In the face of climate disasters, many governments are taking a shortsighted, counterproductive approach to adaptation that not only fails to look holistically at climate impacts over time but also may worsen them. This includes building “inflexible infrastructure that cannot be adjusted easily or affordably” — think new construction projects on waterfronts that, even under optimistic scenarios, are slated to be underwater in the next few decades. It also means fortifying certain parts of cities, for example, while leaving out vulnerable communities “which cannot afford to move or adapt.”
2017 Hurricane Irma Damaged Puerto Rico
Maladaptation in many places and societies are happening, but it’s not by choice. Many of these places and societies contribute little to nothing to the global climate crisis and are suffering the most because of these crises. The Caribbean Islands, for example, are affected by hurricanes and high tides every year that are getting stronger and stronger due to increased global warming. Different islands are affected differently based on the paths of the storms. In 2017, three powerful hurricanes, Irma, Jose and Maria, swept through the Caribbean causing extensive damage and lost lives. Irma swept across the Caribbean islands of St. Martin, Puerto Rico, Antigua & Barbuda, Cuba, British and US Virgin Islands, St. Barts, Anguilla, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Turks and Caicos. All the islands experienced extensive damage to their infrastructure, to homes and to farms. In Barbuda, 95% of the homes were damaged and the island was literally under water and barely habitable.
These islands do not have the financial resources or otherwise to make the adaptations needed to counteract the effects of climate change. The Caribbean islands depend on tourism as a major source of income, which means, that during certain times of the year, revenue is low. Adaptation requires educating the population, investing in technology, and robust infrastructure improvements such as building houses to withstand a category five hurricane. These priorities have proven to be cost prohibitive, which is why every strong hurricane results in wide-spread devastation. Improvements that would end the maladaptation of the Caribbean would require extensive financial investment that has proven to be out of reach for many of these island nations.