Climate Adaptation was released to coincide with COP26 and highlight the issue of adaptation – but so much else was happening around the conference that I’m getting round to it now. The need to adapt to climate change isn’t going anywhere, so that is not a problem.
The book is a project from Arkbound Foundation, a charity that exists to expand the diversity of authors, journalists and ideas. They publish from the margins, with a focus on under-represented voices. I like what they do, and so I made space for this collection of essays on adaptation.
The book opens with an overview of the climate crisis, the moment we find ourselves in and the risks we face. From that base of understanding, a variety of contributors share their experiences of a changing world and what may be required of us. A third section pushes things a little further, considering more radical system change as a form of climate adaptation.
There are a couple of things I like about the book. The first is that willingness to ask difficult systemic questions. Adaptation isn’t a matter of tweaking technologies or lifestyle habits to accomodate a little inconvenience. The climate crisis is existential for billions. It will trigger the biggest movement of people in history, and endanger countless species. Every form of life will need to adapt, and if we humans want to protect what we most value about civilization, we will have to make some difficult choices. Honest conversation about this isn’t really part of the mainstream discussion around climate change, and the contributors here raise questions about capitalism, migration, localism, the possibility of collapse, and much else besides.
I also appreciated the view from some places I don’t hear so much about. There are contributors from Brazil, perspectives from the Pacific islands. Morgan Philips writes about Nepal, though you should read his whole book about adaptation, reviewed here. My favourite chapter is an eye-opening account from Fazeela Mubarak in Kenya, of how she and other conservation volunteers and rangers organised water deliveries for animals dying in drought conditions. It’s an extraordinary story told in matter of fact terms, and a powerful demonstration of what climate change means on the ground.
It’s fair to say not all the book is like this, however. It blends storytelling with personal reflection, or explanations of theory. One chapter is just called ‘PROUT’, which stands for ‘Progressive Utilization Theory’ and felt like homework. A chapter on agro-ecology in Brazil is all charts and bullet points, and no case studies to demonstrate the principles or the difference it could make. Some chapters are sketchy and inconclusive, and overall, the book feels like a mixed bag of ideas and approaches, some more concrete than others.
That’s not necessarily a problem when the aim is to bring together overlooked grassroots organisations, but it makes for an inconsistent and fragmentary reading experience.
Still, have a look at Arkbound and what they’re up to, as Climate Adaptation is part of a broad portfolio of non-fiction, fiction and poetry from unexpected places.