Historical adaptations to climate change are widely recognised, but adaptations by contemporary society living in regions with a fluctuating climate are not. This paper explores the literature on monsoon climate variability and consequent adaptations as well as implications of such adaptive systems for sustainable livelihoods. The paper also contains a substantial annotated bibliography of related climate change adaptation literature.The author sums up the literature on existing knowledge of abrupt climate change, and reviews the knowledge gaps in societal adaptation research, the available learning tools for adaptation research, priority regions for studies, and women and climate. The author finds that learning from adaptive strategies employed by contemporary rural societies in regions that experience rapid climate oscillations might be helpful in designing appropriate policies and programmes for adaptation to climate change, conservation of biodiversity in agroecosystems, as well as reduction of vulnerability and poverty and enhancement of sustainable livelihoods. There is an urgent need develop and implement adaptation strategies.The author concludes that by learning about adaptations employed by the societies that live in areas where climate variability is common, we can enhance our understanding to increase the adaptability of social, economic and ecological systems. Understanding local adaptive processes are a necessity because human behaviour, institutional capacity and culture are more important than study of just the biophysical impacts. Such adaptations are useful when abrupt climate change implies changes in the occurrence or intensity of extreme weather events as the society can cope with appropriate adjustments. Societal adaptation to climate change therefore needs to be seen as a priority research area.