MIT Technology Review+ Your Authors @techreview A media company making technology a greater force for good. Get our journalism: Jul. 11, 2019 2 min read + Your Authors

@techreview’s @jtemple spent a few days in Paradise, California, to explore the struggle to rebuild in a safer way – and how society will grapple with the impossible choice between climate fight or flight. 

The residents and officials he spoke with were extremely open about their experiences, & how they've wrestled with the decision to stay or go. Nearly everyone he interviewed was convinced they were going to die at one point that November morning. 

But most still feel strongly connected to the place, to their sense of home and community. Researchers studying managed retreat say these kind of psychological links will be some of the trickiest things to grapple with as we try to make these decisions. 

Another will be cost—and how much society is willing to pay for adaptation, retreat or repeated recovery costs. One thing he was struck by is that the town council rejected or weakened 16 of 20 proposals to create more stringent building standards.

Societies accept risk. No one is advocating that everyone clear out of San Francisco for fear of earthquakes. Abandon Tokyo before the next tsunami. Or vacate the better parts of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Colorado before the Yellowstone super-volcano buries them in feet of ash.

So researchers studying this say the decisions will turn on thornier questions: what we perceive to be acceptable levels of risk, whether we have & can afford the tools to offset them, where else we could move people and what other tradeoffs are involved. 

“You can move out of the forest and away from the coast and run into tornadoes” - @ericbkennedy

Once we do make the decision to relocate people, the question becomes how you manage that process. Miyuki Hino, Katharine Mach & @chrfield @StanfordWoods studied past relocations involving some 1.3M people to draw some insights:

The bottom line: society will need to become more dispassionate about these calculations over time, refusing to rebuild in areas where the likelihood of repeat disasters, dangers to emergency responders & costs of rebuilding are too high to bear. 

But these decisions are going to incredibly fraught, complicated by heritage & history, economics & emotions, & social justice strains both within & between regions. 

You can follow @techreview.


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