Using climate data provided by AT&T via the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, the Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems examined how flooding in Athens, Georgia, impacts communities differently.
The study found that flooding impacts low-income and minority communities to a much more severe extent than other areas of the town–Black, Hispanic and low-income communities faced a flood risk anywhere from 38% to 185% higher than the average risk. Researchers also examined how flood risks might change as climate change worsens flooding, and identified areas at risk in the future
Read more about this initiative, and the other excellent work done alongside this project by University teams around the country, here.
In the article, Bledsoe and Ehrenswerth made the argument that natural infrastructure is an important tool against the challenges of aging infrastructure and increasingly extreme weather events that our country faces.
“When conventional engineering and Mother Nature join forces, our communities are protected by multiple lines of defense that generate a wide range of economic, environmental and social benefits,” Bledsoe and Ehrenswerth wrote of the vast opportunities that natural infrastructure provide.
Bledsoe and Ehrenswerth also addressed the perilous combination of social inequality and climate change, which causes severe weather events to disproportionately affect vulnerable communities. They highlighted how adjusting the way we value the costs and benefits of infrastructure projects can create a more equitable society:
“When we limit ourselves to old ways of thinking about costs and benefits, we tend to invest in protecting wealthier communities. This approach perpetuates climate injustice: Multimillion-dollar condos on Miami Beach are deemed worthy of protection while less wealthy neighborhoods, disproportionately communities of color that have been underserved or actively harmed by past infrastructure investments, are neglected.”
IRIS’s interdisciplinary research relationships are thriving, thanks in part to a Presidential Seed Grant given to the Institute to help encourage partnerships across disciplines.
This past year, IRIS joined the Network for Engineering with Nature, alongside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in an initiative to advance the use of natural infrastructure around the world. The partnership includes experts ranging from engineers to ecologists to social scientists.
As Marshall Shepherd, a Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and IRIS affiliate, put it in the article, “The seed grant with colleagues like Brian Bledsoe has served as an accelerant for impactful collaborations and new research. It is already bearing fruit with the Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems and our new collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers, N-EWN. One of the most ‘out of the box’ journal articles that I have ever written came from these efforts.”