The need for adaptation strategies

Human adaptation to a changing climate, such as through migration, is nothing new. But with the impacts that today’s rapid climate change is expected to bring, many think we need more concerted adaptation strategies.

Let’s start with definitions: What is adaptation? Adaptation could mean societies making large- or small-scale infrastructure changes -- think installing sea-walls or electrical microgrids. Or adaptation could mean people changing their behavior -- think conserving water, buying flood insurance or relocating.

Adaptation overlaps but differs from resilience, another byword used in connection with preparations for climate impacts. Adaptation is generally more specific to climate change, while resilience is a broader umbrella term that applies to not just physical resilience, but resilience in economic systems, public health infrastructure, etc. (see “Defining Adaptation” box, link here).

As one expert, Erika Spanger-Siegfried of the Union of Concerned Scientist, puts it, “Resilience is a state, like freedom. You know it best when you recognize its absence.”