Rethinking Adaptation

Emotions, Evolution, and Climate Change

in Nature and Culture

Understanding that climate change poses considerable threats for social systems, to which we must adapt in order to survive, social responses to climate change should be viewed in the context of evolution, which entails the variation, selection, and retention of information. Digging deeper into evolutionary theory, however, emotions play a surprisingly prominent role in adaptation. This article offers an explicitly historical, nondirectional conceptualization of our potential evolutionary pathways in response to climate change. Emotions emerge from the intersection of culture and biology to guide the degree of variation of knowledge to which we have access, the selection of knowledge, and the retention of that knowledge in new (or old) practices. I delve into multiple fields of scholarship on emotions, describing several important considerations for understanding social responses to climate change: emotions are shared, play a central role in decision-making, and simultaneously derive from past evolutionary processes and define future evolutionary processes.