Surviving Climate Chaos: The power of cultural differences

Written by: Julian Caldecott


Deep cultural features can be subtle, influential and very resistant to change, so it is important to create space for each people to find their own ways to respond to environmental threats.


Surviving Climate Chaos is being published into a new world of lethal fires, floods and record-breaking temperatures, while the IPCC warns us that we are in the last decade before Arctic, oceanic and equatorial tipping points take all choices out of human hands. This emergency calls for far greater focus and impact in our climate change response, and for the strengthening of communities and ecosystems everywhere against climate chaos. It also calls for greater clarity in how we think about the social and ecological systems in which we live, the stresses that they experience, and how we and they adapt to new and dangerous circumstances.

Surviving Climate Chaos examines a few historical cases that shed light on the persistence of certain ways of doing things within cultural systems. In Hawaii, some elements of Polynesian social organisation and cooperation survived the arrival (and ritual death) of Captain James Cook in 1778-9, the breakdown of traditional political and religious arrangements and their replacement by foreign ways and powers into the contemporary world. Something similar is seen in Iceland, following voluntary (shaman-mediated) conversion to Christianity in 1000, the resulting wars and Norwegian annexation, and the eventual return to local rule with a distinctly ‘pagan’ feel.

Ancient Rome and the Holy Roman Empire also left behind characteristic social traditions and concepts of governance, respectively centralised/directive, and decentralised/experimentalist, that still shape modern Europe. Thus, “consistent differences between cultural zones in the enthusiasm of their peoples for complying with externally-agreed standards of behaviour may be legacies of deep historical experience. This is all relevant to aid programming, since it implies that taking the time and making the effort to build and educate in the context of the local culture, and creating the space for local people to find their own answers at their own pace, may well yield more robust and durable solutions than programming against imposed deadlines can possibly achieve.” (pages 79-80).

Surviving Climate Chaos by Julian Caldecott
Surviving Climate Chaos by Julian Caldecott

Title: Surviving Climate Chaos by Strengthening Communities and Ecosystems

Author: Julian Caldecott

Paperback ISBN: 9781108793780

Hardback ISBN: 9781108840125

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About the Author: Julian Caldecott

Julian Caldecott is Director of Creatura Ltd, an environmental consultancy, and has a background in wildlife research and conservation in tropical rainforests. Since 2000 he has led evaluations of major aid investments for the EC, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, the UK, and the World Bank, focussing on climate change, biodiversity, ecosystem...

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