This is another in  a series of short notes about aspects of the climate crisis. 

What is mostly written about climate change is about its negative effects and how to mitigate them, about international conferences, about missed targets and doomsday scenarios. There is general agreement that the climate is in crisis and will likely get worse before it might get better. Given that trend, reason tells us that we should be thinking about how we as individuals, communities, nations and the world need to adapt to inevitable changes.

Of course, there are entire island and low-lying coastal states that may cease to exist because of sea level rise. There are also impoverished equatorial nations that are innocent victims of the excesses of wealthy northern hemisphere countries. Even in those countries, indeed in all countries, while the effects of climate change are global in scope, those effects are felt most harshly at the local level. All the threats from climate change such as shoreline destruction, sea level rise, drought, atmospheric rivers, hurricanes and typhoons, destruction of energy and public infrastructure affect local communities most acutely. And thus, most of the reactive and anticipatory adaptation to climate change happens locally.

Physical adaptation to these threats can be either reactive or anticipatory.  If any of those threats were to happen to our community now how would our community services react? We are fortunate that most of our communities have systems in place to deal with emergencies. But some of the threats may be historically new or may be new in frequency and intensity. It is therefore imperative that local governments should adopt the precautionary principle and anticipate the local implications of the high-impact-high-probability futures being presented by climate scientists. 

The flip side of human behaviour that causes climate change is the human reaction to that change. As humans have to face extreme temperatures we are having to adapt to behavioral changes such as more domestic violence, diminished problem-solving ability, and, for students, affected ability to learn. For many people, living through fires, floods and storms is enough to trigger post-traumatic stress disorder. Given all those affects, social programs, educational systems and treatment facilities are going to be even more stressed than they are now. 

And then there are those who tend to believe that whatever we might do to mitigate climate change is too little too late and humanity is facing a threat to our civilization and perhaps our very existence. Some people are admit to feeling climate anxiety and fears of loss, suffering, death and the well-being of our children. How does one cope with such anxiety? A British professor of sustainability leadership (Jem Bendell) has developed a concept called Deep Adaptation which has grown into a social movement. Bendell believes that the disruptions caused by climate change will continue to intensify and ultimately will lead to an “unraveling of western industrial lifestyles”. While government has focused on mitigating climate change effects, Bendell is fixated on the need for strong adaptation measures. 

Bendell posits three Deep Adaptation approaches: resilience, “what are the valued norms and behaviours that human societies will wish to maintain as they seek to survive?”; relinquishment, “letting go of certain assets, behaviors and beliefs, where retaining them could make matters worse”; and restoration, “rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organization that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilization eroded.”[as quoted in Wikipedia]. Some critics say that the underlying premises of Deep Adaptation are not justified by science. Others value that Deep Adaptation “provides a trusted compassionate space for sharing of grief  and loss”. 

The physical effects of climate change will continue to be felt mainly at the community level. But the anxiety and mental health effects will be felt mostly at the individual and family level. So, as we stumble along ways to mitigate climate change and to adapt to the physical changes it will bring, whether or not we embrace Deep Adaptation, we must give equal emphasis to helping individuals, families and communities come together to deal with the inner feelings that climate change has thrust on them. Are we prepared for that challenge?

Author: TIG


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