Lets be honest with ourselves, the recent focus on building and infrastructure resilience has largely replaced actions and discussions about sustainability. While there is definitely merit in the concept of resilience in the built environment, its elevation to the premier issue is largely a manifestation of a new ‘political correctness’ that has swept the land, with a strong emphasis on ‘political.’

The neo-liberal politics that originally swept through the states and are now entrenched (for the time being) at a Federal level have, along with other such Orwellian discussions in many sectors, transmogrified  a ‘symptom’  into ‘solution’  that ignores and even maligns the original underlying illness. These days, to espouse action on sustainability in many halls of power is to be branded part of the ‘loony fringe.’ It’s strange, because to me those who oppose the very actions that will preserve our heritage, quality of life and personal and planetary health are the rightful inhabitants of that fringe realm. We have to fight to protect our future from economic short-termism, cronyism and lobbyist driven policy. Fortunately, the political tide seems to be turning, at a state level at least.

To focus only on building more resilient structures while actively promoting policies and funding actions that will dramatically increase the problem that is driving the need for resilience is sheer madness. To promote the burning of fossil fuels and actively destroy a vibrant renewable energy industry that not only protects the planet but also employs thousands of jobs and adds clean, smart GDP growth is not just loony, it is pure, unadulterated, economic and national vandalism.

By all means promote resilience; it is in itself a worthy and sustainability promoting concept, but not as an end in itself. Promoting it as an end in its own right is akin to madness. A case in point is the Insurance Council of Australia’s focus on “encouraging intelligent buildings that through design and material choice are resilient to local hazards,” an aim that is superficially and economically worthwhile. Given their strategies ignore climate change as a selection criteria in their outcomes, however, is short-sighted at best.

The Federal Government’s recent Issues Paper on emissions targets discusses aspirations to build national “resilience” and “adaptation” and promotes adopting climate targets that do not put Australia at a competitive disadvantage to “our key trading partners and the major economies.” With China, the US and Europe not talking “resilience” and “adaptation” but actually making significant commitments to climate solutions, not matching their commitments is more likely to affect the national interests negatively than taking equivalent action.

The pro-fossil fuel, anti-renewables, anti-environment stance being taken federally is the opposite of sustainable and will drive the need for more resilience and adaption. The trouble is, at some point this becomes a one way street with no way back. New scientific discoveries almost every day now are pointing to the fact we may already have already passed climate tipping points that mean we will have no choice to adapt. But if we don’t really know the extent of the problem, how do we really know if we even can adapt? The thing we do know is that many plants, animals and entire ecosystems will not be able to adapt fast enough to survive.

As a society, are we really willing to roll the dice on this issue? Are we really that ignorant to think we can deal with anything that nature throws at us, that we can really predict all the outcomes of climate change, that we will surely be able to survive when whole ecosystems are collapsing, aquifers disappearing and rainfall patterns changing?

How did we let ourselves get to the point where we elected not just one, but a succession of governments that not only wholesale sacked environmental workers and closed at least one Environmental Protection Agency (QLD), but that terminated discussions about environmental sustainability and removed the term from the government lexicon?

I for one am pleased to see some clear political distinction being drawn between major parties along environmental, climate change and social policy lines. I believe the vast majority of individuals want nature protected, want assurances about a good quality of life for themselves, their children and grandchildren, and do care for those less fortunate. I choose not to align with the self-interested, anti-progressive, anti-environment and anachronistic ideology of the current Federal and some State governments, and I know I am not alone.

Those of us who don’t care about what political ‘colour’ is involved, but don’t want to continue seeing the environmental and social gains of the last generation continue to be washed down the drain, are standing up, being counted and raising our level of activism yet again to ensure that ecological and societal sustainability are put back on the proactive political agenda, rather than settling only for after-the-fact ‘resilience.’

Who will join us?

  • Great breakdown David – the promotion of an anti-climate change agenda at Australia's uppermost echelon of power is one of the worst aspects of the Abbot government.

  • Excellent article David

  • I'm in. Well said David.

  • David,

    Resilience, or just about any other word, can be a dirty word, if it is used in a vacuum. Many of the early adopters of sustainability moved forward with without considering the side effects of their decisions. One of those unintended consequences is having less robust buildings being built in the name of recycled content or … [insert sustainability measure of your choice here]. Resilience doesn't have to be political or a dirty word if it is used in conjunction with other parts of developing a sustainable environment. Those that are promoting resiliency only to further their own political goals should be called out. It is hard to incorporate so many factors when designing a truly sustainable structure, but that is where good design comes into play. Let's continue to take resiliency into account, but not by itself.

  • I'm not sure I completely agreed with this article. There must surely be a role for resilience as part of good design? My 60's-built house is resilient due to its metre-wide eaves. Allowing me to get away without air-conditioning. Just about. If I was in a square box, and I increased my resilience to temperature spikes by bolting on air-conditioning afterwards, then there is an argument to be made. But where resilience can be achieved "passively" (albeit with the expenditure of materials upfront) surely that is still a good thing?