Breath of Clarity

The “wait and see” strategy

Original Post by Andrew Garcia:

There is a contradiction between the support of action against climate change and priorities. People are more concerned about the economy, war, and terrorism compared to climate change which is of much lower concern in the United States and other nations (Sternan 2008, 532). Wait-and-see approaches to emission reductions can stem from the uncertainty still surrounding climate change along with the costly actions needed to reduce emissions.This method of adapting to climate change runs the risk of being too late to reverse any damages or solve any problems from emissions. The wait-and-see approach works on simple systems with a much shorter lag time compared to climate change (Sterman 2008, 532). Climate change affects ice sheets, sea level, agriculture, and extinction, each of these issues are unforgiving if left unchecked.

The idea of accumulation seems to be one of the reasons why wait-and-see approaches have support. Failure to understand and acknowledge how accumulating effects on the climate cannot be simply solved once emissions are stabilized, this fails to acknowledge physics and is unrealistic. Basically the belief is that once emissions are stabilized, the climate and environment will immediately stabilize as well (Sterman 2008, 532).

Based on the above argument, a wait-and-see mentality may not be the best option to counteract climate change. I believe it depends on the location of the country and the climate they currently reside in. For cooler climate countries, there may be more costs associated with attempting to reduce emissions and establish other controls compared to adapting to higher temperatures and rising sea levels. So of course coastal communities and countries with warmer climates should avoid wait-and-see strategies since they will be most vulnerable to the potential risks of climate change; their costs to reduce emissions will most likely be lower than adaptation costs (Field and Field 2017, 293). Overall, a rational wait-and-see strategy depends on the location of the country and the climate, where you live dictates if a wait-and-see strategy is an option.


Field, Barry C., and Martha K. Field. 2017. Environmental Economics: An Introduction. Seventh Edition. The Mcgraw-Hill Series. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Sterman, John. 2008. Risk Communication on Climate: Mental Models and Mass Balance. AAAS. no. 332: 532-533

Comment by Professor Thomas:

Interesting point about how a wait-and-see approach can be tied to geography. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think the rationale also stems, at a very basic level, from whether or not one is “winning” under the status quo. If a country (or a firm or an individual or a region) perceives the status quo as unsatisfactory, then is is much easier to be motivated to embrace a major change. Conversely, if the status quo is perceived as satisfactory, that is a major disincentive to embrace change. Alternatively, those that envision an opportunity to be gained within the change (i.e. a firm manufacturing photovoltaic panels) will move toward the opportunity.

My Comment:

I agree, a comparative cost-benefit analysis is a stellar way to instigate coastal communities to drop the wait-and-see mentality and instead take action against climate change. Through a systematic literature review, authors identified eighty adaptation optionsLinks to an external site. as suitable for coastal communities and can be applied by local governments (Sinay and Carter 2020). The adaptations are displayed in tables within the article. The collection’s three major categories are retreat, co-exist and defend. Further, the authors organized the adaptation options by the types of threats (i.e. property and infrastructure, coastal flooding, inland flooding, fire, natural systems, farming, fresh and drinking water etc.) they were responding to. The method supports the point mentioned by Professor Thomas asserting the decision to discontinue the wait-and-see approach is derived from dissatisfaction and the need to embrace change due to experiencing a current problem. That way, local governments can identify current adaptation options relevant to their specific situations. The authors excluded articles published before 2010. Crucially, the authors emphasize the provided adaptation actions can be high to low cost and appropriate at household/business to community levels.

Comment by Professor Thomas:


Good point. In support of the “retreat, co-exist, or defend” decision for coastal residents, I think reforms with the National Flood Insurance Program and rising flood insurance rates are important influences. The National Flood Insurance Program is a federal program created by Congress in 1968. The program has two main objectives: 1) to share the risk of flood losses (similar to other forms of insurance), and 2) to reduce flood damages by restricting floodplain development. Critics have pointed out that low insurance rates have not influenced coastal residents to retreat, but rather, these rates have been a federal subsidy to coastal development. This is changing however, and rates have been rising steadily since about the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.