Key Theme—

Building and Bridging the Knowledge Base

At the heart of socially innovative responses to climate change and adaptation at the local scale are the knowledge and practices. 

Developing shared understandings and the collective capacity to transform the climate adaptation status quo. This involves making new connections both in terms of knowledge, skills and practices, but also between diverse people, groups and things (i.e. communities, neighbourhoods, sectors, nature, technology, art). 

Key to this is embracing diverse stories and recognizing the rich diversity of what counts as knowledge and who counts as a knower. This involves recognising that there is a ‘multiplicity of ways of knowing’ (Sandercock and Forsyth, 1992) or ‘connected knowing’ (Belenskey et al 1986) underpinned by important, yet oft overlooked or assumed questions such as: 

  • Who can be a knower? (Scientists, politicians, citizens, animals/plants, children?)
  • What is the purpose of knowledge? (To reinforce, educate, confuse, persuade, pacify, transform?)
  • What kinds of things can be known? (Truth, beauty, right/wrong, past/present, future?)
  • What are legitimate sources of knowledge? (Data, facts, stories, dreams, gossip?)
  • Who decides what knowledge is valid? (The government, community, experts, media?)

This range of ways of ‘knowing’ climate adaptation at the local scale includes a spectrum of stories: informal, subjective accounts such as dialogue, personal experience, local knowledge, visual images, actions and activities; as well as the more formal, objective reports such as resource mapping and scientific research. 

‘Stories’ in all their forms are the compasses by which we navigate our place in the world, offering a way of travelling from here to there and locating the silences in between (see Rebecca Solnit, 2013). Stories help build knowledge through the narratives, ideas, anecdotes, summaries, histories, musings, theories and data that work to create empathy and identity. Place itself for example is a story/storied/stories. 

Climate adaptation at the local scale involves a constellation of stories, experience and activities that link together formal and informal practices identified in Figure 1  (see Stengers 2005, 2010, Houston et al. 2016).

Figure 1: Stories: Ways of knowing climate adaptation at the local scale

We can build and bridge the knowledge base around local scale climate adaptation by engaging with diverse ways of knowing. Creatively connecting enables us to re-imagine our experience of – and responses to – climate change, creating the foundation for new possibilities of of socially innovative and transformative change. 

Shared knowledge/stories lies at the heart of local adaptation to climate change.Through sharing local stories across all sectors (public, private, not-for profit), the dominance of technical and institutional ‘fixes’ of climate adaptation gives way to an “ethics of connection” (Rose and Robin 2004). As Bruno Latour (2010, p.455) notes:

A common world is not something we come to recognize, as though it had always been here (and we had not until now noticed it). A common world, if there is going to be one, is something we will have to build, tooth and nail, together.

Bruno Latour


Climate for Change

A social mandate for climate action Climate for Change is a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to create the social environment in Australia needed for effective action on climate change. By working at the individual and household level, they have effectively engaged thousands of Australians.

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Environment House

Environment House operates as a local hub for the community, offering an inclusive space where individuals can seek advice, learn skills and engage in a community actively and collaboratively adapting to climate change at the local scale.

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Green Cross Australia

Green Cross Australia is a leading not-for-profit organisation that educates and empowers Australians to adapt to their changing environments. The organisation fills the space between humanitarian and environmental challenges (where there was previously a void in the Australian adaptation landscape).

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The Pears Report

‘The Pears Report’ is a regular column written by Pears for ReNew magazine – a quarterly publication produced by the Alternative Technology Association. ReNew is Australia’s leading magazine on practical sustainable living that showcases innovations in sustainable building practice and renewable energy technology.

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Belenky, M, Clinchy, B, Goldberger, N, Tarule, J (1986) Womens ways of nowing: the development of self, voice and mind, NY: Basic Books.

Houston, D., MacCallum, D., Steele, W., Byrne, J (2016) Climate Cosmopolitics and the possibilities for urban planning, Nature + Culture, 11(3): 1-29

Latour, B. (2010) An Attempt at a Compositionist Manifesto. New Literary History 41(3): 471– 490

Rose, D and Robin. L (2004) The Ecological Humanities: An Invitation. Australian Humanities Review 31 – 32.

Sandercock, L and Forsyth, A (1992) A Gender Agenda: New Directions for Planning Theory, Journal of the American Planning Association, 58(1):49-59

Solnit, R. (2013) The Faraway Nearby, New York: Viking.

Stengers, I. (2005) The Cosmopolitical Proposal, In Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, ed. Latour, B and Weibel, P Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 994–1003.

Stengers, I  (2010) Cosmopolitics I, II. Trans. Bononno, R Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.