CEE 1.103 - Introduction To Futility In Climate Adaptation Engineering
Of course, the MIT Course Catalog listing above doesn't really exist ⸺ but it should.
I'll explain why below...
Hurricane Harvey 2.0 might be coming to Texas a little sooner than expected.
Even if we are lucky and Irma spares the suffering people of Southeastern Texas and Louisianna, it presence still illustrates a bigger problem. There is no infrastructure you can build to deal with completely overwhelming the infrastructure.
Here in South Florida, we pretty well know hurricanes ⸺ even really big ones. So when Florida panics about an incoming storm, you really have a problem. Why the panic? Because this is a whole new scenario in climate change-induced weather systems for emergency workers...
"It's really the nightmare scenario.... As Hurricane Irma moves toward the US, [Florida] emergency teams are still setting up in Texas. The last thing they want is to be caught between two storms.
In Texas, come hell or high water is no longer a choice... it's both at once."
This is the reality of the futility of "climate adaptation" strategies. Because the environment has been neglected to the extreme point that we now find it in, adaptation in place of mitigation isn't going to help. You might locally prevent some additional climate-related misery with adaptation efforts, but that won't help you when the entire surrounding region is in termoil; especially as disaster response crews are caught between going to multiple regions, or getting hit in place with a second equally-devastating storm punch.
There is more to "adaptation" then repelling the initial storm surge or area flooding. We are a society. YOUR PROBLEMS IN TEXAS ARE ALSO OUR PROBLEMS IN FLORIDA. We are all in this together. We are coming to help you, but we don't want to send all we can if we are about to get hit as well. That scenario is the overwhelming of the infrastructure. In this new climate change era, that's the reality caused by our previously short-sighted emissions-ignoring behaviors.
"And though it's still too early to tell if Hurricane Irma will impact Florida, emergency managers are confronting the calculus of a "two disaster" response."
"As we look at the requests that come in through the state we also have to look at what we need to keep back just to be prepared if we have to respond to say a hurricane Irma, says Preston Cook Director of the Hillsborough County [Florida] EOC."
In an earlier post on this topic ⸺ The Real "National Security" Threat to America: Rain in Houston ⸺ I discussed the deeper problem of Houston's toxic waste dumps and huge petrochemical infrastructure meeting 25 Trillion tons of excess water. Here is what happened in Harris County, Texas (Houston area) earlier today:
"A series of small explosions shook a chemical plant northeast of Houston on Thursday and more blasts were expected, after floodwaters shut down the cooling systems that kept the chemicals stable. It was one of a host of new dangers emerging in the aftermath of Harvey, once a Category 4 hurricane, as floodwaters receded in many Houston neighborhoods and the storm moved through northeastern Louisiana and into Mississippi.
In a region dotted with chemical factories, oil refineries, natural gas plants, and other potential sources of combustion and toxins, the explosions at the Arkema plant near Crosby, Tex., underscore the worries that many people have about the lingering dangers that damage from the storm... poses to the region’s infrastructure, economy and health."
Here is more on that situation at the Arkema plant from the earlier New York Times story, Harvey Live Updates: Blasts at Plant in Crosby, Texas, Underscore Worries About Storm Damage...
"The plant produces chemicals called organic peroxides, and Rich Rennard, an Arkema executive, said that smoke from the blasts was “noxious,” an irritant to the lungs, eyes and possibly skin, but he would not say whether it could be called toxic. A total of eight containers at the plant lost refrigeration and can be expected to detonate as the chemicals in them decompose, officials said, but they could not predict how soon others would explode....
What went wrong at the chemical plant?
The plant’s owner, Arkema, said the site had been without power since Sunday and the water was six feet deep in some areas. But the organic peroxides stored there need to be refrigerated or they become unstable. With a storage warehouse warming up, the crew transferred the chemicals to diesel-powered refrigerated trailers.
Then the backup generators designed to keep refrigeration units operating were flooded as well. The units apparently warmed to the point where the chemicals exploded overnight.
"The owner [of the chemical plant] had warned, this was inevitable....
Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by Harvey; some have paid with their lives."
Now, consider the non-exploding-chemical-plant problems in the area...
"Beaumont is running out of water, and a hospital is evacuating.
With a record-breaking flood sweeping through Beaumont, taps there ran dry Thursday morning, and officials there said they could not predict when homes and businesses in the city of almost 120,000 residents would have running water again.
The city manager, Kyle Hayes, said at a midday news conference that he would not be able to assess flood damage to the city’s water pumps, or give a timeline for fixing them, until water began to recede, which he said would happen no earlier than Saturday. He added that the city was working on setting up bottled water distribution centers.
Lack of drinking water poses a survival risk for people trapped in the city, and Mr. Long, in his morning update, said that it was of particular concern to FEMA, which would look to distribute water. But Harvey dropped 47 inches of rain in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area, and most roads into the cities remain impassable, making relief shipments of bottled water difficult.
Executives at Baptist Beaumont Hospital decided to evacuate because of the water shutdown. The hospital began to transport most of its 193 patients by ambulance and helicopter to hospitals outside the city, and to discharge those who could safely go home, said Mary Poole, a hospital spokeswoman."
Now, consider the rest of the "nightmare scenario" if Irma hits the Southeast Texas region again as a powerful hurricane.
This would be the point in the imaginary course syllabus where ethics are discussed.
City planning and infrastructure are already supposed to be cognizant of weather-related challenges. This fact is reflected in the more intelligent and comprehensive building codes found in certain areas in this country. This is not climate adaptation, this is common sense.
The notion of adaptation carries with it another message; an unethical, selfish message. That message is "we are preparing for climate disaster locally." That's fine, but when your preparations prove ineffective, who do you think will be coming to your aid? It will be your neighbor (either just around the corner or several states away), and they might not be the one who spent their money trying to only protect themselves from the misery you are now suffering.
As written by (earlier cited) environmental author David Roberts...
"Adaptation is... action taken to protect oneself, one’s own city, tribe, or nation, from the effects of unchecked climate change. An adaptation dollar does not benefit all of humanity like a mitigation dollar does. It benefits only those proximate to the spender...."
That selfish mindset doesn't work in a society that sends interstate help to you when the floodwaters cause your chemical plants to explode and your hospitals to close.
Last on the imaginary syllabus is the class project...
- CLASS PROJECT: Small groups of five students each are to identify a civil engineering project that is critical to energy, transportation or infrastructure that is purposefully designed for eventual failure, planned obsolescence or represents abnormally high risk to people or the environment. Once identified, the group is to draft appropriate legislation, building code or engineering standards to address the conduct and prevent such conduct in the future.
Behold... "climate adaptation" is actually taught in the end.