Climate Change Adaptation and the Back of the Invisible Hand

Philosophical Transactions B (forthcoming)
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We make the case that scientifically accurate and politically feasible responses to the climate crisis require a complex understanding of human cultural practices of niche construction that moves beyond the adaptive significance of culture. We develop this thesis in two related ways. First, we argue that cumulative cultural practices of niche construction can generate stable equilibria and runaway selection processes that result in long-term existential risks within and across cultural groups. We dub this the back of the invisible hand. Second, we argue that the ability of cultural groups to innovate technological solutions to environmental problems is highly constrained in ways that are exacerbated by sustained intergroup conflict, inequality and by inherently unpredictable cascades in climate change and human migration patterns. After developing these theoretical points about human cultural practices of niche construction in detail, we conclude our discussion with some tentative practical suggestions about the way that cultural evolutionary history can more fruitfully be used in efforts to remit the climate crisis and contribute to sustainable practices of human climate change adaptation.

Author Profiles

Josh Armstrong
University of California, Los Angeles


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