Social capital helps adaptation to climate change

Informal networks of social capital are especially valuable in responding to unexpected shocks - a skill which could prove useful in adapting to climate change.

That is the verdict of a twelve-month study by researchers at King's College London into the potential of social capital - which can be loosely defined as the connections within and between social networks that hold collective life together.

The study found that these informal networks existed in even the most formal of organisations, and recommended that they should be embraced inside organisations without being compromised or suppressed.

Results of the study, which looked at social capital in the Environment Agency, the scientific bodies of the Welsh Assembly, and a local dairy farmers co-operative called Grasshoppers, were presented at a seminar organised by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Dr Mark Pelling, of King's College London, found that informal social capital networks were particularly valuable in enabling critical thinking and alternative actions to be taken in the face of unexpected shocks.

He said: "Local actors are at the sharp end of adaptation.

"Where social capital is attuned to the imperative of adaptation it can offer a resource for reflexive adaptation - that is for self-organised and critical approaches to adaptation where the goals as well as the mechanisms for adaptation are reviewed and may be changed."

Reflexive adaptation was most clearly found in Grasshoppers out of the three groups in the study, Dr Pelling said.

Richard Price, chief economist and director for economics, statistics and research at Defra, questioned where there was a role for Government to shape social capital.

He said: "Perhaps the role for government is no longer solely direct provision, but also the empowerment of citizens creating a framework for collective action where voluntary bottom-up community initiatives can thrive."

Kate Martin



Waste & resource management
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