Human health and climate change: leverage points for adaptation in urban environments

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2012 Jun;9(6):2134-58. doi: 10.3390/ijerph9062134. Epub 2012 Jun 6.


The design of adaptation strategies that promote urban health and well-being in the face of climate change requires an understanding of the feedback interactions that take place between the dynamical state of a city, the health of its people, and the state of the planet. Complexity, contingency and uncertainty combine to impede the growth of such systemic understandings. In this paper we suggest that the collaborative development of conceptual models can help a group to identify potential leverage points for effective adaptation. We describe a three-step procedure that leads from the development of a high-level system template, through the selection of a problem space that contains one or more of the group's adaptive challenges, to a specific conceptual model of a sub-system of importance to the group. This procedure is illustrated by a case study of urban dwellers' maladaptive dependence on private motor vehicles. We conclude that a system dynamics approach, revolving around the collaborative construction of a set of conceptual models, can help communities to improve their adaptive capacity, and so better meet the challenge of maintaining, and even improving, urban health in the face of climate change.

Keywords: cities; climate adaptation; co-effects; conceptual models; leverage points; system dynamics; systems thinking; urban health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Climate Change*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Motor Vehicles
  • Systems Analysis
  • Urban Health*