Cultural Adaptation to Climate Change? Requesting Feedback

I am currently working on adaptation to climate change and would appreciate a bit of feedback. I find feedback can be useful, if only to get me out of the ivory tower.

A brief background: When addressing climate change the popular idea is to reduce carbon emissions through a carbon tax, cap-and-trade or regulations. However focusing on emission reductions alone:

  1. Ignores the political difficulties of trying to reduce emissions. Regions that rely heavily on coal use are not going to be in favor of reducing its use or paying extra to use it, see the chart. Notice that states like California or Washington, which are trying to reduce their emissions independently, don’t use much coal anyway to meet their energy needs and would be minimally harmed by a carbon tax.
  2. Reductions today would not address the climate change that will occur even if we stopped all emissions today. Even if

We therefore need to adapt to climate change. We can adapt:

  • Individually by adopting technologies (e.g. air conditioning) or migrating to locations we expect to have better climates.
  • At the urban level by investing in the necessary infrastructure (e.g. seawalls to counter sea level rises), or by allowing cities to ‘move’ by letting old buildings deteriorate and focusing new development inland or building up near the coasts depending on local conditions.
  • At the (inter)national level by sharing technical information.

Economics, my home field, has plenty to say about the above three forms of adaptation. It is however lacking in discussing cultural adaptation.

For example, in Spain and other Mediterranean countries, it is customary to take a long mid-afternoon break to take a long lunch at home or take a nap. To compensate for this break work may end later than is customary elsewhere, and family-friendly social life is active well into the late evening. This custom was transplanted, to varying degrees, in Latin America; I am most familiar with the Mexican version due to family stories and personal experience. This custom helps to avoid working during the hottest time of the day and shifts activity towards the cooler part of the day. My understanding is that a similar custom exists in the warmer southeast Asian countries, but my personal knowledge is limited.

Are there any other examples of cultural adaptation to climate change that my fellow note writers can think of? Examples don’t need to be in regard to contemporary climate change and can be adaptations that took place during the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age, etc etc.


US States by % of Electricity Produced from Coal.
Source: The U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2013.
Note: Rhode Island, Vermont, and D.C. excluded due to minimal coal use for electricity production.

WV 95.28% KS 61.41% NC 37.38% HI 13.67%
KY 92.83% IA 58.76% TX 34.47% MA 12.04%
WY 88.48% MT 53.74% GA 33.26% AK 9.61%
IN 83.94% MI 53.40% AL 31.25% NH 7.40%
MO 83.06% AR 52.86% SD 28.19% OR 6.28%
UT 80.64% MN 45.85% VA 27.52% WA 5.90%
ND 78.46% MD 43.34% SC 25.62% NY 3.45%
NE 72.14% IL 43.31% FL 20.84% NJ 3.12%
OH 68.88% TN 40.78% LA 20.43% CT 1.91%
NM 67.31% OK 40.72% DE 19.90% ID 0.60%
CO 63.67% PA 39.00% MS 16.48% ME 0.45%
WI 61.62% AZ 38.38% NV 14.42% CA 0.41%
US 38.89%
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6 thoughts on “Cultural Adaptation to Climate Change? Requesting Feedback

    • I don’t disagree. I find it disturbing that the trade off between reducing emissions and economic growth is not discussed more. It might have to do with the fact that the natural sciences are part of the K-12 curriculum but economics, at least when I finished back in 2009, is not.

      Adapting has the benefit, I think, that it allows those who are concerned about the effects of climate change to pay to reduce their exposure to harm but also allows those who think economic growth is more important.

  1. Great question Michelangelo!

    The lazy answer (but probably most accurate) is that “climate change” happens all the time (“environment”), and therefore much of what we call ‘culture’ is determined in large part by climate change. Different environments bestow upon populations different levels of scarcity and this scarcity in turn affects what populations do with their surroundings. These different strategies are known as “culture.”

    Anthropologists call this view “cultural ecology” or “cultural materialism.” There are factors other than the environment that shape culture, of course, but the environment is a huge one. If you want to find cultures today that are most affected by climate change as Americans discuss it (i.e. industrial-scale climate change) I would think that Arctic cultures would be the place to look, though non-industrial cultures along the coasts of the populated continents and on the islands in the Pacific are probably good for info too.

    As for historical examples (Medieval Warm Period, etc.), I can’t think of anything off the top of my head but I’m sure there is plenty of scholarly work out there.

    • Thanks. Even just the terms, e.g. ‘cultural ecology’, can be helpful when searching literature in other fields.

  2. I’m sure that Jacques would be delighted to talk about the shift from cattle to fish on the part of Vikings in Greenland.

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