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The answer was that; “funds were likely withdrawn from 2013 onwards after Tony Abbott came to power and funding ended in 2017.”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