Editor’s  note: This posting was authored by Pat Ford. Many years  ago, Pat served as the executive director of ICL. Most recently, he was  the executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Pat lives in  Boise, Idaho, and periodically contributes to the ICL blog.

Dr. Paul Farmer co-founded Partners in Health, which works in Haiti and other nations to bring health care, education and clean water to poor people.   His book To Repair the World gathers his speeches to graduating classes and young doctors.   One of Partners’ basic principles echoes through many of them:   integrate prevention and care.

Integrate prevention and care:   this seems to me accurate and evocative shorthand for our climate challenges.   We must integrate our work to prevent more climate change, and to care for the people, waters and lands it afflicts.   Work to prevent more climate change is vital; work to care for those it harms is vital; work that does both in integrated tandem will get the most done and make the fewest mistakes.

Conservation groups spent several million dollars in recent years to test what arguments and words will persuade people and elected leaders that climate change is real and must be tackled.   But language has other tasks, and powers, than persuasion.   For one, it must diagnose, as accurately as it can.   I think that integrating prevention and care more accurately describes our climate challenges than "fighting", "combating", "stopping", "mitigating", "adapting", "preparing for", and most other words now used.

One example:   I recently heard two Northwest utility leaders say a necessary response to climate change is to "maximize hydropower."   One of them also paraphrased U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz as saying that, while salmon recovery is important, fighting climate change takes precedence.   (I have not been able to confirm Secretary Moniz actually said this; I sure hope not.)   These statements profoundly mistake climate change for a one-dimensional challenge.   They not only fail to integrate prevention and care but pit the two against each other.   It’s a terrible way to frame climate policy.

A sounder strategy for the Northwest, that integrates prevention and care, would:

  • use hydropower to help trampoline us toward no-carbon communities and economies as quickly as we can;
  • plan the reductions in hydropower needed now or soon to care for climate-affected waters and the life they sustain;
  • replace any lost electricity from non-carbon sources; and
  • structure that replacement to speed up our wider transition from fossil fuels to non-carbon energy.

In the specific case of removing the Lower Snake River dams, analysis by the NW Energy Coalition shows this synergy is do-able:   the dams’ power can be affordably replaced from non-carbon sources, whose acquisition will further build our regional clean energy muscles, while the lower Snake’s health is renewed.   Our climate actions must find these sweet spots:   integrated actions that both help prevent more climate change and help care for those made ill by it.

Dr. Farmer also reminds us that the voiceless – poor people and the web of life – will bear the first and worst harms of climate chaos.   Therefore justice practices must also be integrated into climate action.   Farmer’s To Repair the World and Haiti: after the earthquake – plus a fine book about him, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder – are inspiring and instructive for conservation as well as for public health.