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Risk Management

Risk Management


It’s comforting to know that very intelligent, very well-trained professionals around the world are thinking about ways to meet existing and anticipated climate change. Disaster risk management has been part of civilization’s toolbox for many years, but now the rules have changed. Natural disaster risk management historically has assumed, quite reasonably, that future climate and disaster potentials will closely resemble those of the past; the rapid climate changes we are experiencing present new and larger uncertainties.

Hundreds of natural scientists, economists, sociologists and other professionals, from scores of countries, contributed to the 2012 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report titled “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation,” abbreviated SREX. The long “SREX Report” has a 20-page “Summary for Policymakers,” but the quick route to its guts is the excellent five-minute video produced by the IPCC.

The “Adaptation” title reflects the SREX conclusion that the planet is experiencing, and will experience for decades, climate changes and new physical realities affecting most of us. Risk management for extreme weather events has three subsets. One is acting to get people out or harm’s way, such as by not occupying low-lying areas that rising seas and stronger storms will likely flood. This avoidance strategy requires both information about risks and ability to act on that information. My essay, “Go North, Young Man,” is one prescription for dodging effects of global warming.

A second risk management component is adapting the ways we live to climate change, such as by creating drought and heat resistant crops; modifying shelters, roads and other infrastructure to endure extremes; and consuming less. A third, resilience, is closely related, and fortunately human ability to adjust to unfamiliar environments is one of our species’ trademarks. Many of our ancestors survived long, dangerous ocean voyages, scarcities, contagious diseases and other tests, before they triumphed and reproduced. Today’s youth will need to be as tough.

The excellent work talented people are producing to guide decision makers in managing the risks of extreme events will come to nothing without implementation. Climate change denial is widespread in the United States and elsewhere, but that disease will abate as global average temperatures continue to climb and remain well above  20th century averages. Extreme droughts’ effects on food prices and supplies will continue to get immediate media and voter attention. Better public education on climate change, coupled with shocking weather events,  will lead to action  sooner then the climate change denial industry expects.

Image by Vincent de Groot – (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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