Climatic Change

, Volume 135, Issue 2, pp 203–209 | Cite as

Re-thinking climate change adaptation and capacities at the household scale



The reality of anthropogenic climate change has rendered adaptive responses at all scales an imperative. Households are an increasing focus of attention, but more in the developing world than the developed world, because of the presumed lesser vulnerabilities and stronger adaptive capacities of the latter. Critiques of such presumptions, and the quantitative, macro-scale focus of much adaptation research are emergent. How relatively affluent households, as complex social assemblages, may adapt to climate change impacts encountered in their day-to-day functioning remains unclear. There is, however, a sizeable body of research on household environmental sustainability in the developed world. That research has significant implications for climate change adaptation. This paper brings household environmental sustainability research into productive conversation with the climate change adaptation literature. The former shows that sustainability issues are refracted through social relations within households, and the demands of everyday life. This has three implications for how adaptation needs to be re-framed. First, climate change will not be experienced only via climatic stimuli and extreme weather events. It will be entwined in the complexity of everyday life. Second, knowledge of climate change is not a prerequisite for household adaptive capacity. Third, household-scale analyses show that assumed capacities and vulnerabilities may end up being quite different to those imagined or measured at a macro-scale. These insights invite consideration of how householders’ adaptive capacities can be better supported.


Adaptive Capacity Climate Change Impact Climate Change Adaptation Develop Nation Adaptation Research 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Adger WN, Barnett J (2009) Four reasons for concern about adaptation to climate change. Environ Plan A 41:2800–2805CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allon F, Sofoulis Z (2006) Everyday water: cultures in transition. Aust Geogr 37(1):45–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arthurson K, Baum S (2013) Making space for social inclusion in conceptualising climate change vulnerability. Local Environ 20(1):1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnett J, Waters E, Pendergast S, Puleston A (2013) Barriers to adaptation to sea-level rise. National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  5. Eakin HC, Lemos MC, Nelson DR (2014) Differentiating capacities as a means to sustainable climate change adaptation. Glob Environ Chang 27:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Elrick-Barr CE, Preston BL, Thomsen DC, Smith TF (2014) Toward a new conceptualization of household adaptive capacity to climate change: applying a risk governance lens. Ecol Soc 19(4):12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Eriksen SH, Nightingale AJ, Eakin H (2015) Reframing adaptation: the political nature of climate change adaptation. Glob Environ Chang 35:523–533Google Scholar
  8. Fankhauser S, McDermott TKJ (2014) Understanding the adaptation deficit: why are poor countries more vulnerable to climate events than rich countries? Glob Environ Chang 27:9–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ford JD, Berrang-Ford L, Paterson J (2011) A systematic review of observed climate change adaptation in developed nations. Clim Chang 106(2):327–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gibson C, Farbotko C, Gill N, Head L, Waitt G (2013) Household sustainability: challenges and dilemmas in everyday life. Edward Elgar, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gibson C, Head L, Carr C (2015) From incremental change to radical disjuncture: rethinking everyday household sustainability practices as survival Skills. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 105(2):416–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gibson-Graham JK (2008) Diverse economies: performative practices for ‘other worlds’. Prog Hum Geogr 32(5):613–632Google Scholar
  13. Harvatt J, Petts J, Chilvers J (2011) Understanding householder responses to natural hazards: flooding and sea level rise comparisons. J Risk Res 14(1):63–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Head L (2010) Cultural ecology: adaptation – retrofitting a concept? Prog Hum Geogr 34(2):234–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Head L, Farbotko C, Gibson C, Gill N, Waitt G (2013) Zones of friction, zones of traction: the connected household in climate change and sustainability policy. Aust J Environ Manag 20(4):351–362CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hitchings R, Collins R, Day R (2015) Inadvertent environmentalism and the action–value opportunity: reflections from studies at both ends of the generational spectrum. Local Environ 20(3):369–385Google Scholar
  17. Klocker N, Head L (2013) Diversifying ethnicity in Australia’s population and environment debates. Aust Geogr 44(1):41–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Klocker N, Gibson C, Borger E (2012) Living together, but apart: Material geographies of everyday sustainability in extended family households. Environ Plan A 44(9):2240–2259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Klocker N, Toole S, Tindale A, Kerr S-M (2015) Ethnically diverse transport behaviours: an Australian perspective. Geogr Res 53(4):393–405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kollmuss A, Agyeman J (2002) Mind the Gap: why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior? Environ Educ Res 8(3):239–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Marshall NA, Park S, Howden SM, Dowd AB, Jakku ES (2013) Climate change awareness is associated with enhanced adaptive capacity. Agric Syst 117:30–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Moser SC (2010) Now more than ever: the need for more societally relevant research on vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. Appl Geogr 30(4):464–474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Moy C (2012) Rainwater tank households: water savers or water users? Geogr Res 50(2):204–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. O’Brien K, Eriksen S, Sygna L, Naess LO (2006) Questioning complacency: climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation in Norway. AMBIO 35(2):50–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Porter JJ, Dessai S, Tompkins EL (2014) What do we know about UK household adaptation to climate change? A systematic review. Clim Chang 127(2):371–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Reid L, Sutton P, Hunter C (2010) Theorizing the meso level: the household as a crucible of pro-environmental behaviour. Prog Hum Geogr 34(3):309–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Saman W et al (2013) A framework for adaptation of Australian households to heat waves. National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  28. Sevoyan A et al (2013) Impact of climate change on disadvantaged groups: Issues and interventions. National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  29. Spence A, Poortinga W, Butter C, Pidgeon NF (2011) Perceptions of climate change and willingness to save energy relate to flood experience. Nat Clim Chang 1:46–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Stafford Smith M, Horrocks L, Harvey A, Hamilton C (2011) Rethinking adaptation for a 4 °C world. Philos Trans R Soc A 369(1934):196–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Stanes E, Klocker N, Gibson C (2015) Young adult households and domestic sustainabilities. Geoforum 65:46–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Strengers Y, Maller C (2012) Materialising energy and water resources in everyday practices: insights for securing supply systems. Glob Environ Chang 22(3):754–763CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Taylor M (2015) The political ecology of climate change adaptation. Routledge and Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  34. Waitt G et al (2012) Sustainable household capability: which households are doing the work of environmental sustainability? Aust Geogr 43(1):51–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Whitmarsh L (2009) Behavioural responses to climate change: asymmetry of intentions and impacts. J Environ Psychol 29(1):13–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wolf J, Adger WN, Lorenzoni I, Abrahamson V, Raine R (2010) Social capital, individual responses to heat waves and climate change adaptation: an empirical study of two UK cities. Glob Environ Chang 20(1):44–52Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephanie Toole
    • 1
  • Natascha Klocker
    • 1
  • Lesley Head
    • 2
  1. 1.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.University of MelbourneVictoriaAustralia

Personalised recommendations