chapter  2
2Now and then: the origins of political ecology and the rebirth of adaptation as a form of thought
ByMichael J. Watts
Pages 32

Introduction Released formally in March 2014, the second component of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) covering impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability (IPCC 2014) makes for grim reading.2 “We’re now in an era where climate change isn’t some kind of future hypothetical,” said Chris Field, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II: “We live in an era where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential” ( In the report summary the word “risk” is mentioned an average of about six times per page. Eight core risks – most are potentially catastrophic – are identified “with high confidence”, each “spans sectors and regions”. Two months later a study by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine, announced that a rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in an irreversible state of decline ( Collectively it all looks like an ecological Armageddon. Coincident with the release of IPCC’s assessment report was the arrival of the World Bank’s annual development report – Risk and Opportunity: Managing Risk for Development (World Bank 2014) – devoted entirely to constellations of old and new risks which threatened to “reverse hard-won gains” (2014: 4). Inhabiting a world of radical precarity, poor communities, households, and states in the Global South confront a veritable avalanche of life-threatening and often interconnected shocks constituted by financial, economic, ecological, and other sorts of systemic risks. Climate change, seen by the Bank as simultaneously a burden and an opportunity, figures centrally in the risk portfolio that the World Bank’s customary constituency – the global poor – are now required to manage in the name of sustainable development.