Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change

Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change

Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change

Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change


For those who depend on the bounty of the sea for their livelihoods, climate change and its consequences (warming water, coral bleaching, rising sea levels) could spell disaster. The region comprising the eastern coastline of Africa and the islands of the western Indian Ocean--home to many of the Earth's most impoverished people--is particularly vulnerable to significant climate impacts.

Focusing on coral reef fisheries in these areas, which collectively support millions of people, this book provides a tool box of options for confronting the consequences of climate change through building local-scale adaptive capacity and improving the condition of natural resources. This requires strengthening a society's flexibility, assets, learning, and social organizations, as well as restricting or limiting its resource use. These two broad concepts--building social capacity and limiting certain types of resource use--interact in complicated ways, requiring coordinated actions. The authors argue that adaptation solutions are context dependent, determined in part by local resource conditions, human adaptive capacity, and exposure to climate change impacts, but also by a people's history, culture, and aspirations.

Providing an up-to-date and original synthesis of environmental stress, natural resources, and the socioeconomics of climate change, Adapting to a Changing Environment develops a framework to provide governments, scientists, managers, and donors with critical information about local context, encouraging the implementation of nuanced actions that reflect local conditions.


The changing climate may fundamentally alter the land and sea as we know it. For those who depend on the beauty and bounty of the Earth’s natural resources for their livelihoods—especially the world’s poor—these changes could spell disaster. The problems climate change poses are complex, as are the ways in which societies cope with and adapt to change. Understanding and addressing these problems requires bridging diverse fields within the geophysical, ecological, and social sciences.

An ecologist and a social scientist, we have spent the last decade working together to integrate these fields. We approach the book from the perspec- tive that social and ecological systems are intimately linked. Social processes, which can include cultural, political, and economic characteristics of society, influence the ways that people use and manage natural resources. Likewise, ecological conditions and processes can influence the societies’ well-being.

Using this interdisciplinary approach, this book synthesizes, in sim- ple terms, the rapidly emerging fields of climate change science and human adaptation and develops a practical framework for much-needed policy and adaptive responses. The framework addresses the differential responses of the environment, ecology, and people in affected areas, and identifies the policy action priorities based on this heterogeneity. We hope that this type of inte- grated analysis and problem solving will lead to policy actions that promote appropriate and lasting adaptations.

As a focal lens for these integrated climate change issues, we explore coral reefs and the coastal societies that depend on them throughout the eastern coastline of Africa and the islands of the western Indian Ocean. This is where many of the Earth’s most impoverished people live. Here, both ecosystems and peoples’ livelihoods are extremely sensitive to climate disturbances. Monsoonal rains, which are heavily influenced by climatic patterns, provide nearly all of the rainfall for the region’s agriculture. Likewise, the islands and coasts are fringed by coral reefs, which provide livelihoods for millions of fishers and their dependants in the region, but are one of the most climate- sensitive ecosystems. Considerable climate impacts have already occurred to the regions coral reefs-and even more severe ones are expected. This region, like others in poor tropical countries, has neither contributed much to rising greenhouse gas emissions, nor is it likely to contribute greatly to the efforts to mitigate climate change. Countries in the region will have little choice but . . .

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