Climate Change Mitigation — Talking With Professors Doberstein & Ziolecki

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In the first half of this two-part interview for our CleanTech Talk podcast interview series, Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc. and CleanTechnica contributor, and Anna Ziolecki and Brent Doberstein from the University of Waterloo, sit down to talk about disaster risk reduction and managed retreat. You can listen to the full conversation in the embedded player below. Below that embedded SoundCloud player is a brief summary of the topics covered, but tune into the podcast to follow the full discussion.

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Anna Ziolecki is the Director of Partners for Climate Change Adaptation and Adjunct Professor at the University of Waterloo, where she leads a network of collaborators from academia, government, and the private sector who are committed to advancing Canadian flood resilience in the face of climate change. Brent Doberstein is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies in the Geography and Geomatics programs at the University of Waterloo. Through the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change, he focuses on the impacts of climate change, especially as it relates to planned retreat.

Mike launches the podcast with a talk about both Anna and Brent’s most recent areas of research and focus. Partners for Action was founded in 2015 around the issue of Canadians’ awareness of flood risk. The group was curious about how “in tune” Canadians are in conversations around flooding challenges and climate change, as well as what might be done to prevent flooding. These questions led to surveys around Canadians’ understanding of flood risk. Anna recently completed a national survey about managed retreat, and has looked at property buyouts and what they could learn from other places around the world to make these managed retreat programs socially acceptable, politically viable and economically efficient. 

Brent, on the other hand, is focused on the links between natural hazards, climate change and disaster risk reduction both in less developed countries and in Canada. He has been looking specifically at managed retreat and risk reduction in general, especially as it relates to flooding. Brent’s research has borrowed the IPCC PARA framework, popularizing the acronym spelled out as Protect, Accommodate, Retreat or Avoid, to understand how communities approach disaster risk reduction. He sees this framework as providing a suite of options for developing resilience to natural hazards like flooding.

Mike shifts the conversation into overlapping disasters, noting the compounding challenges like COVID-19, wildfires, and flooding around the country at the same time. Anna touched on the challenge of responding to risk during a global COVID-19 pandemic, where physical distancing limits how many people can gather in communities. This means a slowing down of the process as people try to figure out ways in which they can keep sanitizing measures in place, she explained. One of the things Mike has dealt with in his work is how these compounding risks and conditions have implications for increasing death rates. The three talk about dealing with an unfolding pandemic and how COVID-19 has put preparing for disasters like flooding and fires on the backburner. 

Mike moves the conversation into staying in place in floodplains and accommodating regular flooding. According to Anna, while Canada has been adopting innovative approaches, managed retreat has still been a challenge. There is no blanket approach to dealing with retreat, she explains, and therefore it is necessary to talk about structural and nontypical approaches like natural infrastructure that could help deal with flooding. Ultimately, she says, there needs to be a closer look at the makeup of individual communities to know what measures are best to apply.

In Canada, Anna notes that awareness is critical. People are not sure where to go to find information necessary to help them adapt, and therefore are not taking the necessary measures to prepare for these risks, she explains. While innovative solutions to floodplain living is one piece of the puzzle, Brent adds, he believes that people need to know what is available so that they can make the most educated choices. 

Mike, Brent, and Anna transition into talking about buyouts to close out the first half of this episode. To hear more on these topics, as well as some asides on amphibious architecture and flood proofing houses, listen to the show!

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