Hurricane Harvey a Sober Reminder That Resilience Requires Mitigation and Adaptation

Wishing Houstonians continued strength, fortitude, and safe passage this week, Hazel Borys considers resilience.

2 minute read

August 30, 2017, 6:00 AM PDT

By Scott Doyon

Texas Flood

AMFPhotography / Shutterstock

"Most of us faraway bystanders are observing Houston’s response to Hurricane Harvey with concern at the devastation as well as encouragement at the stories of compassion. With sympathy to the current human suffering from Harvey, we are wishing Houstonians continued strength, fortitude, and safe passage this week. No amount of comprehensive planning or zoning reform can prepare a city for the sort of flood Houston is currently experiencing. An expected 50” of rain in a few days makes this an event that no place in the world is likely to sustain without massive personal and economic impacts. Perhaps not even the Netherlands, who has led the world in stormwater management for hundreds of years, with protection, prevention, and preparedness."

"This volume is more rainfall in 3 days than annual amounts in very wet regions. The rainiest cities in the U.S. – Mobile, Pensacola, and New Orleans – average 67”, 65” and 64” of rain per year. Portland and Seattle average 36” and 37”. 50” in a few days is highly unusual in hurricane history, and is perhaps a 1,000-year flood. That means that there is a 1 in 1,000 chance of it happening in any given year, and not that we should only expect an event of this magnitude every 1,000 years, an important but counterintuitive distinction. Regardless of what kind of planning Houston would’ve done, preparation for this intensity is a challenge."

"A good deal of brilliance has been shone on how climate change is – and is not – involved in progressively more extreme storm events, like this piece by David Roberts. Clearly, we must both adapt and mitigate climate effects as quickly as we can. It is becoming increasingly clear that adaptation and mitigation isn’t an either/or choice."

Borys shares short interviews with two planning gurus, Ben Brown and Scott Bernstein, and points to a number of resources that may help us with our global commons problem.

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