At the precipice, we evolve: adaptation versus aliens


At the precipice, we evolve: adaptation versus aliens

In this introductory blog post, I highlight three important climate change adaptation characteristics that complicate adaptation a lot: its context dependent planning and implementation, its required cooperative and integrative approach, and its handling of uncertainties and new environmental pressures. A more integrated approach is required to make adaptation more efficient.

Wind speeds of 100 km per hours, news reports about cyclists blown off their bikes and nearby rivers flooding… Stormy weather today = perfect moment to watch a movie about the end of the world. “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, a movie in which aliens decide to exterminate the human race to ensure that the Earth is saved from humanity’s destructive tendencies.

Aliens… coming to our planet… to save our planet… from us, from resource depletion, pollution, habitat destruction, deterioration of biodiversity and deforestation. Not only a perfect storyline for a science-fiction movie, but also a perfect moment to think about what we are doing, and how we should continue. Alarming IPCC reports and shocking Al Gore movies warn us that climate change will affect our way of living. Or better, that we will have to change our way of living.

Yet, even though the urging evidence is there, we don’t change fast enough. Clearly, all that is left is to wait for aliens to destroy humanity. But then, the following conversation took place in the movie:

Professor : There must be alternatives. You must have some technology that could solve our problem.
Alien: Your problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change. […]
Professor : But every civilization reaches a crisis point eventually.
Alien: Most of them don’t make it.
Professor : Yours did. How?
Alien: Our sun was dying. We had to evolve in order to survive.
Professor : So it was only when your world was threatened with destruction that you became what you are now.
Alien: Yes.
Professor : Well that’s where we are. You say we’re on the brink of destruction and you’re right. But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. […]

So an alien attack is not the only possible outcome. We can also choose to adapt. Adaptation has been, and will always be essential to the survival and development of a species. By IPCC definition, it holds the adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. But there is much more to say about adaptation. In this introductory blog, I would like to highlight three important climate change adaptation characteristics that complicate adaptation a lot: its context dependent planning and implementation, its required cooperative and integrative approach, and its handling of uncertainties and new environmental pressures.

Context Dependent Planning and Implementation – If you have a look at how climate change adaptation evolved in Europe and Belgium, you see from 2007 to 2015, a number of policy documents and proposals. It started in 2007 with the Green Paper of Europe[1], followed by the White Paper in 2009[2] and in 2013 there finally was the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change[3]. After six years, the European framework was set. But before implementation could start, all plans still had to be finished… at national, regional and local level. Belgium has its NAS[4] (National Adaptation Strategy), which was then followed by the BAP, FAP and WAP (the Brussels Adaptation Plan, the Flemish Adaptation Plan, and the Walloon Adaptation Plan). And we actually also have a Federal Adaptation Plan but I am running out of abbreviations. All those plans are now translated at local level because adaptation planning at the coast side or at the country side, in an urban or a rural areas, or in protected or in polluted natural parks, is totally different. In addition, the adaptation measures also vary from sector to sector. Agriculture, biodiversity, energy, forests, tourism, water management, health… all of them require a different approach.

Clearly, when giving advice on how to adapt to climate change, one cannot put everyone on the same level without making distinctions. Each area and sector should be approached by its own specificities and therefore there must be an ambition and will to change with innumerable actors and individuals.

Required Cooperative and Integrative Approach – Apart from taking a downward approach (from European, to National, to regional, to local and sectorial level), one should also look across the boundaries of the different sectors. An integrative approach where numerous actors cooperate is very important because there is (almost) always common ground with other actors. A traditional example of this is the link between biodiversity, agriculture, forests and water management. Synergies of different actions are required to make adaptation more efficient.

Handling of uncertainties and new environmental pressures – Finally, apart from working together vertically between different levels, and horizontally between different sectors, adaptation closely rests on mitigation: “Mitigation aims to avoid the unmanageable and adaptation aims to manage the unavoidable”[5]. Without mitigation, our adaptation strategies would be insufficient. Moreover, planning and implementing adaptation measures are challenging due to the numerous uncertainties there are related to ‘how the regional climates will change exactly’ and ‘how human and natural systems will react to these changes’. Fine-tuning and adjusting adaptation plans to mitigation plans is therefore also important to minimize these obscurities.


Clearly, adaptation is complicated. Maybe an alien attack would be more easy, but certainly we should not underestimate the adaptation challenge that we are facing. Not only is it a time-consuming and continuous process. It also embraces a large network of interrelated context and sectorial dependent actors who all face varying degrees of uncertainties. Too often, actors attempt to tackle climate change in their own sector or at their own level. Yet, a more integrated approach and more synergies of different sectorial actions are required to make adaptation more efficient.

Within my own research on climate change adaption in European agriculture, I often consider it difficult to translate the outcomes of my research to the above three adaptation characteristics. Therefore, I will use these series of blog articles to take my research under a broader loop. Feel free to comment or give suggestions about future blog posts!







[5] Laukkonen et al. (2009)


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