18 - Adapting to an uncertain climate on the Great Plains: testing hypotheses on historical populations  pp. 283-295

Adapting to an uncertain climate on the Great Plains: testing hypotheses on historical populations

By Roberta Balstad, Roly Russell, Vladimir Gil and Sabine Marx

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Theoretical context

We begin this chapter with two questions: first, how do people adapt to climate uncertainty? Second, can the historical past serve as a laboratory for testing and understanding human responses to climate uncertainty? We examine these questions in the context of a study of adaptation to climate variability in a county in the northern Great Plains of the United States during and after its initial agricultural settlement in the late nineteenth century. The purpose of the study is to understand how a newly arrived population of European immigrants and European-origin settlers from the Eastern United States adapted to the harsh and uncertain climate conditions on the Great Plains. But rather than constructing a historical narrative on how climate influenced the settlement experience, we will instead examine current theory on decision-making related to adaptation to climate uncertainty and study how the settlement experience in the Great Plains can illuminate and contribute to this body of theory.

There is a large body of research on decision-making that can be related to human adaptation to uncertainty. It deals with such topics as the need for predictability and control, overconfidence in judgements, the role of available or recent and thus easily predictable models in anticipating future events, risk communication and management, and others (Weber, 2006; Marx et al., 2007). Here, however, we will focus specifically on three aspects of the corpus of research on decision-making under uncertainty: (a) patterns of information processing; (b) the finite pool of worry; and (c) the bias toward a single action in response to uncertainty.

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