Original paper

What to change and what to keep? Values and dynamics of adaptation to climate change1

Wessels, Sebastian

Meteorologische Zeitschrift Vol. 24 No. 2 (2015), p. 123 - 135

60 references

published: Apr 13, 2015
published online: Jan 14, 2015
manuscript accepted: Aug 29, 2014
manuscript revision received: Aug 29, 2014
manuscript revision requested: Feb 26, 2014
manuscript received: Jul 28, 2013

DOI: 10.1127/metz/2014/0521

BibTeX file


Open Access (paper can be downloaded for free)

Download paper for free


This paper uses a complex systems theory framework to clarify what adaptation to climate change means in practice, which is to make targeted changes to a society's functioning in order to avoid changes happening to that which is of value to the members of that society. It is shown that the question what is to be changed and what to be preserved is not prescribed by the facts of climate change and technology, but a contingent one to be made by society. Discussing four important domains of adaptation and the respective narratives found in academia and politics, it is investigated how these decisions are formed, giving special consideration to the case of Germany. This leads to the finding that the generally defensive framings that characterizes common notions of adaptation reinforce predominant cultural paradigms and social dynamics that arguably have contributed considerably to the need for adaptation to climate change in the first place and will most likely create further need for adaptation in the future. A paradoxical tendency to accelerate predominant social dynamics in attempts to keep current states of affairs unchanged is identified. It is concluded that the concept of adaptation is a regression behind the concept of sustainability which can easily accommodate adaptation needs but avoids the identified pitfalls of adaptation by its future orientation and oft-criticized openness.


climate changeadaptationsocial ecologyrisk; values