The University of Arizona

Victims of "adaptation": climate change, sacred mountains, and perverse resilience

Adam Dunstan


Resiliency and adaptation are increasingly prevalent in climate change policy as well as scholarship, yet scholars have brought forward several critiques of these concepts along analytical as well as political lines. Pressing questions include: who resiliency is for, what it takes to maintain it, and the scale at which it takes place. The concept of "perverse resilience", for example, proposes that resiliency for one sub-system may threaten the well-being of the overall system. In this article, I propose the related concept of "perverse adaptation", where one actor or institution's adaptation to climate change in fact produces aftershocks and secondary impacts upon other groups. Drawing on ethnographic and sociolinguistic research in northern Arizona regarding artificial snowmaking at a ski resort on a sacred mountain, I elucidate resort supporters' and others' attempts to frame snowmaking as a sustainable adaptation to drought (and, implicitly, climate change). I counterpoise these framings with narratives from local activists as well as Diné (Navajo) individuals regarding the significant impacts of snowmaking on water supply and quality, sacred lands and ceremony, public health, and, ironically, carbon emissions. In so doing, I argue that we must interrogate resilience policies for their unexpected "victims of adaptation."

Key words: climate change policy, adaptation, perverse resilience, sacred sites, Diné (Navajo)

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