Disaster Frequency is Increasing

When we’re gripped by fear, we hunker down and often abandon our problem-solving abilities. Climate crises are serious business!  We’re literally talking about our ability to sustain life on this planet.  Yet …

I’ve tried to be careful about presenting research-based information in a way that inspires positive corrective action.  I believe we’ve made some adjustments.  But I also see resistance to change.  In the time it took me to complete a 7-home Net Zero sustainable community, hundreds of thousands of non-sustainable homes were built and sold.

Generally, very few people make decisions today based on research that says “if we don’t change now, we’re likely in for trouble in 40 years.” When governments pass corrective legislation, they often phase it in over a ten year period – likely knowing that most people will believe the problem has been addressed, will stop protesting, and will return to usual routines.

Often, we admit that we’re creating problems that, sadly, “some future generation” will have to address. Well … we’re there … now.

Here’s an article, based on unbiased United Nations’ measurements, that’s essentially saying that we’re nearing the edge of the cliff … now. However, afterwards, I’ll add some additional perspectives and some specific corrective actions we can take.  But … it’s our generation that has to take them.

•       •       •       •      •       •       •       •

One climate crisis disaster

happening every week,

UN warns

 

Developing countries must prepare now for

profound impact, disaster representative says

 

Fiona Harvey

The Guardian

7 Jul 2019

 

Climate crisis disasters are happening at the rate of one a week, though most draw little international attention and work is urgently needed to prepare developing countries for the profound impacts, the UN has warned.

Catastrophes such as cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Mozambique and the drought afflicting India make headlines around the world. But large numbers of “lower impact events” that are causing death, displacement and suffering are occurring much faster than predicted, said Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on disaster risk reduction.

 

“This is not about the future;

this is about today.”

 

This means that adapting to the climate crisis could no longer be seen as a long-term problem, but one that needed investment now, she said.

 

“People need to talk more about

adaptation and resilience.”

 

Estimates put the cost of climate-related disasters at $520bn a year, while the additional cost of building infrastructure that is resistant to the effects of global heating is only about 3%, or $2.7tn in total over the next 20 years.  Mizutori said:

 

“This is not a lot of money [in the context of

infrastructure spending], but investors have

not been doing enough. Resilience needs to

become a commodity that people will pay for.”

 

That would mean normalising the standards for new infrastructure, such as housing, road and rail networks, factories, power and water supply networks, so that they were less vulnerable to the effects of floods, droughts, storms and extreme weather.

Until now, most of the focus of work on the climate crisis has been on “mitigation” – jargon for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and not to be confused with mitigating the effects of the climate crisis.

The question of adapting to its effects has taken a distant second place, in part because activists and scientists were concerned for years that people would gain a false complacency that we need not cut emissions as we could adapt to the effects instead, and also because while cutting emissions could be clearly measured, the question of adapting or increasing resilience was harder to pin down.

Mizutori said the time for such arguments had run out. She told The Guardian:

 

“We talk about a climate emergency and

a climate crisis, but if we cannot con-

front this [issue of adapting to the effects]

we will not survive. We need to look at

the risks of not investing in resilience.”

 

Many of the lower-impact disasters would be preventable if people had early warnings of severe weather, better infrastructure such as flood defences or access to water in case of drought, and governments had more awareness of which areas were most vulnerable.

Nor is this a problem confined to the developing world, she said, as the recent forest fires in the US and Europe’s latest heatwave had shown. Rich countries also face a challenge to adapt their infrastructure and ways of protecting people from disaster.

“Nature-based solutions”, such as mangrove swamps, forests and wetlands which could form natural barriers to flooding should be a priority, said Mizutori. A further key problem is how to protect people in informal settlements, or slums, which are more vulnerable than planned cities. The most vulnerable people are the poor, women, children, the elderly, the disabled and displaced, and many of these people live in informal settlements without access to basic amenities.

Regulations on building standards must also be updated for the climate crisis and properly enforced, she said. One of the governance issues cited by Mizutori was that while responsibility for the climate crisis and greenhouse gas emissions was usually held in one ministry, such as the economics, environment or energy department, responsibility for infrastructure and people’s protection was held elsewhere in government. She said …

 

“We need to take a more holistic view of the risks.” 

•       •       •       •      •       •       •       •

I believe our existing corporate and governmental institutions have demonstrated an inability to solve this problem. Recalling “Animal Farm,” in which the animals rebelled, drove the farmer out, and the pigs assumed new leadership … the overall situation gradually returned to the way it was, and the pig’s behavior mirrored the farmer’s.  We can change leaders, but when the organizational system is dysfunctional, expect the same outcome.  Referring to Margaret Mead’s observation …

 

“Never doubt that a small group

of thoughtful, committed citizens

can change the world; indeed,

it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 

The problem: This places the responsibility for causing the needed change – not to “change the world” but to literally save the world – upon each of us, not on “them” or on “technology” or on “our government.”  So …

 

What are some specific actions we each need to take?

 

 

  • Get off fossil fuel use … now!

 

If you’re ready to get a new car, absolutely go electric. The per-mile cost is a fraction of that for fossil fuel driving.  Maintenance is also far less costly.  Recharge facilities are popping up all over … almost more frequent than gas stations.  And if you own two or more cars, be sure at least one is electric.  As fossil fuel emissions are the primary cause of global warming and our climate crisis, attack the source of the problem … and sooner than later.

Similarly, if you have – or can get – a south-facing surface … on your roof or on a fence, etc. … install photovoltaic panels that will provide all the power you need for your home and car. If you cook with natural gas, another fossil fuel, replace your range with an induction electric range, powered by the same PV panels.  And replace natural gas water heaters with solar.  You’ll invest a little now, but virtually wipe out your utility bills … indefinitely.

 

  • Relocate, if chronic problems exist.

If you live in a community that has repeated incidents of flooding or wild fires, consider relocating. Regardless of what the politicians say or do, the insurance companies are ceasing to insure properties in hi-risk areas.  (If you were the insurer, you would, wouldn’t you?)  Living in fear of flooding or wildfires is not the joyful kind of living to which we should aspire.  In fact, real estate values are already declining in many coastal areas.

From MIT’s July 11th “Technology Review” comes a report about the rebuilding of Paradise, California:

 

As climate disasters exact ever higher human, economic and environmental tolls, society will have to become more pragmatic about whether to rebuild or retreat. Some places will become too dangerous to live in, and too expensive to keep rescuing and rebuilding. Despite the growing recognition that some places will have to be abandoned, actually implementing a ‘managed retreat’ is incredibly hard.”

The July 12th edition of “The Schwartz Report,” a trend-focused on-line periodical, cites research about growing damages to both California’s coast and to the east coast.  Another research effort reports: “Over 126 million Americans live in coastal areas threatened by sea-level rise.”  https//www.earth.com/news/americans-threatened-sea-level-rise/.

 

  • On-site food, rainwater, power storage.

When disasters strike, the services upon which we rely often fail. Your solar power system should have battery back-up, to guarantee you’ll always have power.  If you install an in-ground cistern to store rainwater, you’ll guarantee your water supply.  And if you have an added quantity of canned or frozen foods – and perhaps an additional freezer – you’ll guarantee yourself of a flow of healthful food.

 

  • Plant trees and shrubs near your home if you’re in a flood zone, away from home if you’re in a wildfire zone.

The vegetation will enhance the air quality around your home, regardless of climatic conditions. Vegetation near your home will help absorb water and slow the flooding.  Vegetation away from your home may cause the wildfire to bi-pass your home.

 

  • Evacuation plan.

One of the causes of injury and death when crises occur is the lack of planning by the residents. Just as schools, hotels, arenas, and most public buildings have evacuation plans, develop one for your home.  Thinking out what you’ll need to do may save your life if a crisis hits.  These plans are naturally rarely used – but – they’re there “just in case.”

 

Final thoughts …

Change is uncomfortable. When we’re comfortable with some aspect of our life, we naturally loathe changing it.  In addition, we can also question what our personal impact can be.  As individuals began seeking more and more organic foods, even traditional supermarkets have gradually built major organic food sections in their stores.  Individuals – beginning with each of us acting on what we believe is a better way to eat – caused that change.

We each have the power to lead similar change in an even more vital arena … life on planet Earth.

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