Adaptation before anthropogenic climate change: a historical perspective on adaptation to droughts in Terrassa (1600-1870s, NE Spain)


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PhD thesis: a PhD thesis.
Adaptation before anthropogenic climate change: a historical perspective on adaptation to droughts in Terrassa (1600-1870s, NE Spain)
Grau-Satorras Mar
Otero Iago
Reyes-García Victoria, Gómez-Baggethun Erik
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Université Autonome de Barcelone
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Although anthropogenic climate change is a relatively recent phenomenon, throughout history human societies have adapted to climate variability, climatic extremes, and gradual climate changes. Thinking historically about climate change can contribute to develop more comprehensive models that explain general principles governing the dynamic relations between society and climate. In this dissertation, I explore two ways in which historical accounts could engage with research on the human dimensions of climate change. First, I draw on debates and analytical frameworks from current climate change research to study past adaptation processes. Particularly, I classify past adaptation strategies using taxonomies developed to understand current adaptation, explore adaptation at multiple levels, and revisit the debate about the multiple causes that drive (past and present) adaptation. Second, I develop a historical approach that can be useful to situate current adaptation processes into a broader perspective. Particularly, I apply a long-term perspective to visualize how and explain why diverse adaptation strategies distinctly manifest over long periods of time. The empirical analysis is presented in three chapters that examine how a local community, the municipality of Terrassa (NE Spain), adapted to climatic extremes (i.e., recurrent droughts) during the period between the seventeenth and late nineteenth centuries. The first empirical chapter aims a) to understand and document how preindustrial communities experienced and collectively responded to droughts over long periods of time and b) to uncover non-climatic contemporary threats and processes that helped shape adaptive responses. The chapter systematically investigates the typology, timing, and context of drought responses in the village of Terrassa between 1600 and 1715 showing that this early modern community adopted a mixture of symbolic, institutional, and infrastructural responses to cope with recurrent droughts. Responses documented changed over time, significantly decreasing since the first third of the sixteenth century. I explain this pattern discussing how mounting public debt and successive wars could have limited the range of available response options. The second empirical chapter aims to understand multi-level adaptation to climatic extremes in preindustrial societies. To do so, I use archival material to reconstruct and classify the set of strategies to cope with recurrent droughts used at the community and the household levels during the early modern period. Results show that peasant families developed a wider range of strategies than communities, although many strategies from both levels overlapped. The findings suggest that multilevel analysis is critical to understand the diversity of adaptation strategies developed in preindustrial societies. The chapter also discusses the methodological caveats that remain when using archival sources to understand past human adaptation to climate. The last empirical chapter addresses the implications for climate adaptation of the socio-environmental transformations associated with the transition from the early modern period to industrialization. Specifically, the chapter documents how adaptation to droughts changed in the study area during the period between 1600 and 1870s, when the village of Terrassa turned into an industrial city. To contextualize and historicize the changes documented, I discuss how long-term changes in water governance regimes in Catalonia and governance actors beyond the local council could have conditioned local adaptation to drought.
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16/07/2020 16:30
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16/07/2020 16:32
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