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Written by Alice McClure, 11 July 2016

Wits University, South Africa

The 2nd Southern African Adaptation Colloquium was held on 7 & 8 July 2016 at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. On trend with recent adaptation thinking and writing, the colloquium provided an opportunity for different communities to come together and share experiences related to transformational adaptation with an emphasis on social learning, co-design and co-production. The two-day programme included presentations and panel discussions from professors, practitioners, adaptation enthusiasts and scholars, all of whom were bold in their challenges, requests and expressions of gratitude to everyone involved in adaptation-related activities.

A sense of togetherness was fostered during the colloquium as attendees openly admitted our obligation to move outside of our comforts in an attempt to manage this complex problem of climate change. It seems to now be common knowledge that whatever we have been or are currently doing is not enough; both in terms of how we conceptualize and implement adaptation. The naked truth is that scientists, despite their enormous contributions to dealing with the effects of climate change, don’t possess the full spectrum of experiences and thoughts that adequately contextualize climate-related problems and opportunities for solutions. Because of this, too few weapons have historically been brought to the fight and we’re not moving fast enough.

Forget incremental or even transformative adaptation, we need to put our heads together and look inwards, sideways and backwards to shift into transformational mode. How do we do this? Knowledge of all shapes and origins. As highlighted by Heila Lotz-Sisitka of Rhodes University, the knowledge production system that served us to navigate our world towards industrialisation is outdated. One can argue around the topic of whether this path was beneficial to mankind or not, but we’re somewhere else now and we need a new vehicle to move us forward. We need to be brave and acknowledge that the knowledge production systems that most of our parents and grandparents valued in a quickly expanding, consuming and unequal society are no longer the most relevant.

Climate change is everybody’s business and the scientist is no longer King. We need to find ways of putting our heads together to jointly frame questions related to this challenge, and solve problems or maximize opportunities in response. It’s time now for creativity and radical shifts in our thinking – we need to turn to all sects of society to offer information in a collaborative effort to co-produce knowledge that is timely, applicable and relevant to answer these questions. We’ve already made some of our worst mistakes; we now need to be willing to experiment and make a few more in our non-linear, expansive attempts to palliate. Most importantly, we need to accept that this new process of dealing with our complex world is not going to be comfortable – particularly in stark contrast to the well-oiled machine from which we are transitioning. Those who lead the way are bound to get bruised and bloody, with many lessons to offer as a result.

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