"Defining Habitability" - Wrathall et al. | Cyberseminar on the Habitability concept

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Marion Borderon

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Mar 13, 2023, 2:08:05 PM3/13/23
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Dear all, 

 I am pleased to share with you the first contribution of our seminar (posted here and attached below), which took on the fascinating and difficult task of defining habitability.

David J. Wrathall together with his colleagues Alex de Sherbinin, Michael Oppenheimer and Radley Horton propose a formal definition of habitability. This is the same team that was among the first to use the concept of habitability in geoscience and to discuss its complex linkages to migration (See Horton et al. 2021).

 They argue that habitability is a characteristic of environments that support three fundamental dimensions of human life: 1) human safety, 2) resilient livelihoods, and 3) the capacity of people to adapt to risk.

They thus proposes to dive deep into its three dimensions and to understand in particular what it means in terms of migration; migration being one signal of changing habitability.

 It seems to me that the paper emphasises the importance of adaptation, perhaps the dimension on which humans/society have the most room for manoeuvre. Together with the efforts to reduce or prevent emission of greenhouse gases, local decisions about adaptation will shape future habitability. It is in this respect that the authors conclude that habitability is a choice.

Please have a read and share your thoughts, comments or questions !

Sincerely,

Marion 

CyberseminarExpertPaper_Wrathall_etal_Habitability.pdf

Wrathall, David J

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Mar 13, 2023, 3:47:10 PM3/13/23
to Marion Borderon, PERNSeminars - List
Dear PERN Community, 

Greetings! Thank you for the kind introduction, Marion. What an interesting and important topic! It's such a pleasure to participate in this discussion. 

The organizing committee suggested that I share with you a PDF of my remarks this morning. Within these slides you'll find a formal definition of habitability (an equation). Yes, this can certainly be applied quantitatively to assess habitability, but let's consider this a formal proposal for an arrangement of key concepts. First, let's see if it holds up qualitatively!   

Of course, volumes will ultimately be written about this topic, and it's an honor to start a conversation this week with a few sentences. I recognize that these slides may require some explanation, so I am happy to respond to questions. 

Warm regards,
David



On Mon, Mar 13, 2023 at 11:10 AM Marion Borderon <marion....@gmail.com> wrote:

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Harald Sterly

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Mar 15, 2023, 6:00:47 AM3/15/23
to PERNSeminars - List, Wrathall, David J, PERNSeminars - List, Marion Borderon
Dear David,
thanks a lot for this inspiring and highly relevant input. I think it is a great asset to think of habitability of a place as an aggregate of the "habitabilities" for individuals - this opens up e..g the option to not only determine the habitability of a place as a whole, but also, either "deductively" the habitability of specific sub-groups (e.g. by intersecting factors like gender, age, ethnicity, etc.) - or "inductively", by finding clusters of similiar habitability characteristics (including change) and looking for explanations for that. With this, it should be fairly easy to include aspects of intersectional differentiation and also (household and individual level) tele-connections.
The single aspects of habitability could be addressed by looking e.g. at Nussbaum's and Sen's capabilities (or Max-Neefs's needs and satisfiers, or Raworth's 12 dimensions of social foundation, or other similar approaches).

Looking very much forward to further exchange here!
Best,
Harald

Maria Franco Gavonel

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Mar 15, 2023, 2:49:52 PM3/15/23
to PERNSeminars - List, Harald Sterly, Wrathall, David J, PERNSeminars - List, Marion Borderon
Dear David,

Thanks for this super insightful input.

You emphasised the direct relationship between adaptive capacity and habitability. I wonder whether you could please expand a bit on why you chose to include in the equation adaptive capacity instead of the actual adaptation responses. 

Many thanks!

Maria

Wrathall, David J

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Mar 15, 2023, 6:44:45 PM3/15/23
to Harald Sterly, PERNSeminars - List, Wrathall, David J, Marion Borderon

Hello Harald,

 

Excellent comment! Should we consider habitability as an aggregate of individuals? I argue that this is a helpful step forward: habitability is a subjective determination, the sum of individual decisions about a place. You mention some of the potential benefits of this framing, and I agree: we can use this approach to understand differential determinations, by age, ethnicity, gender, wealth, ability, etc. I commonly give this example from a context that I am very familiar with: San Pedro Sula, Honduras. This city has the highest homicide rate on Earth, as well as high vulnerability (in the urban peripheries) to flooding. We might say that San Pedro Sula, for a combination of factors related to safety and livelihoods, is nearing a habitability threshold for poor, adolescent Honduran males. Meanwhile, it is a thriving city for people with affordances made by relative wealth. So on the whole, San Pedro Sula could not be considered uninhabitable, but this perspective sheds light on the high migration rates of poor, adolescent males from San Pedro Sula. Interesting!  

 

But there is another advantage to considering the sum of subjective determinations about habitability. In the formal definition I provided, habitability is also intersubjective. In other words, habitability is an individual determination that depends on other individual determinations! My decision about this place is dependent on yours. Yet all individual determinations are not equal. Some determinations “matter” more than others. For example, the determinations of decisionmakers (who control public budgets and can make decisions about adaptation investments) have disproportionate weight and have implications for community-level adaptation, and therefore influence other determinations disproportionately. So by applying a weight to individual determinations, we might be able to understand the effect of POWER.

 

I have some ideas about other weights that could be applied to individual determinations, but I'm interested in hearing how others would aggregate assessments!

 

Great discussion, Harald, thanks for the comment! 

Until soon,

David


On Wed, Mar 15, 2023 at 3:02 AM Harald Sterly <h.st...@gmx.de> wrote:

[This email originated from outside of OSU. Use caution with links and attachments.]

[This email originated from outside of OSU. Use caution with links and attachments.]

Dear David,
thanks a lot for this inspiring and highly relevant input. I think it is a great asset to think of habitability of a place as an aggregate of the "habitabilities" for individuals - this opens up e..g the option to not only determine the habitability of a place as a whole, but also, either "deductively" the habitability of specific sub-groups (e.g. by intersecting factors like gender, age, ethnicity, etc.) - or "inductively", by finding clusters of similiar habitability characteristics (including change) and looking for explanations for that. With this, it should be fairly easy to include aspects of intersectional differentiation and also (household and individual level) tele-connections.
The single aspects of habitability could be addressed by looking e.g. at Nussbaum's and Sen's capabilities (or Max-Neefs's needs and satisfiers, or Raworth's 12 dimensions of social foundation, or other similar approaches).

Looking very much forward to further exchange here!
Best,
Harald

On Monday, March 13, 2023 at 8:47:10 PM UTC+1 Wrathall, David J wrote:

Wrathall, David J

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Mar 15, 2023, 6:48:39 PM3/15/23
to Maria Franco Gavonel, PERNSeminars - List, Harald Sterly, Wrathall, David J, Marion Borderon

Hello Maria, 

 

Why focus on capacity for adaptation instead of discrete adaptation actions? Great question! My decision here reflects the broader debate on capacity for adaptation. I would follow arguments presented by Cinner et al. (2018), Eriksen et al. (2015) Eisenack et al. (2014) and Barnett et al. (2014)** that adaptation will vary in innumerable ways according to the specific goals of people living in a specific setting, and that discrete adaptation actions are totally dependent on the capacities people have at their disposal (Cinner et al.; Eriksen et al.).

 

This view causes us to consider the specific, locally contingent barriers to adaptation (or "soft limits to adaptation" as we called them in the IPCC AR6), as well as the hard, immutable biophysical limits to adaptation. With this understanding, specific adaptation actions occur from a locally available set of resources (Cinner et al.), but that barriers and limits can stand in the way of specific actions (Eisenack et al.). Not all options are available to all! 

 

As this literature suggests, specific actions are part of long-term adaptation pathways, where specific actions build on each other through time, and draw from a set of resources (Barnett et al. 2014). The first key problem results if the rate of adaptation cannot keep pace with the rate of environmental change.  The second problem emerges when climate change losses are depleting the resource base from which discrete adaptation actions occur. In these instances, a community may be headed towards a habitability threshold.

 

Finally, the emphasis on adaptive capacity gets us to this important argument against environmental determinism: given the appropriate capacity for adaptation, almost anywhere on Earth could remain habitable into the distant future. Humans can adapt to almost anything, if we choose to and invest in it! Of course, we could write volumes and volumes reflecting the broader debate about capacity for adaptation, but I hope this response suffices. I am curious how other people would respond!

 

Many thanks for the insightful question, Maria,

David

 

**Obviously there are so many more sources I could have included here, and important contributions from many, many authors, but I arbitrarily include these:

 

Barnett, J., Graham, S., Mortreux, C., Fincher, R., Waters, E., & Hurlimann, A. (2014). A local coastal adaptation pathway. Nature climate change4(12), 1103-1108.

 

Cinner, J. E., Adger, W. N., Allison, E. H., Barnes, M. L., Brown, K., Cohen, P. J., ... & Morrison, T. H. (2018). Building adaptive capacity to climate change in tropical coastal communities. Nature Climate Change8(2), 117-123.

 

Eisenack, K., Moser, S. C., Hoffmann, E., Klein, R. J., Oberlack, C., Pechan, A., ... & Termeer, C. J. (2014). Explaining and overcoming barriers to climate change adaptation. Nature Climate Change4(10), 867-872.

 

Eriksen, S. H., Nightingale, A. J., & Eakin, H. (2015). Reframing adaptation: The political nature of climate change adaptation. Global Environmental Change35, 523-533.



On Wed, Mar 15, 2023 at 11:51 AM Maria Franco Gavonel <maria.fra...@york.ac.uk> wrote:

[This email originated from outside of OSU. Use caution with links and attachments.]

[This email originated from outside of OSU. Use caution with links and attachments.]

Dear David,

Thanks for this super insightful input.

You emphasised the direct relationship between adaptive capacity and habitability. I wonder whether you could please expand a bit on why you chose to include in the equation adaptive capacity instead of the actual adaptation responses. 

Many thanks!

Maria

On Wednesday, 15 March 2023 at 10:00:47 UTC Harald Sterly wrote:
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