Wednesday, May 11, 2011

And What Do You Do Again?

Many of you ask (or presumably are wondering), what on earth does this guy, Paul, actually do for work.

I mean, you know he travels a lot, he has meetings, and big swats of emails arrive at his desk and blackberry every day. But exactly what does he do?

A short news article from last week or so relates to Paul’s current work, and I’ll share that below. But in reflecting on his (so far) relatively short (but distinguished) career, I realize that Paul in just a few years has really moved along the entire spectrum of ways to deal with climate change.

I’ll explain.

First, he studied (in between an active student life) air quality. Measuring air quality and predicting pollution levels and impacts was his first link to the issue of climate change.

After that, for a couple years, he worked on urban planning and transport—with the idea that if you can improve city planning, get people to walk or bike more or take a bus, and use cleaner and more fuel-efficient trucks, cars and buses, you can avoid a lot of air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, the latter of which are a huge factor in climate change.

And now, more recently, Paul has moved on to what seems to be more the final stage (not of his career, but of dealing with climate change), which is to simply deal with the fact that climate change--and other disasters--are simply here. The consequences of our self-induced climate variability are already sweeping across the world in the form of more floods, more hurricanes, and more droughts and other weather related disasters than we have ever seen in history. To now try to limit the impact of these and other disasters, Paul, as they say, is into “disaster management.”

So his work is not all climate-related anymore, but the new common thread is trying to lower the impact of disasters (because come they will) by doing things like not building in flood-prone areas, building schools and hospital strong enough to withstand earthquakes, and helping cities and villages to have plans and systems and skilled people in place to respond quickly to a disaster and minimize the damage.

An area that Paul often travels to is Sichuan province and Gansu province in the heart of China, an area still recovering from a devastating earthquake in May 2008. (The picture above is from a recent visit to this area.) Other projects involve rehabilitating a river doing some other flood and wastewater treatment related projects in other parts of China.

Here is the news paper article:

Rising Sea Levels Trigger Disasters in China
The Xinhua state news agency reported on April 20 that rising sea levels caused by global warming over the past three decades have contributed to a growing number of disasters along China's coast. According to the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), sea levels have been rising on average 2.6 millimeters per year for the past 30 years, with coastal air temperatures rising 0.4 degrees Celsius, and sea temperatures rising 0.2 degrees Celsius. The SOA stated that the rising sea levels could lead to aggravated storm tides, coastal erosion, seawater invasion, and other disasters. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that China could be one of the biggest casualties of global warming in coming decades, with northern regions facing water shortages, decreased crop yields, and increasing sandstorms, whereas melting glaciers could increase flood risks in the south. The Chinese government plans to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels per unit of gross domestic product 17 percent in the next five years.

It’s not a pretty picture is it? To be in China at this time is both encouraging and depressing. It is clear to see that China is making efforts to lower emissions, but at the same time, the gap between the current situation and a sustainable lifestyle is so large, it is hard to image we can bridge it in a lifetime.

So while everyone (presumably) tries to lower emissions, some--like Paul--now focus on just preventing the worst disasters, trying to be ready with good systems, qualified people, and well-built homes, for the next time climate change induced disasters strike. When they does, you will see it on the news.

In het Nederlands: Paul’s werk heeft tegenwoordig te maken met de wederopbouw van een gebied in de Sichuan en Gansu provincies in het midden van China. Dit gebied is in mei 2008 door een zware aardbeving getroffen. Werkte hij vroeger veel aan klimaatverandering en het proberen te verlagen van de koolstofdioxide uitstoot in steden, tegenwoordig heeft zijn werk meer te maken met de wederopbouw na rampen (maar dan op zo'n manier, dat je toekomstige rampen vermijdt). Paul is niet de man die meteen na een aardbeving de eerste hulp verleendt, maar hij werkt juist met gemeentes en provincies om te zorgen dat ze goed voorbereid zijn op het feit dat er een aardbeving of andere ramp kan komen. Die rampen komen wel, maar je kan de ernst van zo’n gebeurtenis beperken door bijvoorbeeld ziekenhuizen en scholen zo te bouwen dat ze een aardbeving beter kunnen weerstaan, door te zorgen dat mensen niet bouwen in gebieden die snel onder water kunnen komen te staan, of door te zorgen dat je goed getrained personeel hebt dat bij een ramp snel hulp kan verlenen.

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