Eyjafjallajoekull and all that
There are two types of natural disaster – the ones that we can cause like landslides from deforestation, sea level rises from climate change, or deadly smogs from air pollution, and the big geological disasters like volcanos and earthquakes that we have no control over. The former we have to mitigate their likelihood and adapt to their impacts, the latter we can only adapt to.
The newspapers here in the UK are dominated by the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajoekull volcano and its plume of ash which has grounded flights across northern Europe – much more coverage than the devastating earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and China, it should be noted. A detail that has passed many by is that while we do have a network of nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres around the world, we seem completely unprepared for how to deal with closed skies. Fruit and veg is rotting in airports rather than being freighted to Europe, manufacturers with Just In Time supply chains are tearing their hair out, and about a million Brits are stranded abroad.
Nature is famously resilient to short term shocks. Trees will survive explosions which demolish houses, by bending instead of resisting. We have the technology to build earthquake proof houses, yet continue to build rigid homes on earthquake zones around the world (often demolishing more resilient traditional constructions in the the name of progress). The only resilience we have seen in the face of the volcano has been a surge in video conferencing.
There is a story (possibly apocryphal) that the internet was designed to be resilient to nuclear strikes in the US, by automatically routing data through surviving paths. I think we need to design all our systems along similar lines rather than relying on a single route or a single style of housing working everywhere. And we need to get our adaptation to climate change started very soon.
Resilience. It’s the future.