Monday, March 30, 2015

How are disaster resilience, climate change, and sustainability related?

Sustainability has many definitions and applications. A long view of the future is one important aspect of sustainability. The Brundtland definition of sustainable development supports this by stating, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The application of sustainable development pertains to three different spheres of life: economic, environmental, and social. These are sometimes called the three pillars of sustainability. To be sustainable, a project must respect the three pillars over a long time span.

Disaster resilience refers to the ability to suffer less damage and recover quickly from adverse events. Both man-made and natural disasters occur quickly and can have significant consequences on portions of the built environment. There are many definitions of resilience, but most of them identify two key aspects: robustness and rapidity. Robustness is the ability to limit damage. Ductility, redundancy and integrity are important characteristics that help limit damage in structures. Rapidity is the ability to restore service to pre-disaster conditions quickly after the disaster. Disaster resilience is necessary for sustainability. A facility with many features that would otherwise render it sustainable will be of no use if it is heavily damaged in a disaster. Reconstruction would incur significant financial, social, and environmental impacts. These impacts must be considered in sustainability assessments. A resilient design ensures the usefulness and longevity of other sustainability features.

Climate change refers to any significant difference in the measures of climate that lasts for a significant period of time. These changes include those related to an increase in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, which contribute to global warming. The scientific community is in near unanimous agreement that global warming is anthropogenic, i.e., caused by humans. Some segments of the population dispute the cause, but few dispute that climate change is occurring. Whatever the cause, weather-related disasters are expected to increase in severity and magnitude in many parts of the world. Weather events of increased severity underscore the need for a resilient built environment. In more hostile climates, resilience must be a more important component of sustainability. Moreover, construction and maintenance activities generate greenhouse gasses that can accelerate climate change. Meaningful reductions of such impacts can have positive effects in mitigating the severity of climate change.

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