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Thomas F. Thornton and Patricia M. Thornton

The Anthropocene is rooted in the proposition that human activity has disrupted earth systems to the extent that it has caused us to enter a new geological age. We identify three popular discourses of what the Anthropocene means for humanity's future: the Moral Jeremiad admonishes the transgression of planetary boundaries and advocates reductions to live sustainably within Earth's limits; the Technofix Earth Engineer approach depicts the Age of Humanity as an engineering opportunity to be met with innovative technological solutions to offset negative impacts; and the New Genesis discourse advocates re-enchantment of humanity's connections to earth. By contrast, we find that in many indigenous and premodern narratives and myths disseminated across the North Pacific and East Asia, it is the trickster-demiurge Raven that is most closely linked to environmental change and adaptation. Whereas Raven tales among northern Pacific indigenous communities emphasize a moral ecology of interdependence, creative adaptation, and resilience through practical knowledge (mētis), robustly centralizing Zhou Dynasty elites transposed early Chinese Raven trickster myths with tales lauding the human subjugation of nature. Raven and his fate across the northern Pacific reminds us that narratives of environmental crisis, as opposed to narratives of environmental change, legitimate attempts to invest power and authority in the hands of elites, and justify their commandeering of technological xes in the name of salvation.

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Thomas F. Thornton and Nadia Manasfi

In climate change discourse and policy, adaptation has become a critical byword and frame of reference. An implicit assumption in much of the strategizing is the notion that adaptation can be rationally planned, funded, and governed largely through existing frameworks. But can adaptation really be managed or engineered, especially given the significant unpredictability and severe impacts that are forecast in a range of climate scenarios? Over millennia, successful societies have adapted to climate shifts, but evidence suggests that this was often accomplished only through wide-ranging reorganization or the institution of new measures in the face of extreme environmental stress. This essay critically examines the concept of human adaptation by dividing it into eight fundamental processes and viewing each in a broad cultural, ecological, and evolutionary context. We focus our assessment especially on northern indigenous peoples, who exist at the edges of present-day climate governance frameworks but at the center of increasingly acute climate stress.