It’s too late to hope for sustainability

In the face of global climate change, communities should stop thinking in terms of sustainability or the status quo, says a University of Alberta professor.

In the face of global climate change, communities should stop thinking in terms of sustainability or the status quo, says a University of Alberta professor.

“You need to start thinking in terms of resilience,” said Debra Davidson, an associate professor in the Edmonton university’s Department of Renewable Resources. Sustainability — which has become a buzzword in most municipal planning — suggests achieving some sort of stable state that can be maintained.

Those days are gone, Davidson suggested at the Local Government Administration Association’s Annual Conference in Red Deer earlier this week.

“What climate change is really telling us is there is no normal anymore — there is no going back.”

In that environment, it makes sense to embrace change and make sure communities have the infrastructure and organization in place to adapt to new challenges.

Davidson counts herself among those who have given up on the United Nations’ ability to effectively respond to climate change. Local government has a better chance of responding more progressively.

For Alberta, climate change is most likely to lead to longer, although not necessarily hotter, summers, warmer winters, and extreme weather patterns, which could spawn more droughts, floods or blizzards. Water cycles could be affected by earlier spring runoffs and smaller snow melts.

“We’re more than likely to experience once-in-a-lifetime storms more than once in a lifetime.”

Local governments can take action, first, by undertaking a vulnerability assessment to see where they are most vulnerable.

Davidson recommends communities create buffers to cope with shortages of water, food, energy and other necessities. Being prepared could also mean ensuring drainage systems are able to cope with higher-than-normal runoff or other environmental changes.

And while economists have been calling for improved efficiency for decades, communities must look at increasing redundancy so they are not reliant on one critical piece of infrastructure.

“If all your water is in a single place and that reservoir gets compromised you’re in trouble.”

While climate change remains sobering, Davidson offers some hope.

Humans are contradictory in that they typically loathe change, but are at the same time, amazingly able to adapt.

“Generally, when change happens we have the capability and the capacity to adjust.”

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