Overland flooding caused by a lack of road maintenance.
In previous articles in this series, we discussed adapting and being resilient to the impacts of climate change. We have explained that we cannot continue to take a business as usual approach—we need to act. But what does take action actually mean? And what if we get it wrong?
This can and does happen. Making the decision to adapt to climate change is important, but there can sometimes be unforeseen consequences of those adaptation efforts, such as increasing the vulnerability of ecosystems or communities. When this happens, it is called maladaptation.
Maladaptation can begin as a positive adaptive measure with the best of intentions. It can also occur when climate change was not kept in mind during the development of a strategy or policy, or when taking certain actions or enacting management strategies.
If climate change is not considered during the construction of a new bridge, for example, that bridge may be damaged or destroyed during a flood. Restrictions in tree planting can cause maladaptation, leading to fewer shady areas, warmer temperatures, and less buffering capacity against strong winds. Another example is a lack of ditch maintenance that amplifies damage during storm events.
Certain behaviours can also be also maladaptive, like idling at a drive-through or while stuck in traffic for hours on the Queen Elizabeth Way.
The way residents and communities deal with shoreline erosion can also cause maladaptation. Since moving houses is not always a viable measure, many instead opt for shoreline protection. Along a body of water like Lake Ontario, this battle is largely being fought on an individual or family scale–you do what you must in order to protect your property. But when this effort takes the shape of a hardened wall structure, this can have damaging long-term effects on both yours and your neighbours’ properties.
So how do we avoid adaptive efforts from becoming maladaptive? Having the right voices at the table and thinking as long-term and holistically as possible is the best place to start. If the voices of many different interest groups, sectors, and neighbourhoods are heard, local climate adaptation measures are more likely to be successful.