ICARUS: Initiative on Climate Adaptation Research and Understanding through the Social Sciences

Vulnerability and adaptation are key concepts in the social science literature on climate change. They have long inter-linked histories. Scholars of development, disaster management and mitigation, hunger, famine, and migration, and ecological systems have contributed insights on the meanings and drivers of vulnerability. Development of systematic ideas about adaptation continues to occur in a variety of fields – in both the ecological and the social sciences. The ways these writings are applicable to understanding and intervening in climate-related stresses, crises and responses remain vigorous arenas query and debate. In recent years there have been many calls (by IPCC, NSF, Stern Review and others) for greater social science engagement in climate research. ICARUS responds to these calls.


  Keeping a cool head

“Social scientists must make more comprehensive and engaged contributions, and take the lead in furthering the analysis of climate-change issues and identifying effective response to climate stresses at different scales, in different sectors, and for different groups of vulnerable peoples” argue the co-founders of ICARUS in a recent editorial, entitled “Cool heads for a hot world- social sciences under a changing sky”, published in the May 2012 issue of Global Environmental Change. To read the full article click here

The authors state that, “Because the causes of vulnerability and the effects of adaptive solutions are contested and controversial, cool analytic heads are needed to reflect on comfort and well-being in a warming world. Social scientists [being these cool and analytic] can bring critical perspectives on cause, effect and controversy; they can engage with policy processes; and help solve the multi-faceted problems that climate change will inevitably make more visible, urgent, and complex.”

The authors compare climate change vulnerability and adaptation to the story of Icarus, the son of the master craftsman Daedalus in Greek mythology. Despite many warnings from his father, Icarus flew too close to the sun, melted his wax wings, and fell. The authors explain that, “As our society risks a scorching from the sun, Icarus is an appropriate cautionary tale to inspire for social-science engagement. Maybe, with advance planning, Daedalus could have invented the parachute, providing Icarus a soft landing – [a] well-adapted ending.” Today, Icarus is society itself. The authors conclude: “We need cool and engaged social science reflection to identify the causes of risk and adaptive pathways forward – so we might guide society to land standing.” To read an unpublished extended version of this article click here


  ICARUS III May 2012 in New York!

ICARUS is pleased to announce the third ICARUS meeting to be held at Columbia University from Friday May 18 through Sunday May 20, 2012. ICARUS III follows on the highly successful ICARUS I and II conferences organized at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. The theme of the ICARUS III meeting is “Scales, Frameworks and Metrics.”

ICARUS III Theme “Scales, Frameworks and Metrics”

Climate change is caused, takes place, and is responded to on multiple temporal, geographical, social, political and economic scales. How do social sciences frame and study climate change phenomena across scales? How do metrics enable, shape and limit discourse and action, including policies and programs? At ICARUS III we aim to place our particular concerns – whether about networks and institutions or discourses and identities, in multi-scalar framings and in multi-scaled context. We are conscious as well of the time scales, and frameworks, that have emerged as a result of the Durban COP and of the Occupy movements.

For more information, please see the ICARUS III Conference Resources webpage. For any inquiries please email icarus2012mtg@gmail.com