Community-Based Adaptation: From Passive Victims to Active Agents
Petra Tschakert, Pennsylvania State University

The current climate change debate has moved from questions on anthropogenic causes to how to best share the burden. Scientists, policy makers, and practitioners put increasing emphasis on adaptation, which is understood as adjustments in both human and natural systems to already occurring and future impacts of climatic changes and related, potentially irreversible processes. The richer and industrialized nations are largely responsible for the mounting emissions in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. Yet, it is the developing world, having contributed comparatively little to global warming, that experiences most harm and is less able to adapt to changing conditions.

Community-based adaptation turns older vulnerability studies on their head: instead of labeling and mapping the poor and vulnerable as passive victims of climate change, this new approach highlights people’s knowledge, capabilities, creativity, and agency to make decisions in the face of climatic and other stresses and secure their livelihoods. At the core of building effective and flexible response strategies is the need to observe and learn about past and present environmental changes and to anticipate how these changes may continue in the future. I will discuss innovative assessment and communication tools such as concept maps (mental models), community-based climate monitoring, and environmental theatre. Such tools allow us to explicitly address climatic uncertainty with vulnerable populations. I will also discuss how scientists can contribute to the design, implementation, and evaluation of long-term adaptation programs that complement place-based efforts to enhance people’s adaptive capacity.

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