Well, it's controversial for the reasons Diane MacEachern encapsulated in her comment:
Though adaptation is part of evolution, I think it gets us into trouble in the
industrial age. It seems like the notion that we'll adapt to the problems we
create generates a barrier to the idea that we should prevent problems from
happening in the first place. I'd like to see a greater emphasis on "prevention"
and more caution around the notion of adaptation.
Essentially, adaptation became controversial because people feared that if we started discussing adaptation, people would figure that we didn't need mitigation.
Now, I love Diane. I adored her book (go read it by the way!) So, I say this with nothing but admiration and respect for Diane. I think the idea that we should be wary of adaptation in and of itself is really wrongheaded and dangerous.
Let me give you an analogy. Let's say you don't believe that teens should have sex. Then you might argue, well, we shouldn't talk about condoms because that's encouraging teens to have sex. Now, and again, this is my opinion, but in my opinion, talking about condoms does not encourage teens to have sex. Talking about condoms simply informs and empowers teens, allowing them to make better decisions. And frankly, given that many teens are having sex, not talking about condoms is basically burying your head under the proverbial sand. It doesn't make the problem go away.
Basically, mitigation-only environmentalism is like abstinence-only education. It's a denial of the reality on the ground which is that global climate change is happening. Now. And people *have* to learn to adapt. (And by the way, I'm not saying Diane advocates mitigation-only environmentalism, because I don't think she does.)
So what I'm saying is we must, must, must talk about adaptation, and we do need to adapt. BUT, and this is where I think Diane and I agree, this doesn't mean we should accept any old adaptation strategy presented at us. For example, I remember during the great tomato outbreak, one of the adaptive strategies tossed around was, "Just cook all your vegetables!" Uh, no. That's a stupid form of adaptation.
So, while in and of itself, adaptation is a good thing and not something to be wary of, we do need to critically assess adaptation strategies to decide whether or not they are reasonable solutions. If you want to go back to my previous analogy, what I'm basically saying is adaptation, like birth control, is good. But just like all forms of birth control are not equal (some are good, some are bad, some are stupid) all forms of adaptation are not equal. But just because some forms of adaptation are bad does not mean we should stop talking about adaptation. Rather, it means we need to discuss adaptation MORE so we can start to truly figure out what are good adaptive strategies versus bad ones.
Our focus should not be: should we adapt?
Instead our focus needs to be: how do we adapt?