What lessons can we learn from disaster?
On March 11, 2011 northeast Japan was struck successively by a series of large earthquakes, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster. Each event brought unimaginable damage to the Tohoku region and the effects continue to be felt throughout the country even months later.
Although the cause is quite different the effect of these disasters shares many of the features that we expect of extreme climatic events that could arise as a result of climate change. In the first weeks after the disaster the fragility of modern society was made abundantly clear as areas far from the center of the disaster were faced with power rationing, gasoline shortages and even failures in the infrastructure. The disaster did not only devastate the Tohoku region but had a sharp impact on the areas that relied on Tohoku for the food, goods, and services that made daily life possible.
The forecast for our planet as we enter the era of climate change is for an increase in large disastrous events. In light of our recent experience it seems at least prudent to take the problems we now face as a warning call and work to build a more resilient society.
The scale and intensity of the disaster in Japan has been so large that reconstruction has taken on unprecedented complexity, quickly overwhelming the capacity of conventional planning, which tends to assume a much smaller area of influence. It seems therefore that while a local, low-carbon society might reduce the impact of this kind of event, it may also be necessary for the global community to consider development of policies dedicated to the creation of societies, even of nations, that are more resilient to the adverse effects of climate change.
Disaster is not new to the human experience. Communities and cultures around the world are continuously shaped by floods, storms and drought. In that sense there is already a body of knowledge, gathered through hard experience, that suggests ways to adapt to extreme events. At the same time Japan is currently learning new lessons as the nation adapts to emerging conditions brought on by the disasters and by radical changes in the environment. If we are able to negotiate these changes successfully we may be in a position to add to a knowledge base that will become more and more essential as the world works to become resilient in the face of climate change.With that thought in mind the symposium was designed to include a 24 Workshop, round-table discussions, paper presentations, and poster sessions, all of which were aimed at addressing the themes connected to disaster response and resiliency (construction, gaps between needs and ability), fieldwork and theory (challenges of working on the ground), adaptation and mitigation, the role of community and civil society, and infrastructure and resilience (energy, transportation, etc).
Taken together these themes begin to fill out some of the ideas listed in the diagram above, which attempts to show the linkages between disaster response and the creation of a resilient society and ultimately of sustainable development. We hope that further discussion and research inspired by the event will help to expand and fill in the diagram more concretely.
Climate change, Mitigation, Adaptation, Disaster risk management, Sustainable development, Renewable energy, Planning and architecture for post-disaster reconstruction, Social innovation, Social Entrepreneurship, Project-based learning, Higher education