a cumulative disaster recovery bill that we cannot realistically afford
  • only a few Americans believe nations can solve the problem together in time, and
  • most Americans are unwilling to change their behavior in any event; then,

Are we better off to,

  • focus our support, energies, and money on a long-term strategy (“managed retreat”) to adapt to the inevitable warming of Planet Earth, while also
  • mitigating the destructive sources of climate change today as best we can?



Existential Risk Does Not Touch Us

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