Building Adaptive Community Capacity to Meet the Challenges of Global Climate Change: Challenges for Community Leadership

Building Adaptive Community Capacity to Meet the Challenges of Global Climate Change: Challenges for Community Leadership

Al Lauzon (University of Guelph, Canada)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch092
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Abstract

This chapter is concerned with how communities respond to global climate change, and in particular what this means for local leadership. We begin by briefly outlining global climate change as a wicked problem, followed by a discussion of adaptation, resilience and an exploration of these concepts in the context of community. Particular attention is paid to these concepts in terms of human systems or communities and this is then linked to forms of learning learning–single-loop, double- loop and triple-loop learning and the role that dialogue plays in community learning I then discuss leading and managing in the learning community followed by implications for community leadership.
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Introduction

There is now a scientific consensus that global climate change is happening and it is a result of human activity (Smithers & Smit, 1997). As we now know, global climate change brings a variety of negative consequences for human populations including: increased deaths, injury and illness as a result of extreme weather events; more frequent food poisoning as a result of microbial proliferation; increases in infectious diseases as a result of changes in vectors-path-host relations; impaired livestock, crop and fisheries yield leading to issues of food security and/or impaired nutrition, health and survival; loss of livelihoods and displacement leading to poverty and adverse health. These adverse effects necessitate two forms of action: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is relatively straight forward and involves few systems and is, for the most part, focused on energy use. It is characterized by governments entering into agreements to manage and regulate their natural and economic resources (i.e. decreasing reliance on fossil fuels and increasing reliance on renewable energy sources). Solutions are relatively simple if the political will is there. The goal is to reduce, and perhaps eventually eliminate, the discharge of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Adaptation, on the other hand, is a much more complex process requiring engagement from a variety of different stakeholders who are likely to have different priorities and views on the correct course of action; adaptation strategies must take into account not only the interplay among the impacts of climate change, but how climate change interacts both nationally and locally with social, cultural and economic variables. In this sense, it is the essence of a wicked problem, and like all wicked problems, there is no one definitive solution (Lauzon, 2015); community adaptation requires continuous adjustment which requires continuous individual and community learning. While all biological systems have some capacity for adaptation, humans are different from other biological systems. Smithers and Smit capture this when they write that

Social and economic systems, and individuals within them, can and do adapt to changing environmental circumstances. An important distinction, however, is that human systems possess the ability to plan and ‘manage’ adaptation. Thus, while the responses of non-human biological systems to perturbations are entirely reactive, the responses of human systems are both reactive and proactive. (1997, 133)

While adaptation can be undertaken at any geographical scale from the international to national to regional to local, it is the local or community level that is of interest in this chapter. Community is the level in which our lived lives intersect with the forces of global climate change as we have seen for those people exposed to forest fires or floods. From the community perspective, global climate change is not an abstract concept but is very much part of the everyday fabric of life. Schipper (2012) argues that adaptive strategies at the community level must be based upon community capacity and is a product of an ongoing dialogue within the community. She notes that often top-down strategies do not meet the needs of all community members, and in the worst cases, they actually increase vulnerabilities either for select members of the community or for the community at large. Despite often conceptualizing communities as consisting of a homogeneous population who share interests, perspectives or beliefs, “communities can be composed of different groups, whose interest may conflict when shared resources are under pressure (Shipper, 2007, p. 7).” Communities can be sources of conflict and contestation, particularly when leadership serves particular interests while ignoring the interests of others, or simply assumes they know best.

This chapter is concerned with how communities respond to global climate change, and in particular what this means for local leadership. We begin by briefly outlining global climate change as a wicked problem, followed by a discussion of adaptation, resilience and an exploration of these concepts in the context of community. I then discuss leading and managing in the learning community followed by implications for community leadership.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Adaptive Capacity: The capacity to respond to environmental changes in order to continue to thrive; a function of resilience.

Resilience: The capacity of a system to experience stress and disruption while retaining their structure, functions and options to adapt.

Improvisation: The capacity to respond to emergent change.

Wicked Problems: Problems in which there is no agreement about what the problem is or what the solution is; it is a complex problem.

Community Learning: A collective process based upon dialogue that leads to a common understanding of an issue/problem and leads to a form of collective action.

Dialogue: A form of collective thinking and inquiry that helps individuals’ surface assumptions and beliefs that leads to greater self-understanding and understanding of others.

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