BEYOND PEAK INDIFFERENCE #3 – Water is the currency of climate change. Increasing global temperatures heavily affect the global water circulation cycles. More heat means more evaporation, leading to more draught in one place and more extreme weather events in another. More heat leads to more ice melting more quickly causing river floods and rising sea levels. An estimated additional 360 million people will be affected before the end of this century – 5% of the current world population. Many of them are living in countries with a small carbon footprint. They have to pay the prize for our unsustainable lifestyle. John Kerry, the new special envoy for climate change of the Biden administration has made it clear in a recent speech at the climate adaptation summit made it clear: those who contribute most to climate change need to do the most, and they must help those who are the victims – not the cause.
The question is how to do that. We are still creating simple technical solutions to a particular problem. Flooding? Dykes! Stormwater? Drainage canals! River floods? Dams! Drinking water shortage? Desalination plants or extracting ground water! Polluted water? Sewage treatment plants! While these solutions provide an answer to an individual problem, they often cause a wave of new ones. The reasons for that are systemic: Too often those who make project decisions do not know and therefore cannot judge the complexity of the problem. Too often the education focusses on the modernist approach so that engineers tend to think along these lines. Too often those who have to finance these projects, the global financial institutions and development banks and the commercial banks do not like complex approaches because it makes risk assessments and project definition infinitely more challenging. We not be able to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees if we keep following this simplistic and stupid paradigm. Our answers have to live up to the complexity of our natural cycles. Accordingly we need to formulate complex solutions.
But who is we? We, the designers of the very human living environments that today are the main cause of the problem. Henk Ovink , the special envoy for international water affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands calls is “filling the project pipeline”. To him we cannot excuse ourselves by not being able to change the systems so far. We have not worked it hard enough and out projects and the associated processes are not convincing enough that they prevail. Maybe we can learn from the current epidemic where mutations of the COVID-19 virus seem to get the upper hand because they better are more successful in spreading. The higher the spread of the viruses, the higher the chance of successful mutations.
Henk himself follows this approach in his work for Rebuild by Design, as well as the Water as Leverage program of the Dutch Business Support Office as do many designers, NGOs and activists with their own projects.
If we keep ‘filling the pipeline’ we stand a good chance to achieve what we need to: a systemic change that embraces complex solutions to the complex problem of climate change. Sounds simple, is complicated but do we have another chance?
by Markus Appenzeller