The adaptation of ports to climate change and the implications of this change is the theme of a new book by PortEconomics associate member Adolf K. Y. Ng, along with Austin Becker, Stephen Cahoon, Shu-Ling Chen, Paul Earl, and Zaili Yang.
PortEconomics provides you extracts of the book’s preface – detailing the importance of the issue for the port sector, and its linkage with the society
Climate change and Ports Adaption
All wise rulers … have to consider not only present difficulties but also future, against which they use all diligence to provide; for these, if they be foreseen while yet remote, admit of easy remedy, but if their approach be awaited, are already past cure, the disorder having become hopeless … in its beginning it is easy to cure, but hard to recognize; whereas, after a time, not having been detected and treated at the first, it becomes easy to recognize but impossible to cure.
Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, published in 1513.
Only a century ago most people who had travelled to a continent other than the one that they were born/lived in would repeatedly brag about such a once-in-a- lifetime experience to their next generations.
Nowadays, moving around the globe, whether it is for business, searching for a new destiny, or simply temporarily escaping from the sometimes spirit-shattering work pressure, has become a fact of life for many of us. At home, we get used to buying imported goods labeled “Made in China” from megastores with (in most cases) reasonable prices, while eating decent Korean food doesn’t mean that you have travelled to Korea; and indeed, professors in Canadian universities would find that most of their classes are now filled with students originating from anywhere other than Canada. How life has changed, even within such a short period of time!
Many would say that this is what it means to live in a globalized era: the convenience brought by technological innovation, cheaper goods flocking in from around the world via international trade and transportation, and more regular interactions between people from different races and backgrounds. Ultimately, as they say, we are all striving for a better future. But being a global citizen is far from easy – we are now guaranteed to face even more uncertainties, and have to make riskier decisions on a daily basis: we might have more opportunities coming from different parts of the world, such as jobs and easier travel, but can we get used to the cultural shock in a completely strange place easily? To what extent can we increasingly work with people with completely different backgrounds, values, and mindsets, while not toppling our own established habits and beliefs? Even if you decide to stay in your home country, these problems could prevail as your city/company is recruiting more and more “aliens,” and you may soon find that life is becoming harder as the place that you live is changing so fast, it is so diversified that you can hardly keep pace. Whether deciding to move or to stay, one thing is certain: with such rapid and diversified changes taking place which are mostly outside our own control, whether we are able to adapt to such changes will be crucial to our destiny in this contemporary world.
This is what adaptation is all about: the more uncertain our world has (will) become, the more proactive and resilient we should be to relieve the negative impacts, and turn risks and perils into opportunities. It sounds easy, but achieving it is a much taller order. How can we know what “uncertainty” in the future really means, and be proactive about it? Even if we can recognize that things might not seem right, does that imply they are inevitable? Even if they are, does it really matter to us? Even if it matters, why not leave it for the next generation to solve? And who would appreciate the efforts and commitment, especially if the precautionary measures do not seem to pay off (yet)? As a matter of fact, there are just so many reasons (or excuses, depending on how you look at it) that can discourage us from doing anything. The first editor of this book was once told by his friend, who was a director of the port authority of a major port in North America, that “for most industry people, the future means tomorrow.” This shows the difficulty in even trying to get a reasonably effective solution to the challenge. To be fair, this isn’t just a reflection of industrial professionals, but fundamentally human nature: so often we are not only reluctant (due to inertia, institutional setting, or simply indolence) to change and adapt, but our limited knowledge and vision, not helped by the real aspects of life, have jeopardized us being proactively adaptive to new, uncertain risks and challenges.
But all those who downplay the importance of adaptation have missed a crucial point: adaptation is the wormhole between the past and the future. If one could sense that an exogenous change might cause some impacts, it means that the current settings might soon be (if not already been) obsolete, and require a rethink, no matter whether it is just a minor re-adjustment or a toppling of the status quo. Adaptation offers the opportunity to review what has happened, and actively prepare for betterment in the future. On the contrary, resistance, or an indifferent attitude, deprives us of any chance of seeing the current setting improve, leaving it to gradually decline. In fact, adaptation and progression belong to both sides of the same coin. While survival isn’t only reserved for the strongest or the most intelligent, any societies, sectors, or industries that fail to respond to challenges, or keep on taking short-term actions that try to “mainstream” problems into existing economic, societal, policy, and/or institutional frameworks, are like those who choose to turn a blind eye to the time bombs inside their homes, praying that they won’t explode for as long as possible. With the ruthlessness of neoliberal ideology shaping how the global economy works nowadays, we are under no illusion that what (not) to adapt would always involve the painful process of prioritizing objectives and the (re-)allocation of (largely financial) resources under a highly intensified competitive environment. But if the future really only means tomorrow for industry people due to frontline obligations, scholars and policymakers should then assume the role of protectors, and undertake the responsibility to safeguard the safety and wellbeing of the next generations.
And this is exactly what our book is all about: encouraging our society to work together to safeguard our future generations for the long-term future. Throughout the production process, we always tried to “think outside the box,” maintained an interdisciplinary and multi-hierarchical approach, and ensured that our (including the contributing authors’) ideas would pose direct impacts to the benefits of long- term human welfare.
The composition of the editorial team, consisting of scholars from three continents, reflected such a desire. The authors were selected carefully, and we made sure that every single chapter would enrich the overall lessons learnt on the general topic of ports’ adaptation to climate change impacts through a vigorous peer-review process and editorial guidance.
For more on Climate Change and Port adaption visit publisher webpage.