Climate Change + Population Growth + Economic Expansion = More Severe Flooding
By Giulio Boccaletti
Defending homes and businesses from flooding is an expensive business. After catastrophic inundations in the north of England, the British Government has increased spending on flood defenses by $1 billion. South Carolina, hit by October floods that left 40,000 people without clean drinking water, will spend $190 million to cover the damage the disaster caused. These sums would be dwarfed by requirements in Asia. In South Asia alone 200 million people are exposed to flood hazards, with Pakistan losing 4.75 percent of its GDP every year to flooding.
Dozens Dead In Pakistan Floods After Heavy Rain - PAKISTAN-WEATHER-FLOOD https://t.co/H9hrwGZATB— News@Web (@News@Web)1459781218.0
Already the most destructive and deadly of all natural disasters, science tells us that flooding events will increase in frequency and intensity with climate change. Meanwhile population pressures will continue to see more and more building in low-lying coastal areas and flood plains. Investment in adequate defenses will need to grow massively to protect against this advancing threat.
The engineering challenge comes when excess water, usually from too much rainfall or melting snow, flows where and when people do not want it. “Grey infrastructure"—walls, barriers, dams, dikes, levees, tunnels and drains—is the traditional solution but cannot offer sufficient protection. If you bottle up the power of a river and the levees burst, there is often far greater devastation than if the river followed its natural course. We have seen this many times, going back at least to the great Mississippi floods in 1927.
On April 15 that year, heavy rains swelled the river to a massive size and the levees started to break. Over the next few weeks the entire levee system gave way, inundating more than 23,000 square miles of land and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. About 250 people died. After much soul-searching, a new era of adaptive management shifted focus from levees to include floodways and tributary management. This allowed strategic floodplain areas to fulfill their original purpose of absorbing excess water. In 2011 and then again last month when floods levels in certain reaches of the Mississippi surpassed 1927 records, hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. But the adaptive management held, saving cities downstream from far worse.
Despite this success, natural flood defenses remain poorly understood and rarely deployed around the world even though they are often cheaper than concrete. But change is afoot. Holland, a country whose existence depends on flood prevention, has decided that natural defenses can be cheaper and more effective than grey infrastructure. The Dutch are now investing in setting aside polders to give rivers room to flood.
In the city of Pickering in northern England, research by universities and others prompted community investment in hillside reforestation to slow hillside run-off as well as natural catchments to hold back water. This winter these efforts succeeded in preventing the city from being flooded, while others in the area were inundated. Parliamentary hearings and hints from the Environment Agency indicate that natural flood defenses are gaining in currency. There is still no systematic approach in the UK to their deployment, however.
Natural flood defense measures are a huge missed opportunity, in developed countries and developing. Innovative approaches to funding can align economic interests such as agriculture or property development with flood prevention measures. This is all consistent with integrating Disaster Risk Reduction into development policy and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), now known as Agenda 30.
Better use of green spaces in cities is an exciting innovation. Washington, DC has a massive problem with rain runoff which overloads its sewers and dumps up to 3.2 million gallons of contaminated water into its rivers every year. Complementing a new $2.6bn tunnel system, a market in tradable “retention credits" has been set up to encourage property owners and developers to make green surfaces more permeable so that excess water sinks into the ground and never reaches the river. This model could easily be replicated as a flood prevention measure in affected cities.
Climate change, population growth and economic expansion are all incentives to move faster towards blending gray infrastructure with natural solutions and green finance. Overcoming vested interests such as construction companies and local politicians, for whom grey infrastructure is still the reflex response, can be challenging. But in doing so, we could save thousands of lives, spare millions from the scars of destruction and boost economies around the world increasingly prone to the vagaries of climate change.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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