Thursday, May 10, 2007

'Climate change adaptation' is the new buzz phrase in Oz

As evidenced by last Tuesday's Australian Federal Budget, concern in Oz has at last shifted beyond the debate about whether climate change is 'real' or not. Not before time the phrase 'climate change adaptation' is now the rage. In negotiations between the States and Federal Government (COAG) action has become framed in the following terms:

'COAG welcomed the Commonwealth’s commitment of up to $26 million to establish and manage the Australian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation and $100 million program funding for the Centre over five years. The work will assist particularly affected sectors and regions, planning bodies, farmers, businesses and local government to understand better the impacts of climate change and to develop responses.

The adaptation centre will be managed by the Commonwealth but will work closely with the States and related bodies to ensure a coordinated national approach as envisaged by the National Adaptation Framework.'

In many ways this is a good thing, but of course much later in coming than it should have been. However, before the concept becomes more entrenched, or reified, I hope there will be some exploration of what the phrase reveals and conceals.

What do I mean by reveal and conceal? Well all metaphors have entailments that reveal and conceal. Take the idea of countryside as a tapestry - in England this reveals concerns about the patterns, borders, field geometry, texture etc., of the countryside. The same metaphor conceals other aspects such as the smells, noise, danger that can also exist in countrysides. So a metaphor brings forth some things and hides others - and this can lead to unintended consequences when particular metaphors are used to frame policies and practices.

With climate change adaptation my fear is that this will reify understandings, widespread in ecology and environmental science, that there is a knowable and predictable environment to which we and other species can adapt. Such a reification is a negation of the understanding that adaptation is a co-evolutionary process that unfolds every day. For me the big question that funds for climate change adaptation needs to address is:

How can we favourably alter our (Homo sapiens sapiens) current trajectory as quickly as possible within our co-evolutionary drift with the biophysical world and with other species?

To explore this question requires systemic understandings and practices.

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