Transition, adaptation, metamorphosis: framing climate change and regional response

This is the third and final in a series of posts by AUSCCER’s Chris Gibson on climate change and regions, building on papers presented in recent weeks at the 4th International Conference on Sustainability Transitions at ETH Zurich, the annual Institute of Australian Geographers conference at the University of Western Australia, and the 2013 National Climate Change Adaptation (NCCARF) conference in Sydney.

In this final post in my series of post-conference debriefs, I wish to explore further what conceptions of transformation might be required to respond to climate change, and what kinds of perceptions of time are involved.

In this I duly acknowledge on-going conversations with my AUSCCER colleagues and especially Lesley Head, who has written extensively on the topic. In her 2010 PiHG essay Lesley reminded us that ‘adaptation’ was a core concept of twentieth-century cultural ecology, applied in much earlier frames in the context of cultural evolution, ‘traditional’ societies and environmental determinism to describe a combination of general flexibility within new environments, and ‘specific reconfigurations of genetic material’. The term ‘adaptation’ now finds itself reinvented in the context of climate change in ways that retain some of that term’s baggage and limitations. As Lesley warns, ‘there is a risk of discredited dualisms becoming re-embedded in patterns of thinking and proposed solutions to problems’. Continue reading

Back to the future: climate change and regional inheritances

This is the second in a series of posts by AUSCCER’s Chris Gibson on climate change and regions, building on papers presented in recent weeks at the 4th International Conference on Sustainability Transitions at ETH Zurich, the annual Institute of Australian Geographers conference at the University of Western Australia, and the 2013 National Climate Change Adaptation (NCCARF) conference in Sydney.

In my last post I made the case for focusing on regions as a scale of climate change response. In this, I wish to consider briefly the issue of how to rethink future responses in light of the past.

Regions inherit numerous legacies from previous generations: their physical infrastructure, economic base, demography, political culture, workforce skills and social mix. Regions will, with some urgency, need to assess the strengths of their institutions, rethink residential, transport and environmental planning, and document vernacular cultural assets that may prove helpful in adjusting to the ‘new normal’ of climatic extremity.

How well are we positioned to ‘retrofit’ regions, physically, economically, and culturally – and how quickly can it be done? The task is to figure out which bits of regional historical inheritances will count towards transition and adaptation, and which bits will somehow need to be jettisoned. Continue reading