STOCKHOLM — If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world one thing, it is the high price we pay—in lost lives, damaged economies, and wasted human potential — when we undervalue resilience. By applying this lesson, we can bolster our ability to weather future shocks.
Over the last few centuries, societies have found a simple formula for progress and prosperity: economic growth. A steady increase in output and productivity is seemingly the panacea for all troubles, including food insecurity, poverty, and disease. But have we now reached a point where the strategy of growth is becoming a trap, generating new problems on an ever-larger scale?
It appears so. In a recent report published in advance of this month’s first-ever Nobel Prize Summit, “Our Planet, Our Future,” my colleagues and I argue that the world’s failure to value social and ecological resilience means that shocks this century will hit harder, be more disruptive, and have longer-lasting effects over centuries and even millennia. But we can build social resilience by promoting equality, trust, and collaboration, and ecological resilience by valuing diversity and complexity over efficiency and simplicity.
The pandemic has cruelly highlighted the risks of ignoring resilience. Our economies have become so mutually dependent that the fate of one rests on the performance of others half a world away. Our cities, usually hives of industry and innovation, have become disease hotspots. Our transport systems are perfectly designed for shuttling pathogens around the planet. And some of our main communication networks prioritize lies and misinformation over truth, making it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.
Extreme levels of inequality reduce societal resilience, often in obvious ways. Poorer countries, with fewer hospitals, less research power, and weaker governance, have less capacity to manage the pandemic. In wealthy societies, poorer people are often the most vulnerable, because their risk factors are greater. They are exposed to higher air pollution, are more likely to suffer from obesity, and live in more crowded conditions than the wealthy. The pandemic has thus hit them harder and spread among them faster.
But economic inequality can also erode resilience in other ways. Trust in governments tends to be lower in more unequal societies, partly because poorer citizens think politicians mainly serve the interests of elites. This can encourage the rise of populist leaders, and makes it difficult to pursue long-term policies affecting all citizens within and across societies.
All of this is challenging enough. But, in our report, we conclude that by far the biggest likely shocks this century stem from our toxic relationship with nature. The biosphere — the zone close to the Earth’s surface where life thrives — is at least 3.5 billion years old. But in a single lifetime, largely since the 1950s, humanity has systematically reduced the resilience of its own home, resulting in climate change and biodiversity loss.
We are facing a perfect storm. Our survival on Earth will require us to rethink our approach to valuing the resilience of our global civilization, starting with acknowledging that it is embedded within and dependent on the biosphere. Simply put, we must start collaborating with the planet on which we live. We cannot calculate the value of the Amazon rainforest in the same way we value the company of the same name. Likewise, the stability of ocean circulation or Antarctica — both of which are showing signs of fragility — cannot be priced in the same way as consumer goods. We also need to value cohesive societies, inclusiveness, collaboration, and trust.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a transformative moment for societies. We know we need to halve greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. We know a Fourth Industrial Revolution has begun. And we have known since the 2008 global financial crisis that returning to business as usual is not the way to build a prosperous and sustainable future.
We must now transform our economies to prioritize diversity and resilience over simplicity and efficiency. This means, first and foremost, moving beyond facile and destructive growth strategies that are disconnected from the planet we call home. Instead, governments must redirect economic dynamism toward ensuring resilience for both humans and their natural environment. Ultimately, valuing resilience means valuing our future.
Learn how “Disipilina Muna” Ambassadors, Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso of the City of Manila, Mayor Benjie Magalong of Baguio City, Mayor Richard Gomez of Ormoc City, and Mayor Darel Dexter Uy of Dipolog City promote discipline in the new normal as we fight against COVID-19.
Emissions from Taal Volcano rapidly spread northward, hitting major population centers within an hour of the initial eruption.
High-altitude winds were largely responsible for transporting volcanic emissions northward. HSRL measurements from Manila Observatory show that most of the pollution was transported above 12 km.
Comparison of integrated aerosol optical depth over the Manila Observatory before, during, and after the ashfall shows current conditions are back to typical range.
Satellite retrievals show reduced emissions and plume dispersion across Luzon early morning, 13 January 2020.
At around 3:00 p.m. (0700Z) 12 January 2020, Taal Volcano in Batangas erupted, releasing large amounts of particles and gases into our atmosphere. In the following hours, the volcano continued to spew ash as the initial plume was transported northward by prevailing winds, as shown in Figure 1 . Even from space, the transport of the emissions could clearly be seen moving quickly, reaching Metro Manila between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. (0800-0900Z) shown in Figure 2 , and spreading past Batanes by 11:00 p.m. (1500Z).
It is well-known that volcanic eruptions threaten nearby areas through lava or lahar, but less-known are the impacts of such eruptions on our air quality. Volcanic ash and dust are emitted in the eruptions and dispersed throughout our atmosphere. These are types of natural aerosols, which are solid particulates or liquid droplets suspended in the air. Some aerosols are fine enough to be inhaled and have negative effects on human health. Hazardous gases such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and greenhouse gases (GHG) are also released .The Taal ashfall particles are noticeably quite different than the Pinatubo ashfall in terms of size, shape, texture. They are larger, more uncrystallized (amorphous), and more rough when pulverized. The presence and abundance of water in the Taal region has allowed magma to cool and solidify much faster than in a terrestrial eruption, much like Pinatubo’s. Nonetheless, volcanic ash, of whichever type or source, is a conglomeration of small particles of jagged glass, rocks, minerals that is hazardous to us when ingested through the respiratory system.
Most of the pollutants from the Taal eruption on 12 January were transported at high altitudes. A steam-and-ash plume was detected as high as 16.5 km above ground level by Tokyo Volcanic Ash Advisory Center . Termed a phreatic eruption, the event was driven by building pressure from steam, heated by magma . An injection with considerable vertical exit velocity and particle buoyancy associated with the high temperatures of volcanic emissions transported associated particles and gases towards higher altitudes . Although low-altitude winds were stagnant during the time of eruption, the rapid vertical transport of volcanic emissions allowed for horizontal transport by high-altitude winds northward into high population areas ( Figures 1, 3 ), reaching as far as the North Luzon coast by 8:00 p.m. that night (1200Z).
Ashfall has been reported in many locations, including areas in Batangas, Tagaytay, Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan, and Metro Manila. PHIVOLCS has issued an ashfall advisory for CALABARZON, Metro Manila, and Central Luzon . The general public is advised to stay indoors, especially the elderly, children, and people with respiratory problems such as asthma. The Department of Health (DOH) has warned the public on the dangers of ashfall which include bronchitis-like illness, coughing, and nose-and-throat irritation . They suggest that N95 grade face masks should be used when possible, especially by those who are exposed to the ashfall, and motorists should drive with extreme caution due to low visibility and slippery roads.
Instruments at the Manila Observatory (location relative to Taal shown in Figures 2 and 3 ) support the reports of ashfall reaching the Metro late last night, and can help to assess current conditions as well.
The High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL) measures how much light from a laser is reflected back towards the ground (called the backscatter). This can be used to determine the presence of clouds and aerosols, with higher backscatter generally meaning a higher concentration of aerosols (depending on the shape and radius of the aerosols as well). Figure 4 shows low backscatter in the time period before the eruption (the blue color on the left of the graph, around 2:30 p.m. local time; 0630Z). Rapidly, within an hour after the eruption starting from 4:00 p.m. (0800Z), larger backscatter values (i.e. higher amounts of aerosols) are observed at high altitudes around 10- 12 km as the polluted air mass was transported from Taal to Metro Manila. The top of the ash plume can not be measured by the HSRL which loses signal above 12 km due to high concentration of the ash. This supports the hypothesis of high-altitude transport as the main mechanism behind the rapid spread of Taal’s emissions. As the evening went on, the air mass began to descend until it reached the ground at 6:00 p.m. (1000Z), the same time that ashfall in Metro Manila was reported. The ash plume is still present after 13:00Z however the HSRL becomes blocked by water clouds starting near 1300Z (9:00 pm).
Aerosol optical depth or AOD is a measure of how much sunlight is prevented from reaching the ground due to aerosols and a marker of aerosol concentration. A higher AOD means that conditions are hazier. Figure 5 shows that total AOD from surface to 10km (which can be read as the AOD value at the top-most altitude) before the ashfall (8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., 12 January 2020; 0000Z-0400Z) was around 0.36, which is somewhat polluted but typical for Metro Manila. Over a four-hour period during the peak of the ashfall in Quezon City (8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., 12 January 2020; 1200Z-1600Z), AOD reached over four times that value (~1.66), signifying extremely hazy conditions.
More recent measurements (8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., 13 January 2020; 0000Z-0400Z) show that AOD values have returned to normal (~0.34) over the Manila Observatory. Based on the latest satellite images, emissions from the volcano have decreased and prevailing winds are advecting residual emissions in the northeast direction (Figure 6).
As Taal Volcano continues to be at Alert Level 4 (hazardous eruption imminent), people in affected locations are advised to take necessary precautions and stay calm. In the days to come, the Manila Observatory will continue to monitor atmospheric conditions and air quality levels in order to better assess the level of danger posed to the general public.
By Gabrielle Frances Leung¹, Miguel Ricardo Hilario¹, Grace Betito¹, Paola Angela Bañaga¹, Xzann Gary Vincent Topacio¹, Zenn Marie Cainglet¹ ³, Shane Marie Visaga² ³, Imee Delos Reyes¹ ³, Lyndon Mark Olaguera² ³, Julie Mae Dado² ³, Faye Cruz², Joel Maquiling³, Maria Obiminda Cambaliza¹ ³, James Bernard Simpas¹ ³, Gemma Teresa Narisma² ³, Robert Holz⁴, Ralph Kuehn⁴, and Edwin Eloranta⁴ ¹ Air Quality Dynamics Laboratory, Manila Observatory, Philippines ; ² Regional Climate Systems Laboratory, Manila Observatory, Philippines; ³ Department of Physics, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines; ⁴ Space Sciences Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madiscon, Wisconsin, USA
Acknowledgments: We acknowledge the use of AHI data from the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA), imagery from the University of Wisconsin Madison Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) and U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) as part of the NASA CAMP2Ex ( Cloud, Aerosol and Monsoon Processes Philippines Experiment) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA), and the NASA Worldview application team as part of the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). We also acknowledge that the University of Wisconsin High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL) which is deployed at the Manila Observatory to support CAMP2Ex, and Dr. Jeffrey Reid of NRL for his invaluable comments and input.
The recently launched Young Leaders Resilience Program had its first national competition during the November 12 Top Leaders Forum at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. The winners of the competition were as follows:
1st place – Muntinlupa City, Seismo-Power Terminator
On November 21, National Resilience Council (NRC) President Antonia Yulo Loyzaga and SM Prime and NRC Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Consultant VADM Alexander Pama appeared on CNN Philippines’ On the Record to discuss how businesses can prepare for and bounce forward from disasters.
The National Resilience Council (NRC) believes that young people have the capacity and drive to help in achieving disaster and climate resilience.
As the lead implementing partner of ARISE Philippines, the NRC created the Young Leaders for Resilience Program (YLRP) to encourage youth engagement in co-creating solutions that address the resilience challenges of local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines.
To come up with innovative solutions targeting specific LGU risks, the YLRP uses IBM’s Design Thinking framework, an approach IBM defines as “helping us get things done in a way that enables speed, constantly delivers new value, and ensures minimal risk.”
IBM Philippines, Asia Pacific College, and National University, with support from NRC and ARISE Philippines, then conducted the IBM Enterprise Design Thinking Workshop (EDTW) for students of academic institutions within NRC’s partner LGUs. Below are photos from the EDTWs:
Cagayan de Oro City
With help from the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices and the City Planning and Development Offices, the students conducted research to develop and refine their proposals.
The students presented their proposals at the local level, where a top-performing team from each of the 8 LGUs were selected to pitch their ideas at the national level during the November 12 Top Leaders Forum in Pasay City:
Bataan Peninsula State University (Bataan Province)
Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan de Oro (Cagayan de Oro City)
PHINMA University of Iloilo (Iloilo City)
Camarines Sur Polytechnic Colleges (Iriga City)
Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Muntinlupa (Muntinlupa City)
Bicol State College of Applied Sciences and Technology (Naga City)
Visayas State University (Ormoc City)
Ateneo de Zamboanga University (Zamboanga City)
The winning teams per LGU defended their proposals before an esteemed panel of judges in a pre-selection process and were given initial scores.
The students then had the opportunity to showcase their ideas through exhibits at the 2019 Top Leaders Forum (TLF), and made their final pitch in the afternoon. The top three teams and their winning proposals were:
1st place – Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Muntinlupa (Muntinlupa City), Seismo-Power Terminator
2nd place – Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan de Oro (Cagayan de Oro City), Project ORO
3rd place – Camarines Sur Polytechnic Colleges (Iriga City), Tri-button Emergency Box
2019 TLF photos are courtesy of SM
To learn more about the Young Leaders for Resilience Program, check out the YLRP flyer on NRC’s Resources Page.
On November 12, ARISE Philippines, SM Prime, and the National Resilience Council (NRC) held the 8th Top Leaders Forum at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.
With the theme “From Risk to Resilience: Forging Pathways and Milestones”, the TLF was an opportunity to showcase the work of various sectors in achieving a disaster and climate resilient Philippines. Specifically, it highlighted:
Private sector engagement with small and medium enterprises
NRC’s partner local governments’ progress on the localized resilience scorecard
NRC’s Adopt-A-City program
Launch of the Young Leaders for Resilience Program
Partnership with Coastal Cities at Risk in the Philippines, Zuellig Family Foundation, and Manila Observatory in the conceptualization of the Resilient Barangay Program