Monash University: Four ways we can change our behaviour to adapt to the climate crisis

This year, Australians have already watched several climate disasters unfold across the continent, from coral bleaching to devastating floods and bushfires. These are stark reminders of how climate change can wreak havoc on communities – destroying homes, lives and ecosystems.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently made it clear we can expect both more disasters and long-term environmental changes, even if we restrict global warming to the internationally agreed limit of 1.5℃ this century.

In its February report, the IPCC urged us to better-adapt to challenges already locked in. This, however, can feel daunting when many measures required to adapt are outside our personal control, such as bolstering the national economy and reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s often problematic when complex challenges are framed narrowly as the responsibility of individuals to fix themselves. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that big shifts can come from many such changes. During the COVID pandemic, for example, many individual decisions made a huge difference to public health outcomes.

So how can we, personally, prepare for a future with not only more frequent natural disasters, but one that will also profoundly change the environment, communities and the economy? Let’s look at our options.

Adaptation in Australia
Adaptation in Australia has had peaks and troughs of attention, but there have been recent, positive developments.

In late 2021, the federal government released its update to the National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy – a blueprint to coordinate institutions, provide information on climate impacts, direct funding, and monitor adaptation efforts.

Likewise, states and territories have developed comprehensive regional adaptation strategies and cross-institutional action plans.

Read more: Australia has taken a new climate adaptation blueprint to Glasgow. It’s a good start, but we need money and detail

Still, adaptation researchers and practitioners worldwide agree there’s a gap between the scale of adaptation challenges and the action required to meet them. Indeed, the IPCC recommends that adaptation requires both incremental and transformational change.

However, we are not – as individuals, communities, governments – well-equipped to proactively make changes in response to seemingly distant and uncertain threats, which is exactly what climate adaptation requires of us.

But as we’ve seen in past disasters, including the COVID pandemic, we can also act in surprisingly generous, wise, future-orientated ways with the right support.

Research shows many people are already undertaking the following adaptive behaviours. These can be broadly grouped into four categories.

1. Working together to make things better
One way to pursue a healthy community, environment and economy is to demand more of governments and other powerful actors. This could include lobbying climate-exposed businesses, or voting for effective climate adaptation policies such as retrofitting low-income housing to better withstand heatwaves, and other community adaptation goals.

Making changes in your daily life with multiple benefits can help protect the environment and conserve natural resources such as Australia’s forests and wetlands, while reducing your own emissions.

For example, you could reduce or completely avoid purchasing products that drive land clearing (such as beef), or favour food from farms adopting sustainable land management practices that sequester carbon.