Beyond threshold approaches to extreme heat: repositioning adaptation as everyday practice

Elspeth Oppermann, Yolande Strengers, Cecily Maller, Lauren Rickards, Matt Brearley

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Abstract

One of climate change’s most certain impacts is increasingly frequent and extreme heat. Heat management and climate adaptation policies generally utilize temperature and humidity thresholds to identify what constitute “extreme” conditions. In the workplace, such thresholds can be used to trigger reductions in work intensity and/or duration. In regions that routinely exceed proposed thresholds, however, this approach can be deeply problematic and raises critical questions about how frequently exposed populations already manage and mitigate the effects of extreme heat. Drawing on social practice theories, this paper repositions everyday engagements with extreme heat in terms of practices of work. It finds that bodies absorb and produce heat through practices, challenging the view that extreme heat is an “external” risk to which bodies are “exposed”. This theoretical starting point also challenges the utility of threshold-based adaptation strategies by demonstrating how heat is actively coproduced by living, performing bodies in weather. This argument is exemplified through a case study of outdoor, manual workers in Australia’s monsoon tropics, where work practices were adapted to reduce thermal load. More specifically, we find that workers “weather” work and “work” the weather to enable work to be done in extreme conditions. Our analysis of everyday heat adaptation draws attention to the generative capacities of bodies and unsettles two established separations: 1) that between climatic exposure and sensitivity, calling for a more embodied, experiential, and performed perspective and 2) that between climatic impacts and (mal)adaptation, calling for an understanding of climate adaptation, as located in everyday practices, in the management of bodies in weather.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)885-898
Number of pages14
JournalWeather, Climate and Society
Volume10
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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