Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Reactive adaptation to avoid an unacceptable situation of escalating risk.

Sally Brown provides a nice overview of the various complexities of sea-level rise (What drives uncertainties in adapting to sea-level rise?). Its a worthwhile read just to get an introduction to what has to be accounted for in trying to project sea-level rise - much more than simply projecting melting ice and thermal expansion of water.

A fair bit of the article discusses uncertainty and how it may be dealt with in regards to sea-level rise. The whole issue of uncertainty has been manipulated mightily in the course of where climate science meets policy. Brown expresses frustration with how climate science loves to talk about uncertainty.

Late in the article Brown suggests a concept regarding sea-level rise: "reactive adaptation to avoid an unacceptable situation of escalating risk". The concept could just as well be applied to geologic hazards and risk and to some extent is being used already.

The quoted phrase could be modified for some geologic hazards and risks. In some cases, the hazard may not have been previously understood. For example, the potential for a large Cascadia earthquake was not known until the 1980s. Prior to the mid 1980s the potential for a large subduction quake was suspected based on what was know about plate tectonics, but there was a lack of evidence supporting big quakes. Since the 1980s, our understanding of the hazard and the risk posed has greatly improved.

The same could be said for the Seattle Fault. Also for the hazards posed by the various volcanoes.

Since there is now a better understanding of these hazards there is a better understanding of the risks. The risk posed by the Cascadia Fault has not changed, but our understanding of that risk has. The risk escalation is simply that we now understand the risk far better than we once did. Indeed there has been some "reactive adaptation" to avoid or reduce some of the unacceptable situations from what was previously an unidentified risk.

There will always be a some uncertainties regarding geologic risk. There is still much to be worked out regarding the Cascadia Fault and Seattle Fault as well as a number of other fault zones in Washington State. The same is true with our large strato volcanoes. But despite that uncertainty, reactive adaptation has moved forward.

I have touched on this theme previously (geologic-consent-and-civilization). How we react and adapt to geologic hazards as well as alteration of the atmosphere is measure of our civilization's capability of dealing with unacceptable risk.


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