Wednesday, May 14, 2008


This summer I am conducting research on a very new area for me. I am diving headlong into the question of adaptation to climate change. This is, for a sociologist, a fascinating area. And, one that is going to be crucial for our "survival" in the future.

From time to time, I am going to blog on some ideas I am reading in this area, this summer. Maladptation is one such concept I have been reading about. Maladaptation refers to decisions/actions taken today that contrain our ability to adapt in the future. A decision today, for example, to rip out all the railroads in favor of cars and trucks, would be a maladaptive decision. Actually our relatively poor public transportation infrastructure is a "contraint" for adaptation in the future.

Of course, what seems like an adaptive behavior at one level, say, for the individual, might be maladaptive at another, like the societal level. Want an example? Okay, with warming, there will be more demand for air conditioning, which is going to add to greenhouse gases which will increase warming that much more. Many maladptative decisions are probably exactly like this: a vicious circle because the effects cross different scales. What makes sense for the individual doesn't make sense for the larger society.

So, as I come to understand this, I think we can already see some maladaptive decisions: first one is corn based ethanol. We are now putting pressure on food prices to produce rene wable sources of gas, and it takes more energy to produce ethanol and it requires a lot of fuel to transport. Makes sense only within a very narrow one is looking at the unintended consequences.

Another one would be the trend toward larger and larger homes. Cost much energy to heat and cool, but we keep building them to satisfy our insatiable wants for consumer status.

As much as I like imported foods, both because of the relative cost and exotic qualities, there is a real crummy trade off. that so much I buy is made/grown elsewhere has been a terrific anti-poverty program. But the transportation costs (externalities) are maladaptive.

What about nuclear power? have we created a maladaptive situation by making it nearly impossible to utilize today...of course switching to nuclear power is not so much adaptive but perhaps mitigating....

Although, more reliance on renewable forms of electrical energy would reduce the maladaptive behavior related to using more air conditioning feeding back on adding more greenhouse gases thus increading the warming of the climate. This is what is so interesting about this stuff, everything is connected to everything else. Systems theory at its best!

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