How human mobility affects the climate crisis – and vice versa

Written by: Joe Stafford

As the world celebrates the historic COP27 deal that will see rich nations pay developing countries for loss and damage related to climate change, an expert from The University of Manchester has released a new book which argues that an ecological approach to mobility will make communities more resilient to severe weather.

Dr. Stephanie Sodero from the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute says that driving, flying and shipping are entangled with the climate emergency, and that fossil-fuelled mobility worsens severe weather – and in turn, severe weather interferes with mobility. 

In Under the Weather: Reimagining Mobility in the Climate Crisis, she explores the links between human mobility and severe weather, showing that a shift to zero-emission vehicles is critical but insufficient to prepare communities for the increasing disruption caused by the climate emergency. 

“My home city in Canada is right next to the Atlantic Ocean - I was walking to work along the waterfront one morning, and saw that high tide was just inches from the top of the wharf,” said Dr Sodero. “I realised that we are in real trouble as climate change brings sea level rise and storm surges. That led me to write this book, which explores how communities can live better with the climate, ocean, and ecosystems.”

Using two Canadian case studies as a springboard, the book imagines human mobility that works with - rather than against - the climate in ways that benefit local communities. It calls for leaders to reduce climate impact and prepare for disruption due to severe weather by adapting ‘climate routing’, based on the marine concept of adjusting course based on wind and currents.

The book calls for the embrace of active travel like cycling and canoeing that are zero-emission as well as being useful in disaster scenarios, the development of community-based healthcare and telemedicine to ensure access in the face of disruption, the creation of a culture of disaster evacuation preparedness, an increase in storm buffers like living shorelines and the accommodation of ecological flows like swollen rivers. It also calls for leaders to ensure that goods, energy and skills are available locally which can act as stop gaps when global just-in-time supply chains fail.

Dr Sodero calls for climate protection to be considered in all transport decisions, from where to build local schools to global medical supply chains. Currently, fossil-fuelled mobility is baked into the DNA of healthcare delivery, education systems and the economy – she says this needs to change, but that it can change in ways which benefit the health and wellbeing of communities.

From prime ministers to schoolchildren, we know that we need to do things differently,. The concepts and recommendations I introduce in my book give people a language and ideas to enact these changes in a way that protects the climate, as well as buffering communities from the increasing disruption caused by severe weather.

Dr Stephanie Sodero

More information about the book and links to purchase it are available here. 

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