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What do the words Disaster, Adaptation and Resilience mean to you?

What do the words Disaster, Adaptation and Resilience mean to you? Do they mean that the government has given up on reducing our carbon emissions and are now taking the approach that the world’s carbon emissions will rise no matter what we do to limit it, and that we shall have to be resilient and adapt to whatever comes our way?

To find the answer to this question – and more – I spoke to Amanda Leck*, the Executive Director of The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience (AIDR).

I pondered this question in the headline as I sat watching the endless ebb and flow of humanity on Flinders Street station as I waited for my train back to Traralgon.

My mind ran pictures of my grandchildren, particularly the youngest (aged 10) as I contemplated with awful dread the environment she will need to contend with when she is my age and earlier.

Along the way many young people boarded the train with their typical youthful appetite for schools’ end and I wondered how many might have had any insight into what they might confront in middle-age and beyond.

I drew consolation from my meeting with Amanda that there were good people and organisations such as The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience trying to make a difference in a political quagmire of unbelief and senselessness.

Sorry. I digress.

The purpose of my meeting was twofold. The first was to seek some explanation for matters concerning her organisation I had raised in an article for The AIMN titled “Asking Peter Dutton.”

The second was to find out more about adaptation and resilience.

It had begun with this message from a Facebook friend, which then led into many other questions.

“Hi John, Part of the bloated Dutton budget is spent on this group [AIDR]. Young Peter has been strangely silent of late so may be an appropriate time to highlight his expertise.”

Hence, my first question to Amanda was this:

Why is it the government never mentions the AIDR and your work in this area?

“I don’t know but I wish they would,” she replied.

I thought it rather obvious given all the adaptation and resilience talk the Prime Minister was throwing about.

I followed up with; Why was funding in the 2017 budget axed for The National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility?

When it existed it worked to support decision makers throughout Australia as they prepared for the management of risks from climate change and sea-level rise.

The answer was that; “funds were likely withdrawn from 2013 onwards after Tony Abbott came to power and funding ended in 2017.”

“That would be right,” I thought to myself.

Their web page is still in existence.

My next question related to funding for AIDR: Why are you funded by the Attorney Generals department yet you come under the department of Home Affairs? Isn’t that a bit strange?

Her answer was along these lines:

“There isn’t anything sinister in this. It was just the complexity of the workings of government. How budgets start and end with overruns and unused funds becoming available. Our funding has recently been doubled.”

Are restrictions placed on you by the government in speaking out about the causes of Climate Change?

“No not at all, although I prefer to steer clear of the topic and concentrate on adaptation and resistance.” This led into another question on the same topic:

It maybe my imagination but I’m fascinated as to how the two words adaptation and resilience have become buzz words.

“I think that would be pure coincidence but I wish they would use them more often came the answer.”

Is there any connection between Twiggy Forrest forming a volunteer group and AIDR doing the same thing in WA?

“No, there is no connection except for one with his Minderoo Foundation and CSIRO’s Data61, the data science arm of Australia’s national science agency.”

Tell me about ADRC Australian Disaster Residence Conference.

“It had become an annual conference where a number of agencies come together to discuss the changing climate, and how reducing risk contributes to the resilience of our nation.”

But how do you adapt to an ever-worsening climate while we are simultaneously pursuing policies that are accelerating warming?

“That’s one for the politicians, John. I’m sorry about that. I do have a view but it would be off the record. I did, however, detect from the Prime Minister’s interview with David Speers a change in policy direction.”

But if we are trying to limit the increase in emissions to 1 1/2 % and Indications are that the frequency of major weather events links them to climate change. What if we reach 3%?

No definitive answer emerged from this question other than a discussion that I will touch on later.

My final question was:

What affect would a Royal Commission into the fires or drought or Climate Change have on your organisation?

Administratively, you mean?


“Well depending on the terms of reference I imagine we might be called but to what degree I couldn’t be sure.”

I found after listening to Amanda’s answers to my questions and our general conversation that the matters I raised in my original piece were unquestionably without foundation.

As is often the case, there isn’t always controversy at the end of every story.

With any chance of some Facebook conspiracy theory laid to rest I found that I wanted to do what I could to publicise the work of the AIDR, which has a foundation in community involvement.

As I said earlier, what I had intended as a formal interview became more of discussion about adaptation and resilience.

On a meagre budget the amount of work the AIDR do is formidable, from education in schools, research, supporting emergency service agencies, non-government organisations, universities and researchers, production of handbooks and educating volunteers.

Climate Change is real and even at the lowest levels of increased emissions our resilience and how we adapt to it will form a vital, if not essential, part of change.

These two words, adaptation and resilience that seem to have suddenly entered the vocabulary of every conservative politician, invite further exploration by everyone.

On its website the AIDR has a comprehensive Knowledge Hub together with education for kids with a volunteer leadership program. It also has a number of booklets on various subjects for sale.

An example of AIDR’s effectiveness is shown by the fact that 11 years ago 173 people lost their lives in the Black Saturday fires. Since then, science and research has informed our knowledge to create more prepared and resilient communities for the future.

It is notable that in our current season that with significant developments in warnings and a more aware and responsive community appear to be important factors.

Build Back Better” is the current catchphrase:

“The use of the recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction phases after a disaster to increase the resilience of nations and communities through integrating disaster risk reduction measures into the restoration of physical infrastructure and societal systems, and into the revitalization of livelihoods, economies and the environment.

The term “societal” will not be interpreted as a political system of any country.“

A planet subject to ever increasing heat will result in intensified drought, declining water supplies because of reduced rainfall, reduced agricultural yields, and health impacts to both humans and animals and of course more bush fires and floods.

Also impacted will be our primary industries like forestry and fisheries.

Livestock and many animals will be at greater risk of heat stress, reducing livestock productivity and reproductive rates.

Food productivity will suffer from crop failures caused by crop destruction or failures, and the social unrest and mental health problems caused by food shortages, potential loss of habitable land, and prolonged uncertainty.

Continued climate change will have far-reaching impacts upon our society and will necessitate great change. The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience and their research partners like the AFAC, CFA, Australian Red Cross and the CSIRO are at the forefront of what these changes will require from us; or indeed what we will need to change in order to survive.

Some of the problems mentioned are already evidenced in the frequency of major events we are currently experiencing.

My conversation with Amanda had to end sometime and I still have much to learn to pass onto my grandchildren.

But the big question for me remains:

How do you adapt to an ever-worsening climate while we are simultaneously pursuing policies that are accelerating warming?

As she said, that question is for the politicians. Should they allow a 3% rise in emissions then a great deal of resilience and adaptation will be required from my grandchildren.

Further reading

A useful article from the recent AJEM article that frames the meaning of resilience.

The Australian Disaster Resilience Handbook collection provides guidance on national principles and practices for disaster resilience.

AIDR runs the Education for Young People program with a vision of creating a disaster resilient nation. You can join the Network here.

*Amanda is a community development and engagement professional who has provided leadership and strategic direction in the planning, implementation and delivery of programs in complex environments.

With 20 years’ experience in the emergency management and community sectors, Amanda led the community development area for the Country Fire Authority in Victoria. Joining AFAC (The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council) in 2009, she was appointed Director Community Safety in 2013, where she provided strategic advice in relation to risk reduction, community safety and warnings.

In 2019 Amanda was appointed as Executive Director of the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience (AIDR), an operating division of AFAC.

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  1. Andy56

    Greater resilience and………….
    For fcks sake, we have had fires, droughts and floods since, well since for ever and couldnt even manage the average. What the hell do they think will happen with the recurring and more intense?
    It requires a massive adjustment. We have built in flood prone areas, we have built in fire prone areas, we have used up all the river water. We will be paying a massive price for the this season’s clean up but the costs dont end here. What about next year, the year after? We only burnt half the east coast this year.
    The cost of inaction is going to increase year upon year. So not only is our government intent on increasing the co2 outputs but also blowing out the budget on annual cleanups. They clearly think its business as usual.

  2. Keith

    Thank you, John for another great article.

    Mitigation is what is required, how people adapt to ever increasing extreme events has me beat. Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is being undermined by water 2C above freezing attacking its grounding line. Oceans take considerable time to warm or cool, so logically in all likelihood a tipping point has been reached.

    Mitigation means to tackle the problem of climate change head on, rather than promote band aids and watch things get worse. The LNP are now more divided than ever, is it a case of just adapting to their nonsense, or taking a mitigating step, and vote the bastards out at the first opportunity.

  3. Terence Mills

    It’s all in the carefully chosen words that politicians use.

    In Europe you hear the word transition a lot as they transition their economies away from fossil fuels. In Australia, Morrison has been careful only to use adaptation and resilience steering well clear of any reference to transitioning which he knows would bring about a Joyce, Christensen, Canavan zombie apocalypse.

    As a Queenslander, living in North Queensland, I find it quite alarming that a small rump of red-necks seem to be calling the shots and demanding a coalfired power station be built at public expense and then what, gifted to a coalition donor ?

    As noted, yon Dutton has been very quiet over the summer : is he building up numbers for a coupe ?

    Can you imagine Dutton as prime minister and Barnaby as deputy pm – talk about politics being show business for ugly people !

  4. Keitha Granville

    The giant kelp forests of Tasmania have already vanished, our east coast water is already warmer than elsewhere.

    It’s too little, too,late.

    And the Opposition will do nothing, that is now clear.

    We must apologise now to our grandchildren for a future where they can’t exist.

  5. Pilot

    Many people in Australia cannot afford to run air conditioners 24/7!! We can’t even afford to buy one, let alone run one each day! Jesus bloody wept!! Adaption and resilience is just another way of saying, “She’ll be right mate, we’ll cope! Do nothing!! Which is what’s happening. Screw the elderly, screw the young, screw the unemployed…. Hell, screw everyone, we’re screwed anyway, so get comfortable and meet your end with dignity.

    The luddites of FNQ can go f*ck themselves, shortsighted, neolithic, knuckle dragging bloody morons!!!!
    The top-end is where it all should be happening. For example, tidal flows up there are capable of generating thousands of megawatts and these village idiots still want to burn bloody coal, morons. Thousands of acres are available for solar farms, but again, the one brow, knuckle dragging bogans up there can’t see the forest for the trees. How the hell they find their way to Canberra has me beat. Thousands of jobs go begging and the supposed better financial managers are failing at every turn. Billions wasted on pie in the sky investigations, thoughtfests and fartfests.

    We could have been World leaders in the alternate energy field, but as usual the #CrimeMinister and his #LNPMafia as still handing over billions to their grubby mates.
    We need to get rid of these obvious luddites before Australia can move ahead. LNP = Luddites ‘N Parasites!!!

  6. Geoff Andrews

    “It’s too little, too,late.”
    Joy & rapture to the denialists.
    And it only took them 10 years since Rudd’s “greatest moral challenge of our generation” plea.
    Adaptation? Of course – our genes are demanding that we survive. We’ve got intelligence, opposable thumbs and we’ve almost solved the problem of establishing permanent life on Mars, presumably as a holiday destination for the rich, so applying it to Earth conditions in 200 years will be a doddle.
    In the long run, the denialists were right: climate change wasn’t man made; it was God’s will.
    How good is God?

  7. Geoff Andrews

    A bit heavy on the FNQ’s ?
    Labor lost two seats to the L&NP in Queensland (the ones that apparently lost the election), two in Tasmania, and one each in Victoria & NSW (the last four apparently having had no effect on the election results because the residents of Tasmania, NSW and particularly Victoria are all highly intelligent voters who saw something in Labor that didn’t quite tick the box and not greedy heat affected morons.

  8. Kerri

    IMHO adaptation and resilience fit in the same bucket as “New normal”.
    They all speak of a future where we hope to survive an unsurvivable planet.
    Adapting and being resilient are fig leaves to cover inacceptance and inaction to a problem that is wholly of our own making.
    It’s like the Titanic. There weren’t enough life boats because it wasn’t going to sink.
    The plans for the Titanic were busily being adapted to accomodate huge numbers of passengers they neglected to have a plan for the unthinkable.
    Climate change is unthinkable to many because they refuse to accept any blame.
    Many however use the fig leaf to cover what they believe to be just a glitch.
    Adaptation and resilience smacks of wait and see.

  9. Pilot

    Turn it up Geoff. Those in FNQ have their bloody brains fried. These are the people who’ll spend 2 hours telling you why they can’t do a 10 minute job!
    Added to that, their lamebrained reps are atrocious, spreading complete and utter lies, as do ALL the LNP luddites. The farthest these village idiots look into the future is the weekend and where they’re going for a bloody beer.

    If they had a brain between them they’d be looking at setting up their future in renewables instead of hiding behind a coal heap.

    It’s a load of crap!

    As I said, there are many opportunities to leap into the renewables sector up there, only no one up there has the guts to take on the libs. Even if a fully costed plan was put to the lnp mafia, it wouldn’t be funded because of the tag “renewable power”. Our future isn’t in coal, and it is about time Australia as a Nation grew up, grabbed the tools and got on with the job!!

    For too long we’ve had to listen to morons screeching, “It’s too hard, boo bloody hoo”!! Lazy, self-centered luddites, that’s all the lnp is, lazy, spoilt private school children pissing over everything and claiming they know best! And it is all bullshit!

    This latest crap they’re going on about regarding Liddell PS. The place is absolutely rooted! I worked there, I was among the crew who reopened old Muswellbrook PS and I was the shutdown senior operator when it closed, also worked at Bayswater PS, which I might add is now on it’s knees due to lack of maintenance. Our future is NOT in coal fired power. Next thing you’ll be screaming is they will be using low emission coal. Oh FOR F*CK’S SAKE! Another liblie!! Jesus wept!! Just to enlighten you, when the low emission coal is bandied about the only thing they are referring to is the ash content to reduce particulate emissions, the carbon content doesn’t change, so the CO2 emissions DO NOT bloody change. But stupid, idiotic, moronic individuals do NOT question any lnp morons spruiking this obvious bloody lie. It isn’t rocket science!! All they do is wash the coal, and the only increase in overall efficiency is so small it doesn’t matter unless ash & dust storage is running out.
    I’ve spent my entire working life, firstly in electricity reticulation then generation, and to have to hear uneducated lying morons deceiving Australians really disgusts me. Plus a compliant press not questioning the ludicrous assertions from the lnp.

    Coal fired electricity generation has to stop NOW. There are alternatives available NOW. FNQ is beautifully placed to grab the bit between their teeth and go like the clappers, but typically they are so lazy they can’t get out of their own way.

    Just to finish off, the overall efficiency of a coal fired generator is typically 33%, we rated top of the heap scoring 38% at Bayswater during winter many years ago. Typical in the tropical north a coal fired power station would be struggling to achieve 30%.

    Educating idiots is a lost cause. Coal fired electricity generation is dead!!

    And I have intentionally NOT mentioned the detrimental health effects on land and population surrounding these establishments, and I’m sure the government won’t tell you, but from Liddell reached as far as Newcastle.

    I absolutely loved working within all the power stations that I have, but we watched as our workmates went down with various ailments due to working around coal dust, flue gas dust, bottom ash, asbestos, carcinogenic dielectric oils, HP steam leaks, incredible noise, moronic professional engineers that wouldn’t know their arse from their elbow (no all, but quite a few). It was our job to keep the power to the people and do it as efficiently and safely as we could.

  10. Kaye Lee

    We certainly have to have people working on resilience but unless we concentrate on mitigation, adaptation is an unachievable fantasy in anything but the shortest of time frames and very limited circumstances. We can develop drought-resistant crops but we can’t make them fire and flood resistant too. We can build dams but if it doesn’t rain, all they do is destroy river and eco-systems. We can clear land to protect property and infrastructure from fires and in the process further destroy habitat for native species and exacerbate erosion – we had mud rain FFS.

    We need disaster resilience to limit the damage that this incompetent government is inflicting and the best mitigation plan is to get rid of these self-serving ignorant f’wits from our lives.

  11. johno

    we can develop drought-resistant crops..

    Maybe not, if it just keeps getting hotter, the continued changing climate could outpace development/adaptation.

  12. Andrew Smith

    Like ‘sustainability’ one has been aware of and vaguely followed from a distance (with input from some truly environmentally minded American friends in Europe) these ‘resilience’ sentiments promoted by think tanks and/or state agencies, in the US and locally, with much seeming to be promoting ideas, but not actually doing anything?

    It’s more about talking, events and presenting on ‘reactive’ measures maintaining the status quo rather than attacking the core issues or being ‘proactive’ on environment and climate change, which leads to cause of global warming e.g. fossil fuel sector’s carbon emissions being left alone……

    A foundation based upon fossil fuel wealth seems to be central in promoting these non measures i.e. the Rockefeller Foundation (wealth of Standard Oil after WWI ‘trust busting’ i.e. Exxon Mobil and Chevron) which in recent years has supported ‘sustainability’ in local govt. (networks)

    What this means in concrete terms is difficult to parse through, filling in pot holes, encouraging lower costs and rates, discouraging community buses and water fountains, who knows?

    Another more recent global initiative was ‘Resilient Cities’ (including Melbourne etc.) whereby Rockefeller Foundation funded ‘Resilience Officers’ to….? However, this initiative has been discontinued

    City Resilience Framework

    More to the point, the US investigative think tank The Capital Research Center elaborates on history and these initiatives in ‘FOUNDATION WATCH – Rockefeller’s Dubious “Resilience” Push’ (2016):

    ‘The Rockefeller Foundation celebrated its centennial in 2013. Its mission has been redefined several times since its creation. But what it stands for today is vague notions about “resilience” and spending an inordinate amount of its budget on publicists…..Unfortunately, the Rockefeller Foundation also helped promote the growth of racist ideology in the 1930s through its support of eugenics…. “The American family that for decades has been synonymous not just with great riches but with riches created by oil said on Monday that it was moving to divest itself entirely from all oil and fossil fuel interests,” wrote David Usborne., a blog of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, provides some clarity. The Rockefeller Foundation did not in fact divest any fossil fuel stocks……

    Perhaps one reason why the Rockefeller Foundation spends so much money on promotion is that it has very few ideas. Currently, its chief idea is that the foundation should stress “resilience,” and the primary goal of the foundation is to make cities more resilient. “We’re trying to transform systems and create tipping points, not just make individual grants to individual organizations,” Rodin told the New York Times in 2010.

    In 2014 PublicAffairs published Rodin’s book, The Resilience Dividend, describing her ideas of how organizations can become more resilient. She discussed her book on “The Charlie Rose Show.”

    “In the 21st century, crises may be the new normal,” Rodin said. “There actually isn’t a week that goes by that somewhere in the world there isn’t a violent storm, a flood, or a cyber attack, civil unrest, a new epidemic, an outbreak like Ebola. And so those who are going to do best are those who are prepared for the worst, no matter what the worst may be.”….

    ….Cash-strapped cities eagerly applied for the Rockefeller grants, happy to pad their budgets with a foundation-funded freebie. But what does a chief resilience officer do—and why is one necessary? Aren’t cities already funding disaster planning?

    The foundation admits that cities don’t have much money, but “resilience offers a way to maximize benefit for the cost, allowing governments to spend to their funds [sic] in the best way possible, which is important in a time of fiscal austerity and budget cuts.” The foundation offered no evidence that their grants would pass an objective test of costs versus benefits…..One aim of the resilience effort is to convince cities to spend a great deal of money combating alleged near-term effects of climate change……

    ….. Most likely, the subcontractors spent the funds on lavish conferences where the great and the good tell each other how special they are.

    The story of the Rockefeller Foundation reminds us that the most effective foundations are the ones with the smallest communications offices. The foundation presidents who are the most productive are the ones with the smallest egos.’

    Rockefeller’s Dubious “Resilience” Push

  13. Florence Howart

    Adaptation & resilience is what I demand from our politicians when we see their policies leading to national disaster. We need this government to admit the disastrous black summer needs them to show some resilience by adapting to the reality that we are in the midst of the beginning if climate change because of carbon emissions.

  14. Roswell

    Not a bad effort there, John. You obviously put in a lot of time and effort to conduct that interview, and we have all been rewarded with the outcome.

  15. wam

    tlob has realised the deniers are down to the left 30% of the bell curve and seems to be giving the greenhouse emissions as man made global warming. With such a skeptic defection god and smirko will be next. That new ‘miracle’ wafting with basher brandt’s stomping the coal, will leave albo and labor wallowing in the ‘climate muddle.
    Please albo don’t rely on the cuckoo waltz of a dutton/joyce fckup, do something to take the lead in transmission from coal jobs into renewables with cheaper energy and jobs.

  16. John Lord

    Thank you Roswell. I certainly did.

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