Imagine a Hollywood movie focused on technologies of the future and how they are going to change society. Three parallel stories, set in densely populated urban areas–New York, Sao Paulo, and Bangkok–would flick through a series of ever-smarter, ever-more-efficient technologies that shape how people live. Society would be buzzing with free floating information and ongoing innovation.
Until, someone turns on a faucet for a glass of water and nothing comes out–which then happens throughout the city. And another person leaves their apartment to encounter a smoke and haze-clouded street, where breathing is a challenge–for weeks or months on end. Or flooding has begun to occur regularly, at an unprecedented scale that shuts down the city.
The kicker–the problem encountered early on in the movie, which will need to be resolved prior to the end–is that a growing number of urban residents slowly become aware that the solutions to the issues are available, but just not being deployed. Therefore, the problems grow–resulting in increasingly unlivable cities.
What do you think the journey of the main characters in this movie will be? And how do you think that this film will end? Likely, citizen unrest; potentially, mobilization of students and citizen activists, and probably, significant change.
Sadly, this idea is not actually a Hollywood concept. It is actually happening around the world.
Urbanization. Advancing technologies. Glee and joy–with all that we can now do and accomplish. Interrupted by periodic unpleasant situations and (more recently) bizarre, seemingly hard to explain natural disaster-related situations.
Major metropolitan centers now do have faucets that no longer reliably convey water (Sao Paulo, Brazil). Cities do have smoke-filled air from smoldering forest and peat-land fires, which is shutting down schools and almost all activity (Indonesia and Singapore). Major infrastructure is being shut down due to unusual landslides, sparked by heavy rainfall on denuded hill sides (Highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles). Flooding has occurred in urban areas in unprecedented ways, which is being linked to unravelling ecosystems that used to provide buffers from impacts or building in ecosystems that will continue to operate in the ways intended, such as floodplains (New Orleans, Bangkok, and Chennai).
These events literally situate people in their landscapes. And they remind us that economic, social and cultural systems are built within ecological, hydrological, and atmospheric systems. Climate change is more often pointed to now, as a root cause and driver; which is both true and more complex, since climate change is often but one of several dynamics at play.
What is often missed within the discussion is how to respond.
A key pathway forward is transitioning to a low carbon economy, with the private sector committing to a set of transformative actions, ideally within a supportive public policy context. Concurrently, investments–across public and private sectors alike–need to be made to lessen negative impacts of climate change, and other dynamics at play, with approaches that have been shown to work.
In addition, investments in green infrastructure and restoring natural ecological systems are essential. Simply put, planting trees in areas that have been deforested. Planting native grasses and爱上海