Monday, May 07, 2018

Climate Insecurity

Because of ideology, resilience innovations such as this double-decker pier can only be installed as replacements, not as part of long-term planning.
"Ignorance of geography is a threat to our national security."

The great geographer Harm de Blij made this assertion during one of his visits to our campus, and it is one I have often repeated. Dr. de Blij (duh-BLAY) made this statement mainly in reference to human geography, because of the tendency of superpowers to involve themselves in conflicts that could have been avoided with a bit better understanding of the geographies of politics, economies, religion, and language.

The statement is equally applicable to environmental geography, however, and specifically to the geographies of vulnerability to climate change. Excellent reporting by Nicholas Kusnetz reveals that with regard to climate change, ignorance is sometimes a conscious choice. Rising Seas Are Flooding Virginia’s Naval Base, and There’s No Plan to Fix It was jointly published last October by Inside Climate News and The Weather Channel. It is a succinct explanation of the problems posed by sea-level rise for military installations in general and those of southeastern Virginia in particular. It is also a well-documented account of the steps that have been taken to address the problem, and the ideologically-driven abandonment of sensible planning for rising seas.

In many bureaucracies, when those at the top make mistakes, those with day-to-day responsibilities find work-arounds. The double-decker pier shown above is a good example. Prudent officers know that they can be part of a mitigation plan, but they are not allowed to plan for mitigation. They have built a few with short-term repair money, but they cannot access long-term capital funding to develop this kind of resilience.

Lagniappe

As I have written in several posts -- including Climate Foxholes and Covering the Climate Bet -- professionals with long-term responsibilities in such areas as infrastructure, agriculture, and insurance cannot afford climate denial. As we have known since the very first academic paper on climate change, the fluidity of the atmosphere and oceans means that the consequences of climate change are quite variable across time and by location. And as Dr. Mary Robinson continues to teach us, the consequences vary considerably along socioeconomic lines.

Fortunately, many municipal governments in the United States are responding to the complex interactions among climate change and human systems by creating resilience offices. Even more fortunate, geographers already have the skills of integrative systems thinking that is necessary to do resilience-related work. My own department -- BSU Geography -- has recently submitted for approval a new degree program, Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sustainability and Climate Resilience. Once approved, several of my courses will be part of it. Many of our alumni already have similar qualifications.

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