Inter-continental comparisons of environmental histories can improve understanding of environmental problems and hazards, and suggest possible actions to promote adaptive capacity and resilience in communities. This article presents evidence from two discrete studies incorporating the same integrated interdisciplinary methodology that look at montane foothill environments in France and South West China. The focus of research is on reconstructing the environmental histories of two lake catchment systems, Annecy in Haute-Savoie, France, and Erhai in Yunnan province, China. The initial findings from the comparison point to very similar sequences of an emergent flood problem in the late 17th to early 18th centuries related to upland land-use transformations of different origins that act upon longer-term sequences of environmental change. Flood problems in both catchments have been met by major engineering solutions that, whilst similar to some extent, differ in technical ingenuity. What this comparison makes clear is the importance of micro-variation in environments within these catchments leading to similar, though not the same, adaptive responses to the environment. While it is clear that cultural nuances can be important causes of differences in environmental decision making, particularly in respect to choice and management options, but often the responses tend to be fairly consistent in their approaches to both environmental opportunities and problems.