Yesterday began with a meeting at an investment bank in Paternoster Square, London, which turned out to be inaccessible to visitors and the public. The owners of the Square had asked the police to close public access to prevent its occupation by the anti-capitalism (OWS) protesters, encamped between the Square and St Paul’s Cathedral. So our meeting took place in a cafe beside the square.
The day ended with a debate at the Royal Society, organized by The Foundation for Science and Technology, on developing adaptation policy in response to climate change. The speakers were Dr Rupert Lewis of DEFRA, Sir Graham Wynne of the Sub-Committee on Adaptation, UK Committee on Climate Change, and Tom Bolt, Director of Performance Management at LLoyd’s of London. (Their presentations will eventually be posted here.) As Bolt remarked, insurance companies have to imagine potential global futures in which climate change has wrecked social and economic havoc, and so are major consumers of scientific prognoses. One commentator from the audience suggested that insurers, particularly, may have a vested short-term financial interest in us all being pessimistic about the long term future, although this inference was not obvious to me: one human reaction to a belief in a certainly-ruinous future is not to save or insure for it, but rather to spend today.
A very interesting issue raised by some audience members is just how do we engineer and build infrastructure for adaptability? What would a well-adapted society look like? One imagines that the floating houses built in the Netherlands to survive floods would fit any such description. Computer scientists have some experience in creating and managing robust, designing resilient and adaptive systems, and so it may be useful to examine that experience for lessons for design and engineering efforts for other infrastructure.