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With millions of people facing the effects of climate change around the world—such as drought and famine—professor Daniel Aldrich says social ties play a role in how societies respond to these threats.
In The Right Way to Build Resilience to Climate Change, published last month in Current History, Aldrich examines how social infrastructure can provide a framework for societies seeking to undertake radical transformation during the Anthropocene Era.
“Many of the standard (climate change response) plans focused on resilience engineering and physical infrastructure,” said Aldrich, director of the MS in Security and Resilience Studies Program. “For example, here in Boston, a lot of work has gone into thinking about the physical design for east Boston, the airport, and other areas likely to flood in future extreme weather events, and when climate change creates higher sea levels across the coast.”
However, Aldrich wanted to better explain to a broad audience—people interested in climate change who are not scientists or academics—how social ties can make a difference in the way societies respond to climate change. Using Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Houston, Texas, as case studies, he argues that many researchers still think about development and planning purely in terms of growth.
“That kind of narrow thinking makes us vulnerable and creates cities that are not ready for flooding and other challenges,” he said.
The Netherlands, he says, has used physical infrastructure to manage flooding, creating new norms and social cohesion around the role of water in their society. “A number of areas in Dutch cities become ponds and play pools for kids and residents so that they don’t see water merely as a threat,” Aldrich said. “Rooftop areas are not only green, but blue. They become pools and recreation spots.”
Similarly, the Netherlands recognizes the need for managed retreat, willingly giving up areas to water while maintaining the most critical infrastructure. According to Aldrich, Rotterdam has moved well beyond Houston, which has focused only upon growth for the past decades, and not resilience.
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