A recent Reuters report highlighted how farmers in Guatemala are growing climate-hardy beans as they adapt to climate change. They are growing drought-resistant bean varieties, as climate change continues to have a massive impact on crops.
This impact of our rapidly changing climate is happening worldwide, forcing people to change the way they live. Now, to determine how culture and society adapt to a changing climate, a team of researchers from the University of Maine and the University of Vermont (UVM) have conducted the first-ever study of cultural adaptation to climate change.
According to a press statement, using the science of cultural evolution to examine data on which crops farmers plant across the US, their work can help inspire more effective policy solutions to survive in the face of the harmful effects of global warming.
In their paper, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, the researchers define cultural adaptation as a population-level change, or the spread of a behavior that provides a benefit in a changed environment. The project was headed by Tim Waring, associate professor with the UMaine Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions and the School of Economics, funded by a $4-million grant from the National Science Foundation, the statement explains.
“Adaptation is about finding a better match to the environment. We know that humans evolve and adapt by changing their culture.” Waring says in the statement. “But we know very little about if or how culture is adapting to ongoing climate change today.” He adds: “There are three ingredients for adaptation,” says Waring, “a new practice, which provides a benefit, and then spreads.”
Using these categories, the researchers compared the climate in which different crops grow best to the actual climate, using data on crops planted in each county across the US for the last 14 years. According to the statement, they found that for much of the US, farmers have changed which crops they plant in a way that better matches crops to recent changes in climate.
According to their findings, in Maine, northern and western counties have changed crops in a way that follows recent climate change. But the researchers found that crop adaptation to climate change is not happening everywhere. In some regions, planted crops have become even less suited to climate change, the statement adds.
Waring says this culture-based approach to climate adaptation opens a new frontier in climate adaptation research and policy.