Climate change adaptation: With little focus on transformation, we’re doing it wrong, review explains

Coming together of experts to discuss what could inspire large-scale, collective action to prevent climate catastrophes is necessary.


The general consensus amount climate change researchers and climate action organisations is that we have a decade to cut our emissions considerably and clean up our act before the adverse effects and lasting changes resulting from climate change become irreversible. A new research review outlines that when it comes to adapting to climate change effects, both scientists and policymakers are being myopic.

The review authors argue that society should shift focus from how individuals respond to climate issues like floods and wildfires. Instead, the coming together of experts to discuss what could inspire large-scale, collective action to prevent climate catastrophes is necessary.

 Climate change adaptation: With little focus on transformation, we’re doing it wrong, review explains

The women pictured are among 20 million people who have been forced to migrate due to extreme weather events fuelled by climate change. Around 80 percent of them are in Asia. Image: Palani Kumar.

The researchers have arrived at this conclusion after pouring through several studies on behavioural adaptation to climate change. Most studies bring out the emphasis on the psychology of an individual, methods of coping when faced with isolated hazards, or the point of view of individual households and associated risks.

The review instead suggests exploring systems-level approaches to adaptation for entire societies. In their view, more research should look into the dynamics that would lead people to change entire systems that are currently contributing to the climate crisis by taking transformational action, but also barriers that would prevent people from embracing transformative efforts where climate and the environment is concerned.

A young protester takes part in a rally against climate change in Mumbai on 24 May 2019. Image: Getty

A young protester takes part in a rally against climate change in Mumbai on 24 May 2019. Image: Getty

"Thinking holistically is part of what transformation research is all about—saying we have to work together to really think differently," Robyn Wilson, lead author of the paper and a professor of risk analysis and decision science in Ohio State's School of Environment and Natural Resources, said in a statement.

"We can't all be individually running around doing our own thing. We need to think beyond the selfish individual who says, 'What do I need to do to be better off?'"

While Wilson believes climate catastrophe is inevitable, he also believes that humans going extinct isn't a likely scenario in this century, even under the worst conditions of global heating — by 8 or 9 degrees F.

"Fast-forward a couple hundred years and someone will be here. But if we don't think from a more transformative standpoint of how society should be structured and where we should live and how we should live, there will be a lot of losers—those with the least resources and low socioeconomic status and people in developing countries," Wilson adds. "We're living in a different world and we need to think differently about how we do things so we're all equally able to survive."

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