What’s wrong with adaptation?

This is a (brief) section in the book that I am writing. So, comments very welcome…

What’s the matter with ‘adaptation’?

There’s already a term in use – adaptation, that sits alongside “mitigation”. It’s well embedded into the UNFCCC and international frameworks (less so among activists!). So obviously there’s a very high burden of proof for anyone advocating that we should not use this phrase.

I doubt very much that I will meet this burden of proof to the satisfaction of many beyond, um, me. But here goes. No, wait – the disclaimer first…

Disclaimer: Nothing in the following is intended to disparage the sterling work of scientists and academics who have been working around these issues under the label “adaptation.” The work of the UK Tyndall Centre (Prof Neil Adger, etc) has been sterling stuff.

So, finally –

Adaptation is too close to “accommodation”. It talks about transformation without talking about (deliberate) disruption of the status quo, or the present inequalities between humans, humans and other species, and how our current patterns are drawing down on stocks rather than flows and generally fucking things up.

Adaptation also offers a false certainty to our predictions of the future. The climate and the human response to climate change are simply too complex (and possibly chaotic!) for us to have any reason to believe that we know by how much rainfall will have increased or decreased, or temperatures will have affected crop yields etc. We just don’t know. Rather than preparing for x or y, should we not be turning this around and looking at how a society might be better able to deal with a gamut of threats, some known, and some “events, dear boy, events.”

So what is to be done?
Reframe adaptation as ‘transruptive resilience’

PS Final disclaimer: This is NOT to say the work around adaptation isn’t robust and useful, or that we should just tear up the science, or carry on as if nothing is happening. Rather, it’s about humility and the assumption that things will be significantly WORSE than we have thus far predicted and expected… Without disasturbating, of course…

About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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One Response to What’s wrong with adaptation?

  1. phil k says:

    Its when it’s seen as ‘adaptation’ vs ‘mitigation’ that things get v sticky… Also disasteful when adaptation is framed in terms of competitive advantage… I’m sure that this is not the case for the Manchester Eco-cities project http://www.ecocitiesproject.org.uk/ (funded by local property giant Bruntwood and including some strong academics) but even though their proposals will reduce carbon footprint, there is an element of ‘we’ll get through this’ if we just adapt. This inspite of the undoubted urgency to act seen by the company owners…

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