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    Adapting to climate change: some observationsDavid Rousseaua Urban Design Ecology , P.O. Box 38, Manson's Landing, B.C. VOP 1K0, Canada E-mail:Published online: 13 May 2010.

    To cite this article: David Rousseau (2004) Adapting to climate change: some observations , Building Research & Information,32:1, 58-60, DOI: 10.1080/0961321032000148505

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    Adapting to climate change:some observations

    David Rousseau

    Urban Design Ecology, P.O. Box 38,Mansons Landing, B.C.VOP 1K0,CanadaE-mail:

    There is an often-cited metaphoric tale of a

    frog placed in a kettle of cold water on a hot

    stove. As the water warms, the frog is quite

    comfortable, even complacent. His sensory

    adaptation progresses with the warming

    water, so that no danger is detected until it

    is too late.

    The classic model of stimulusresponse systems

    in organisms assumes a continuous and linear

    progression from a sensory signal, through

    judgement and decision leading to a response.

    However, there are also sensory adaptations

    involved that can deceive. Furthermore, in the

    human species, there is an uncommon ability

    to rationalize disturbing observations.

    The Building Research & Information special

    issue (2003, 31[34]) Preparing for Climate

    Change: Adapting the Built Environment pro-

    duced some welcome surprise and some disap-

    pointment. With the overwhelming emphasis

    of climate change information and response

    focused on mitigation, it was refreshing and

    even encouraging to discover that there was

    an active discourse on adaptation. This is par-

    ticularly true in consideration of the evidence

    that no amount of probable mitigation mea-

    sures are likely to affect the established green-

    house gas trends and resulting climate changes

    for several decades. However, each paper still

    seemed to contain a similar preamble: climate

    change is highly probable, albeit not precisely

    predictable and perfectly linked to anthropo-

    genic greenhouse gases; there is doubt about

    climate outcomes, especially in particular

    locales, but enough trends are apparent to

    make a case, etc., therefore . . . .

    Is it still actually necessary to produce ratio-

    nales for climate change action in view of the

    substantial evidence that both mitigation mea-

    sures and some adaptation measures are actu-

    ally economically productive and lead to risk

    reduction and social benefit?

    Although it is encouraging just how much cli-

    mate change adaptation debate there was in

    the special issue, given the lack of profile gen-

    erally afforded to adaptation, it is evident that

    most is framed in the form of policy and

    action postulates that precede an actual

    research and action agenda. This raises several


    How is an agenda set as research pro-

    blems emerge?

    How are resources allocated to the

    research that are proportional to its capa-

    city to improve future outcomes?

    How does research guide and motivate

    policy and action programmes?

    The latter question is perhaps the most signifi-

    cant with regards to climate change given the

    tendency for political systems to respond to

    newsworthy or immediate and pressing cir-


    Larssons (2003) observation in Canada that

    adaptation is more acceptable to the public

    than mitigation, perhaps simply because citi-

    zens can readily respond to disaster prepared-

    ness out of self-interest, is very revealing.

    Mitigation scenarios propose actions, such as

    changes to energy use patterns and technolo-

    gies, some of which are economically painful

    in the short term. Mitigation actions are rela-

    tively simple in their scope: conserve fossil

    energy, shift to renewables, modify some

    agricultural and industrial practices, etc.

    Unfortunately, these proposals are weak and

    unconvincing to many with regard to the

    potential benefits for the individual, especially

    in the short term. They are therefore politi-

    cally unpopular. Adaptation measures, on the

    other hand, are wide in scope, ranging from

    more climate-resistant building materials to

    changes in land-use policy and possible reloca-

    tion of entire populations. Some of these

    clearly also present major political challenges,

    but at least have the benefit of offering some

    tangible and relatively immediate benefits to

    the populace.

    The good news that many adaptation mea-

    sures are also mitigation measures, well

    defined by Mills (2003) with regard to the

    insurance and lending industries, suggests that

    where political motivation to pursue aggres-

    sive mitigation measures is lacking, it may be

    expedient to promote adaptation steps and

    thereby enhance mitigation. Unfortunately,

    this is not a simple solution. As Lowe (2003)

    pointed out, there are also significant conflicts

    between mitigation and adaptation that neces-

    sitate a careful, integrated response.

    Larssons further observation that adaptation

    may be politically problematic, because it is

    an admission that mitigation alone cannot

    form a complete response, is also very signi-

    ficant. However, by the same reasoning,

    BUILDING RESEARCH & INFORMATION (JanuaryFebruary 2004) 32(1), 5860

    Building Research & Information ISSN 0961-3218 print ISSN 1466-4321 online # 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltdhttp: journals

    DOI: 10.1080 0961321032000148505




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  • adaptation may not even be in the lexicon of

    governments and research agencies that ignore

    or deny climate change and the consequent

    need for mitigation. In this quarter, the pro-

    found silence around adaptation is usually

    accompanied by the shrill rationalizations for

    mitigation inaction.

    Notably absent also was a thorough evalua-

    tion of international development needs for

    adaptation aid, research and policy.

    Hundreds of millions of the worlds poor live

    in regions extremely vulnerable to climate

    change by flood, extreme winds, drought, pol-

    lution of water supplies, landslides, changing

    disease vectors, etc. These populations have

    the least access to emergency services, financial

    aid and technological adaptations. Without

    the aid to make possible adjustments now, will

    these people become the climate change refu-

    gees of the future? Are international develop-

    ment agencies anticipating and responding to

    these nascent urban crises?

    There is a partial answer in du Plessis et al.s

    (2003) poignant description of urban develop-

    ment pressures and needs among the majority

    poor of South Africa. The social issues and

    political realities here are about survival and

    basic services. Under these urgent conditions,

    it is very difficult to use resources for research

    and action towards any anticipated future

    needs, whether produced by climate change

    or otherwise. It is even more difficult to justify

    climate change mitigation measures when it is

    the worlds rich who have fuelled the problem.

    This is an international development conun-

    drum, since many adaptation and mitigation

    measures, such as better climate adapt


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