The University of Arizona

A multiple knowledge approach for adaptation to environmental change: lessons learned from coastal Louisiana's tribal communities

Julie Koppel Maldonado


Environmental changes, such as sea level rise, are forcibly displacing communities around the world. Forced displacement, inadequate governance mechanisms to address relocation and economic-based adaptation and restoration efforts are leading to devastating social, cultural, health, and economic consequences for the people and communities affected. This article focuses on three tribal communities in coastal Louisiana that are experiencing rapid environmental change and risk of displacement due to historical discriminatory processes, oil and dam-related development projects, oil disasters, increased exposure to hurricanes, and relative sea level rise. Focusing on the political ecology of the communities' experiences of environmental change, including the impacts of displacement and decisions to stay in-place vs. relocate, this paper addresses broader issues of adaptive governance structures and policy implications. Building on Bronen's (2011) rights-based approach to adaptation and Shearer's (2012) approach to a political ecology of adaptation, I argue that governance structures should be put in place that support communities' in-situ adaptation efforts or, if the community decides its current location is no longer inhabitable, to assist community-led relocation efforts. Multiple forms of knowledge should be incorporated into and should inform the structures supporting the adaptation process. I highlight the social, political, environmental and economic context within which environmental changes are occurring in coastal Louisiana through discussion on the loss of the commons, the creation of an energy sacrifice zone, costbenefit based restoration efforts and forced displacement and relocation.

Key words: Environmental change, displacement, relocation, adaptation

Full Text: