Social capital and climate change: What do they have in common?

People don't often see social capital and climate change in the same sentence - or even in the same book. Here, we will explore the interconnections between these two seemingly disparate theories by reviewing Daniel P. Aldrich's recent work, "Social Capital and Climate Change Adaptation." This was published in ORE Climate Science and looks at the relationship between social capital and climate change adaptation behaviors in terms of how people around the world are accomodating their lives to changing environmental conditions. 

Social capital is all about the norms, trustworthiness, and networks that tie people together within and between communities. There are various types of social capital - bonding, bridging, and linking - all of which involve the connections that one has between people. Whether it be your father or your neighbor, the local civic organization down the road, or the state Senator, these social connections help communities work cooperatively and collectively with one another to solve problems, for example protecting against and responding to climate threats. 

Although societies have been adapting to climate change for hundreds of thousands of years, it is high time that we recognize the need for both individual and community action in response to the accelerated rate of climate change due to human activity. Aldrich and his colleagues argue that, "Deep reservoirs of social capital can alter response to climate change in a variety of ways: they can increase shared local knowledge, heighten participation, and make corporate and political institutions more responsive to longer term concerns of communities." With this in mind, it is the bottom-up, local-level movements that will be most effective in responding to climate change.

Grassroots efforts around the world have already proved successful - from Houma, Louisiana where local residents built self-funded levees to combat rising sea levels (surpassing federal government efforts to do so) to Senegal, where one group of subsistence farmers started "One Woman, One Fruit Tree," which recognized the need to identify other food and income sources in a hotter, drier setting than normal. 

As we approach the new year, it is important for us to think about the measures that we might take, whether individually or as a collective, to adapt and transform our everyday lives in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change. Strengthening your own social capital network is just one way that you might be able to engage other locals, create organizational linkages, and overall boost social support within your community! 

Click here to read Aldrich's full article.