The climate is becoming more unpredictable and fierce with each passing year.
Extreme weather and natural disasters like bushfires, storms, floods and cyclones can have a devastating impact on communities, businesses, homes, and public infrastructure. How can plants and living infrastructure play a role in mitigating this change and help to create more climate resilient cities.
According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology June 2016 was the second-wettest month on record. Wild storms lashed the east coast, triggering flooding across Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania, and causing widespread damage and destruction.
June was a bad month, both here in Australia and overseas. Around the same time, America’s south-west was ablaze with wildfires spurred by continuous high temperatures, drought and winds in the region. Taiwan and China were hit by a typhoon, while Europe surveyed the damage after major flooding in France, Germany and Austria.
There is much research to support the claim that natural disasters pose one of the biggest threats to our cities (and regional communities) on a national and international scale.
According to a Deloitte Access Economics report the true cost of natural disasters including; a weakened economy; financial losses; business interruptions; transport delays; stress and anxiety are substantially higher than direct repairs and replacement costs.
This report, commissioned by the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities earlier this year, notes that between 2002-03 and 2010-11 ‘more than $450 million was spent each year by Australian governments to restore critical infrastructure after extreme weather events.’ That’s a $3.6 billion expenditure in eight years. No small sum.
Where does this money come from? Well after the 2011 Queensland floods, the Australian Government introduced a temporary flood and cyclone reconstruction levy during the 2011-12 financial year estimating the levy would raise around $1.8 billion.
With total expected costs for the Government to be around $5.6 billion, the levy represented only ‘one third of the total rebuilding costs’. A further $2.8 billion was reprioritised through spending cuts to green programs (like the Cleaner Car Rebate), as well as $1 billion in infrastructure reprioritisation in order to fund the rebuild.’ (Deloitte Access Economics 2013).
Wouldn’t it make more sense to change the way we design, build and manage our infrastructure (and budget) so we can better cope with today’s climate hazards and plan for tomorrow’s? It’s time to review our mitigation strategies and build pre-disaster resilience into business as usual.
What does resilience look like? Researchers describe ecological resilience as the ‘the amount of disturbance an ecosystem can withstand without changing self-organised processes and structures.’ (Haigh, R. & Amaratunga, D. 2010 ‘An integrative review of the built environment discipline’s role in the development of society’s resilience to disasters’. International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, 1 (1), pp.11-24).
While the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience & Safer Communities describes resilience as being ‘prepared but also dynamic, flexible and quick to respond.’ (Deloitte Access Economics. (2013.) Building our nation’s resilience to natural disasters. Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience & Safer Communities, p.13).
So rather than manufacturing a ‘replacement method’ of resilience where damaged parts are substituted for new, wouldn’t it be better if critical infrastructure and buildings were designed to withstand more in the first place? What if this resilient design could absorb some of the impact of natural disasters and offset it – lessening the destruction caused and making ‘bouncing back’ easier to do?
When it comes to storms, flood and severe heat waves, living infrastructure is a sustainable way to build pre-disaster resilience into business as usual.