Resilient but Vulnerable? Challenges for Enhancing Adaptive Capacity in Rural Communities

Hallie Eakin, University of California, Santa Barbara

What resources are needed to adapt to changing climatic conditions? Which populations will be able to adapt and which will have the most difficulties in meeting the challenge of unprecedented environmental change? Many communities who rely directly on the natural environment for their survival have developed strategies to address the high risks and uncertainties associated with their existence in order to smooth consumption and avoid dangerous thresholds of change. Yet in the context of increasingly globalized economies, these same strategies are also associated with chronic poverty, a condition in which households seek livelihood stability at the expense of wealth. In essence, poor households face a trade off between addressing multiple and simultaneous sources of chronic uncertainty and the specific risks associated with climatic shocks. To date, the focus of research on adaptation to climate change has been on addressing the idiosyncratic risk associated with climatic shocks and surprises. Case studies of livelihood change in rural Mexico illustrate how the efforts of relatively poor rural communities to minimize economic uncertainty may limit their flexibility to address climatic risk. Enhancing capacities to adapt to climate change thus may require far more attention to the structural constraints on decision-making at the local level.

Suggested Readings:

Berkes, F. (2007). "Understanding uncertainty and reducing vulnerability: lessons from resilience thinking." Natural Hazards 41: 283-295.

Eakin, H. (2005). "Institutional change, climate risk, and rural vulnerability: Cases from Central Mexico." World Development 33(11): 1923-1938.

Wood, G. (2003). "Staying secure, staying poor: The "Faustian Bargain"." World Development 31(3): 455-471.

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