Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Extreme events and engineers

For the past two thousand years or so, we engineers have been coping with what Nature chooses to throw at us - storms, lightning, floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes, landslides - you name it, we've done it. In all due modesty, I have to say we've done pretty well - our bridges rarely fall down, our buildings stand up, and mankind stays warm and dry and safe and generally well fed.

So when the IPCC wrote about natural disasters (Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation ISBN 978-1-107-60780-4) I expected to see the engineers up there with the best.

Were they, hell? No way. The lead authors include Chris Field, Director, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution of Washington; Vicente Barros, who was Professor of Climatology and Director of the Master Program of Environmental Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires; Thomas Stocker, Professor of Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern; and Dr. Qin Dahe a glaciologist and climatologist, former Administrator of the China Meteorological Administration. Nary an engineer in sight.

Who on earth are this bunch, that they can tell us how to cope with extreme risks? I suppose it is the same bunch that has been telling us that 30cm a century rise in sea levels is a disaster. It would be if we hadn't built 5m high defenses against the sea nearly everywhere that counts. If they could get a single prediction right, I might be a little happier, but their record of success is around 0%; our defenses average about 99%.

So reject the IPCC on this score out of hand - they really know absolutely nothing about defending us against extreme events.

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