Good Article on Local Government Adaptation #LootingTIvoryTower

LootingIvoryTowers.jpgPaper(s) under discussion

Porter, J.,Demeritt, D. and Dessai, S. 2015. The right stuff? informing adaptation to climate change in British Local Government. Global Environmental Change, Vol. 35, pp. 411-422.

What’s the issue? (and why should we care)
Are British local authorities pulling their fingers out and taking long-term adaptation action? If not, why not?

What do they have to say?
In 2003 many local authorities didn’t know about the robust work on climate impacts that had been done, but were relying on newspaper articles (Gaia help us all). Ten years later most everyone has the ‘right’ information, but austerity and the Conservatives’ bonfire of the National Indicators (e.g. 188) means that there is still hardly anything happening. Everyone points the finger at someone else. Reframing climate adaptation as “weather resilience” might help get local councillors interested.

How convincing is their methodology?
It’s good! They did a web-based survey that had a reasonable (25%) response rate, and then followed it up with 20 semi-structured interviews. Used Nvivo for coding those interviews, did some statistical tests. Compared some 2003 work on barriers with what they’ve discovered.

What would a critic say?
Mmm. This article actually does what it sets out to do. There’s lots of “whataboutery” that you could do – on neoliberalism, on bureaucratic inertia, on cross-country comparisons, but this is an article, not a book, and the references point you in the direction of lots of useful material.

What else could they have said
There’s two papers I’ve recently read that would have been interesting to see these authors include
One is on where this wretched term ‘resilience’ comes from – looking at Buzz Holling/Fred von Hayek
Genealogies of resilience: From systems ecology to the political economy of crisis adaptation. Security Dialogue April 2011 42: 143-160,
Another on blame-shifting in local authorities (But only came out in October, so, absent a time machine, Porter et al. can hardly be blamed!)
Symbolic Meta-Policy: (Not) Tackling Climate Change in the Transport Sector
Political Studies Volume 63, Issue 4, pages 830–851, October 2015.

It’s interesting (but not wrong!) that the authors did not consider civil society/social movement pressure as a factor.  The British state is so centralised, and NGOs so obsessed with Westminster and marching in London, that local authorities come under very very little pressure from civ soc.  Oh well.

What else do these people refer to that looks interesting?
Hjerpe, M., Storbjörk, S., Alberth, J., 2014. There is nothing political in it: triggers of local political leaders’ engagement in climate adaptation. Local Environ. 1–19.
Meyer, M., 2010. The rise of the knowledge broker. Sci. Commun. 32, 118–127.
Meyer, R., 2011. The public values failures of climate science in the US. Minerva 49, 47–70.
Mukheibir, P., Kuruppu, N., Gero, A., Herriman, J., 2013. Overcoming cross-scale challenges to climate change adaptation in local government: a focus on Australia. Clim. Change 121, 271–283.
Preston, B., Mustelin, J., Maloney, M., 2015. Climate adaptation heuristics and the science/policy divide. Mitig. Adapt. Strategies Global Change 20, 467–497.

What are the implications for (Manchester-based) activism?
“Whereas a decade ago local authority staff were unable to find scientific
information that they could understand and use, we find that these technical-cognitive barriers to adaptation are no longer a major problem for local authority respondents”
Yes, it’s merely the technical-competence barriers that we need to worry about in Manchester. And the utter lack of political will.

Usefulness for my PhD
Well, not on topic, but this qualitative research article looks good-

Baxter, J., Eyles, J., 1997. Evaluating qualitative research in social geography: establishing ‘rigour’ in interview analysis. Trans. Inst. Br. Geogr. 22, 505–525.

Their argument in a tweet: Local authorities did nothing on climate because no good info. Now because no money, no pressure.
Should activists pay attention? Yes. Neoliberalised Local Authorities like Manchester are saying “let the devil take the hindmost”. That’s not good public policy.
Should activist try to read the source material, or is this summation probably All A Busy Activist Needs To Know?
Use the Source, Luke.
Summary suffices.


This post is the first of twelve promised “Looting the Ivory Tower” blog posts that I will write this calendar year, where I try to summarise academic findings for a ‘normal’ audience.  You can help by;
a) letting me know how I did
b) suggesting topics or specific articles that I could tackle


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
This entry was posted in academia, Adaptation, Looting TIvory Tower. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Good Article on Local Government Adaptation #LootingTIvoryTower

  1. Steph. Pennells says:

    Thanks for this. I’m not a fundi on Climate Chaos – I just have to live with it on my allotment and at home and the effect it has on the wider world- and it is very helpful to have projections from academe to illuminate my thinking- and give me a nudge to nag my representratives.

  2. Louise says:

    Only just read this, good summary, thanks, Marc.

    (I’m belatedly trying to catch up on emails and clear out my inbox before I go away for a few weeks, because procrastinating is preferable to doing laundry and packing.)

    I must remember to try and remember to look out for these #LootingTIvoryTower articles when I get back, look forward to reading more.

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