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Resilience and Sustainability

Posted on March 28th, by raskin in Blog. 2 comments

Utility crews at work in Seaside Heights, N.J., after Superstorm Sandy. Photo credit: Western Area Power Admin via Flickr

Utility crews at work in Seaside Heights, N.J., after Superstorm Sandy. Photo credit: Western Area Power Admin via Flickr


I have mentioned before that I believe you cannot be sustainable without being resilient.   Ted Wolf passed this article on to me, Building Resilience: 6 Lessons from Superstorm Sandy, from the US Green Building Council that makes this connection very clear.  Worth a read and very heartening from my point of view.  I have tried over the years to get the sustainability community more engaged in resilience.  While there has been some sympathetic acknowledgement, there has not been much active involvement.  I got some insight on why this might be from a conference looking at adaptability of coastal communities to climate change.  It was organized by the Institute of Sustainable Communities and the fellow from the ISC mentioned he was the only one of his fellow field reps who worked on adaptability, the rest focused on mitigation.  He felt the odd man out at times since the others looked at adaptation as a failure of the mitigation efforts. I think the fear was that time and energy spent on adaptation would take away from mitigation efforts. I also suspect that the  sustainability community also realizes that you can be resilient without necessarily being sustainable.

From the resilience side of things, it seems foolish not prepare for an inevitable natural disaster, whether a seismic event, or a weather related event that becomes more frequent with global warming, or from a rise in sea level since the rebuilding and repair from these events would increase the global warming problem.  Becoming resilient should include sustainability practices.  Net energy and Net water concepts work well for buildings to be functional following a disaster, which helps with recovery efforts.  The redundancy also reduces the need for new centralized supplies sources of water and energy and also make it easier to create backbone systems that are resistant to damage.

I also think that the fear is misplaced, because as people become engaged in adaptation (whether to global warming or other natural disasters) they are looking longer term, which means they also include mitigation efforts to reduce climate change.  I think the collaboration and discussion between the two groups will ensure that resilience efforts are indeed sustainable.


2 thoughts on “Resilience and Sustainability

  1. Good post, Jay. I’ll add a few thoughts. These are my personal opinions.

    While mitigation and adaptation are currently seen as complimentary approaches, I find myself squarely in the adaptation camp.

    This is based on my understanding that it takes some of the compounds in today’s carbon emissions hundreds of years to convert through chemical processes into “greenhouse gasses.” So, my reasoning (adopted from others) is that even we stop emitting all carbon today, the “backlog” of emissions already in the atmospheric pipeline will continue their reactions and continue their impacts on our climate for a couple of centuries.

    This puts the societal decision as: “should we stop burning fossil fuels and bring our global economy to a halt so that in 200 years the climate of Earth may return to what it was a century ago?” Not super likely, IMO. And even if the US agreed to such a policy, not every country would agree–likely including India and the worlds largest producer of greenhouse gases,China.

    This undercuts the entire prospect of mitigation as a viable strategy. The only thing it does is suggest to people that there is time and methods to mitigate these impacts. This is false, and perpetuates inaction.

    Instead of implying that carbon taxes and other mitigation schemes can somehow avert continued climate change, I think we should be brutally honest with people. To actually say: “It’s too late to avert continued change. The planet will continue to heat up and cause what humans refer to as ‘disasters’ at an increasing rate for the next few hundred years–at least. Buying a Prius will not change the fact that your kids and grandkids will be dealing with accelerated climate change and all of it’s associated impacts.”

    The sooner our “mitigation fantasy” recedes as a (albeit more sophisticated) form of denial, the sooner we can actively adapt to the reality that exists. It’s evolution 101: Adapt or Die.

  2. I think that mitigation and adaptation have to be complementary. It is becoming evident, as you mention, that we are seeing and will continue to increasingly see the effects of climate change. We need to adopt adaptation strategies to to accommodate these changes.
    However, we cannot think of mitigation as a fantasy for the simple reason that is too awful to contemplate. Somehow we do need to significantly reduce green house gases to keep from going over a 4 degree increase (where changes are truly frightening). Otherwise we become like the proverbial frog in the pot of water. We can stand a few degrees warmer, but we don’t want to get cooked.
    I trust that as people begin to see the current effects and to understand what it will take to adapt, they will be more willing to try mitigation schemes as well. We will be juggling several balls at the same time.

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