I am an Arup Trustee and former Chairman of the...
Health / Hell has frozen over; it's time for resilience
2014 has kicked off with a host of news stories reminding us about some of the big issues we wrestle with at Arup every day – risk, resilience and climate change.
North America is in the deep freeze with ice storms and temperatures plunging to levels more commonly seen in the Arctic. Parts of the Midwest saw the thermometer plunge to -26°C (-15°F) and much to the headline writers’ amusement a town called Hell in Michigan ‘froze over’, hitting -17°C.
On the other side of the planet, Australia broke records at the other end of the scale with 2013 coming in as the hottest in a century, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The heatwave edged temperatures up towards 50°C and set records at 34 sites in Queensland and northern New South Wales.
And even in the UK, storms generated some great pictures as TV screens and newspapers showed waves crashing across sea walls and people paddling down local streets in canoes.
For the media, this is a great spectacle. But for the rest of us, I believe it should reinforce exactly why we have to consider risk, resilience and climate change impacts far more closely. And not just in the highly industrialised countries of the USA, Australia or the UK, but even more so in developing countries around the globe.
All these events have consequences in terms of lost productivity and, tragically often, lost lives. Yet practical, sensible, affordable responses are possible – as long as we take the time and make the effort to plan for a more resilient future.
This means thinking fundamentally about how we build our cities to make them less susceptible to extreme weather events. It means rethinking responses to floods, freezes and firestorms. It means examining how commerce can be protected to build efficiency and redundancy into supply chains. It means understanding and managing water, food and energy security. And it means developing the right governance to engage local people, the insurance industry and governmental authorities so that everyone works together to plan better and build effective contingencies.
In a modern world, this is a massively complex task, relying on cooperation at local, national and international scale. Yet this is also a point in time when we have a terrific opportunity to make a massive difference.
Today, more than 50% of the world’s population live in towns and cities. Rapid urbanisation means that by 2050, that figure will reach almost 75%.
If we act now, we have the skills to ensure that the urbanisation process is shaped with risk, resilience and sustainability in mind. Not only will this produce more efficient environments, it will also help us all build towards a more sustainable planet. And if we get it right, it presents a great opportunity to mitigate some of the climate change impacts that are likely to make extreme weather more common in the future.
We can never beat extreme weather – ice storms, typhoons and heatwaves will always be with us. But as we watch the spectacle unfold across the globe, I would urge everyone to think about planning better today, for a safer and more resilient tomorrow.