, Volume 93, Issue 3-4, pp 335-354
Date: 20 Nov 2008

Are there social limits to adaptation to climate change?

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

While there is a recognised need to adapt to changing climatic conditions, there is an emerging discourse of limits to such adaptation. Limits are traditionally analysed as a set of immutable thresholds in biological, economic or technological parameters. This paper contends that limits to adaptation are endogenous to society and hence contingent on ethics, knowledge, attitudes to risk and culture. We review insights from history, sociology and psychology of risk, economics and political science to develop four propositions concerning limits to adaptation. First, any limits to adaptation depend on the ultimate goals of adaptation underpinned by diverse values. Second, adaptation need not be limited by uncertainty around future foresight of risk. Third, social and individual factors limit adaptation action. Fourth, systematic undervaluation of loss of places and culture disguises real, experienced but subjective limits to adaptation. We conclude that these issues of values and ethics, risk, knowledge and culture construct societal limits to adaptation, but that these limits are mutable.