29 Apr 15

Ingeniophobia: Fact or Fear?


The Mavens received an unsolicited email yesterday from a journal interested in promoting “apprehension” of civil engineering, asking us to consider submitting manuscripts. We suspect that the authors of said email were thinking of “apprehension” meaning “increased understanding” rather than “fear,” but it got us wondering. We know some folks who fear (“loathe” might be a better term) engineered approaches to life. When it comes to climate change adaptation, is such fear of civil engineering (“ingeniophobia” in professional circles) irrational, warranted, or somewhere in the middle?

There are many ways to categorize adaptation actions--autonomous vs. managed, proactive vs. reactive, and of course green vs. grey. No, that last one is not adaptation lingo for youth vs. the elderly rather it is natural system strategies or built strategies.

Some folks embrace adaptation options based on built strategies. Suffering from sea level rise? Build a seawall. Experiencing extreme storms? Build bigger culverts (people LOVE talking about culverts). Depressed by drought? Build dams or desalination plants. Plagued by poor water quality? Build treatment facilities or add more chemicals.

Culvert pipe (8242090899)

Other people see nature-based approaches as the preferred strategy. Rather than controlling flooding with bigger levees, increase floodplain function, restore riparian areas, or reintroduce beavers. Rather than spend billions building pipelines to move water from one part of the country to another to “solve” a drought problem, use more drought-tolerant native landscaping, or do a little beaver reintroduction. Sea level rise threatening intertidal marsh habitat for important fish species? Rather than spending lots of money building who knows what, bring in nature’s own engineers—yes, beavers can solve this problem too!

By Steve from washington, dc, usa (American Beaver) [<a  data-cke-saved-href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0">CC href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>], <a  data-cke-saved-href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAmerican_Beaver.jpg">via href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAmerican_Beaver.jpg">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

All beaver fanaticism aside, people say nature-based solutions are a good alternative to built responses that might be detrimental to other goals (e.g. natural resource management), are financially costly, or have a limited life expectancy. Or is the real issue ingeniophobia?

In reality both ingeniophobia and ingeniophilia may be needed to get to “good” outcomes. Most adaptation decisions reflect a variety of tradeoffs, and in some situations there may be reasons to favor nature-based solutions, built solutions, or some mix. Science provides part of the input needed for adaptation decisions, but the values of the decision makers and stakeholders are also essential.

This issue of values brings us to a pair of topics that’s been much in the news lately and that we’ll address in our next few columns: equity and social justice. Can you achieve resilience without equity and inclusiveness? What role should equity play in adaptation decisions? If you have thoughts you’d like to share ahead of next month’s column, let us know. Use the comment section below or email one of us.

Recommended Citation

Adaptation Mavens. (2015, April). Ingeniophobia: Fact or Fear? [Web column]. Retrieved from CAKE (http://cakex.org/community/advice/puppies-kittens-and-paris-what-makes-u...).