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Toward a new conceptualization of household adaptive capacity to climate change: applying a risk governance lens

Carmen E Elrick-Barr, University of the Sunshine Coast
Benjamin L Preston, Climate Change Science Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Dana C Thomsen, University of the Sunshine Coast
Timothy F. Smith, University of the Sunshine Coast


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Increasing evidence highlights the importance of context-specific understanding of the impacts of climate change and the need to move beyond generalized assumptions regarding the nature and utility of adaptive capacity in facilitating adaptation. The household level of impact and response is an under-researched context, despite influential decisions affecting local and system vulnerability being made at this scale. Assessments of household adaptive capacity currently assess the influences of adaptive capacity or the influences on adaptive capacity in isolation. We argue that comprehensive assessments need to examine these influences in combination to capture a dynamic and integrated view of households that better reflects their positioning and role(s) in broader social-political contexts. To transition assessments away from examining households as discrete units to recognizing their role within a larger governance context, we outline four themes focused on: (1) analysis of governance contexts, (2) determination of adaptive capacity sources, (3) assessment of cross-scalar trade-offs, and (4) integrated goal setting to facilitate boundary critiques. By considering these themes, the relationships between capacities and actions are highlighted, and the simultaneous outcomes of adaptive choices at individual and broader system scales can be evaluated. We argue that such boundary critique has the potential to yield a more comprehensive assessment of adaptive capacity focused upon cross-scalar influences and impacts.

Key words

adaptation; adaptive capacity; climate change; household; multi-scale

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087