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Adaptation: The Ultimate Challenge

Thilo Kunzemann, Allianz
WWF climate change adaptation expert Kit Vaughan talks about the limits of adaptation, and how climate change will shake the very foundations of our society.

… Q: Mankind has met adaptation challenges before. What makes climate change different?

Kit Vaughan: Adapting to climate change is not something new; we have been doing it as society for thousands of years. People and species have always adapted to changing climates. What is different is the speed and the scale of the changes we are facing.

In the last 300 or 400 years, we have built our society and economies on an assumed stable environment. If you look at houses built near a river, you see that they are all built in what people considered to be a fairly safe place, a few meters above the water, the highest tide, etc. But that is now changing, and so the baseline for our society changes.

Q: So apart from thinking twice before buying waterfront property, what else will we have to consider?

Kit Vaughan: We have been building houses to withstand a certain maximum of temperature change in the summer. What we are going to see in a world that is three, four, five degrees warmer is that our houses, hospitals, and schools will be too exposed to sun and heat. The same is true for biodiversity, ecosystems, and species. They have adapted to fit certain niches, and these niches are now changing and so will they. They are either forced to adapt, migrate, or go extinct.

The difficulty is how to support adaptation in a world with nine billion people, increased demands for food security and natural resources, and increasing climate stress, while you get more storms, more drought, and smaller crop yields and so on. The dynamics of our ecosystems and our societies are changing and we will have to learn how to adapt where possible. That is what adaptation is about: learning to live with these impacts, and learning to respond to these risks and building in resilience where possible.

Q: What are the best ways to adapt?

Kit Vaughan: For a society, good adaptation means good development. You would have to reduce other sources of stress on the system. Take a smallholder farmer society in Mali. They may have increased rainfall in the wetter season and less rain in the drier season. So they get more floods and then no rain and more droughts and temperature increases.

One of the ways to adapt could be to provide new seed varieties, and rainwater harvesting, but also develop new market and diversification opportunities to live with the new environment.
(26 August 2008)

Technological fundamentalism in media And culture

Robert Jensen, Countercurrents
While media watchdogs and bloggers probe contemporary news media for signs of bias — from every angle, on virtually every issue — perhaps the most important of journalists’ biases is ignored: their routine acceptance of society’s technological fundamentalism. This devotion to the industrial world’s core delusion shows up not just in stories about science and technology but in the assumptions about science and technology that underlie virtually all reporting in the corporate commercial news media in the United States.

… it may well turn out that the gravest threat to a just and sustainable human presence on the planet is technological fundamentalism — the notion that the increasing use of increasingly more sophisticated high-energy advanced technology is always a good thing and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences of such technology eventually can be remedied by more technology.

… Another example of the technological fundamentalism of journalism is the steady flow of stories about new products that that are little more than free advertising for the gadgets that are central to our dead-end living arrangement. The reviews of this endless flood of products celebrating the culture’s child-like obsession with shiny things — everything from hulking SUVs to tiny electronic devices — are much the same; even when a specific product is criticized for its shortcomings, the assumption is that such products are part of a sensible life and consistent with a sustainable future. The idea that journalists might inquire into “our larger purposes and prospects” — who really needs these things, and what are the costs to the planet of the manufacture and disposal of them — would be seen by most journalists as inappropriate editorializing, while avoiding those questions is a sign of objectivity.

… As key storytellers in the culture, journalists can either help or hinder the process of coming to terms with living arrangements that are not only profoundly unjust but also unsustainable. Journalists think of themselves as progressive (in a non-partisan sense), helping steer the culture toward a progressive future that improves the lives of ordinary people.

For a lot of people, unfortunately including most journalists, notions about progress have become rooted in this technological fundamentalism. Yet if humans enjoy too much more of this kind of progress in the world, and it’s not clear there will be a world left for humans much longer. Journalists need to start telling the stories that can help us avoid that fate.
(1 September 2008)
Originally published at Media Development (journal of the World Association for Christian Communication), No. 3, Summer 2008, pp. 8-12. Also published at author Robert Jensen’s site.

The long downsizing of civilization — buy a boat

Bruce Sterling, Wired
John Michael Greer’s new book The Long Descent is a welcome antidote to the armageddonism that often accompanies peak oil discussions. “The decline of a civilization is rarely anything like so sudden for those who live through it” writes Greer, encouragingly; it’s “a much slower and more complex transformation than the sudden catastrophes imagined by many social critics today.” Greer finds it helpful to look at Russia’s recent journey – from superpower status through collapse, contraction, stabilization, and recovery – as one example of where the rest of us may be headed.

… Dmitry Orlov, a writer about life after oil, has sold his beachfront house, bought a boat, and is sailing up and down the east coast of the US. “It’s a lifestyle choice, plus a way to minimize costs and maximize available options” he says. If you, too, fancy a “just in case” boat, an online guide by Ian Swan includes suggestions to suit every pocket. Me, I’m probably best-suited to inflatables: “they are very stable and great load carriers – their one downside is that they are harder to row, especially upwind, because of their high windage”.

(((Who’s Dmitry Orlov? Mr Soviet-American post-collapse. Hope he doesn’t drown in that dinky sailboat.)))


… Rather than focusing on doom and gloom, Reinventing Collapse suggests that there is room for optimism if we focus our efforts on personal and cultural transformation. With characteristic dry humor, (((he actually is a remarkably funny guy, given his topics))) Dmitry Orlov identifies three progressive stages of response to the looming crisis:
(2 September 2008)

We are hard-wired to care and connect

David Korten, YES! Magazine
The good news: The changes we must make to avoid ultimate collapse are identical to the changes we must make to create the world of our common dream.

The story of purple America is part of a yet larger human story. For all the cultural differences reflected in our richly varied customs, languages, religions, and political ideologies, psychologically healthy humans share a number of core values and aspirations. Although we may differ in our idea of the “how,” we want healthy, happy children, loving families, and a caring community with a beautiful, healthy natural environment. We want a world of cooperation, justice, and peace, and a say in the decisions that affect our lives. The shared values of purple America manifest this shared human dream. It is the true American dream undistorted by corporate media, advertisers, and political demagogues-the dream we must now actualize if there is to be a human future.

For the past 5,000 years, we humans have devoted much creative energy to perfecting our capacity for greed and violence-a practice that has been enormously costly for our children, families, communities, and nature. Now, on the verge of environmental and social collapse, we face an imperative to bring the world of our dreams into being by cultivating our long-suppressed, even denied, capacity for sharing and compassion.

Despite the constant mantra that “There is no alternative” to greed and competition, daily experience and a growing body of scientific evidence support the thesis that we humans are born to connect, learn, and serve and that it is indeed within our means to:

* Create family-friendly communities in which we get our satisfaction from caring relationships rather than material consumption;

* Achieve the ideal, which traces back to Aristotle, of creating democratic middle-class societies without extremes of wealth and poverty; and

* Form a global community of nations committed to restoring the health of the planet and sharing Earth’s bounty to the long-term benefit of all (see YES! Summer 2008: A Just Foreign Policy).

David Korten wrote this article as part of Purple America, the Fall 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. David is co-founder and board chair of YES! His latest book is The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. His website is
(August 2008)