There have been a lot of extreme weather events lately. Floods, snow, droughts, sandstorms, hurricanes, record highs, record lows, have all taken their toll across the world. Most scientists agree that thanks to climate change, it’s only going to get worse.
So how should we respond? We could fight back by building bigger flood barriers and seawalls, dredging rivers, buying snowploughs. This is the kind of thing we’ve been doing for centuries; trying to control our environment with engineering. But then nature reminds us just how powerful it is.
Natural habitats are important; ecosystems provide services like filtering our air and water, mopping up pollution and flood waters, pollinating our crops, decomposing waste and providing food. So rather than destroying and replacing them with man-made versions of what we want, why not use them?
Green engineering tries to use nature, working to restore lost habitats and mixing natural features with man-made ones. A study by the university of Sheffield suggests that restoring rivers in cities could help keep urban areas cool in the Summer, and “greening” empty city spaces improves people’s health.
Wallasea Island in Essex is a “landmark conservation and engineering scheme” recreating ancient ecosystems. When finished in 2019, it will provide flood defences, be a habitat for local wildlife and a great place for the local community and visitors to enjoy.
The Steart peninsula in Somerset was flooded early this year so that the resulting wetland would provide natural flood defences and a much needed habitat for wildlife. Local residents hope the plan will increase house prices as the peninsula becomes a nicer place to live.
New York City have really taken the idea of engineering nature to a new level. Rather than just recreating natural habitats, the city’s planned flood defences mix man-made and natural elements to create leisure hubs, parks, fisheries and oyster beds, as well as homes for wildlife. So perhaps the tide is turning? Our technology is no match for nature, so let’s team up with it instead.