Joseph Lewis
March 2024

Adaptation and resilience: how can we live with the choices we make?

autumn woodlands

This article is taken from 'Transforming the planet: Our vision for the future of environmental science', which sets out a vision for the role of environmental science in facilitating the transition to a sustainable society.

That vision is one where environmental scientists help people to solve environmental challenges and co-create a sustainable society where people and nature thrive. However, even if we create the future of environmental science we want to see, there remains a pressing need for adaptation to address the existing impacts of environmental crises.

Read our full vision in Transforming the planet.

Even in climate conversations, adaptation has been a significantly undervalued aspect of society’s wider approach. In the wider context of the triple crisis, adaptation is even less embedded in solutions. The hard-learnt truth from the climate crisis is that adaptation and resilience cannot be considered to be separate from the decisions made about mitigating or preventing an environmental crisis.

Resilience is bound up within the choices made about how environmental challenges are addressed. More incremental or atomistic approaches will increase the need for adaptation, either because vulnerability to hazards increases or because the hazards themselves increase in scope and scale.

What next?

The role of environmental science is first-and-foremost about providing the evidence and understandings needed to show people what is at stake and what it would mean to them if it was lost. ‘Business as usual’ will bring about the unstemmed degradation of natural systems, caused by the step-by-step collapse of the ‘body’ of the human habitat.

As each of its organs fails, it may be possible to find artificial transplants which never function quite as well as the originals, and some parts of the body may survive the decline, but not without losing functionality and value for future generations. The body would hobble on, but not without loss.

Get more involved to support the transformation to a sustainable and resilient society:

A better future is achievable with action, as long as environmental science brings humanity through the era of chaos marked by environmental crises into a settled peace. The key to that future is immediate action, informed by systems thinking and enacted through transformative change.