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Sustainability and resilience are intertwined

I am an independent, licensed professional engineer and scientist who is associated as a collaborator with the Resilient Design Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont. I am also a member of ASCE. I read with vital interest the article “Responding to Code Red” by Robert L. Reid in the January/February issue (pages 36-45), and I found it profoundly relevant and properly comprehensive in its coverage of the challenges civil engineers must address for the safety and wellness of our global society.

Sustainability and resilience are the crucial themes to understand and enact in our global goals. For years, however, I have witnessed an interminable tautological dance in descriptions and definitions of these two terms. There seems to be some fair measure of confusion and ambiguity. Allow me to add my two cents.

I submit that sustainability is the state or condition of “enduring function.” Resilience provides capability to enable and ensure “enduring function.” As such, resilience serves sustainability, and the two attributes are inexorably and essentially intertwined. Sustainability cannot be achieved without resilience. The question remains that while resilience is necessary for sustainability, is it sufficient? Resilience has several synonyms — such as power, strength, potency, and adaptability — but for sustainability, we also need to include economy, the judicious management of limited resources; stewardship, the responsibility and care for nature and the built environment; and justice, which should include equity for all.

In the article I see references to an “overlap” between sustainability and resilience and that we need to “synergize them” when we can. I also see a reference to ongoing discussion and debate at large that “sustainability is a subset of resilience” or the other way around. Or that they are different, but we “need them both.” I think these perspectives obscure the meaning and our facility to work with them with proper effect. To see them instead as an intertwined pair in which one is a condition to be achieved by means of the other makes it clear, in my opinion: One is the goal, and one is a means. But, of course, the discussion goes deeper.

What I claim as the meaning and intrinsic coupling of the two terms is consistent with the meaning and intent of each as designated by ASCE and presented in the Civil Engineering article. Society wants to sustain quality of life in an enduring fashion without undermining the health and wellness of the environment that houses us and all species. Resilience ensures that very endurance in the face of disruptive assaults through planning, design, construction, and maintenance that mitigate undesirable consequences and enable fast recovery when function is disrupted.

I want to reiterate that the Civil Engineering article serves a much-needed purpose and speaks to an urgency that is indeed “code red.”

Russell G. Derickson, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, Commerce City, Colorado

Disagreeing with the infrastructure law

Promoters of the infrastructure bill discussed in the article “A Boost for Infrastructure” (January/February issue, pages 46-53) are attempting to sell it as a reasonable compromise between the major political parties. The cold truths are that it will greatly expand the size and scope of the federal government; significantly add to the national debt (per the Congressional Budget Office, $256 billion over 10 years); waste hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars; and promote a variety of far-left causes over five years toward building and repairing roads, bridges, airports, and railways. The bill also renews existing spending of $650 billion on transportation projects, whatever mysterious pot of money that entails.

The energy section incorporated the Energy Infrastructure Act, which funds virtually every energy technology, fuel, and supply chain. Handouts include grants, loan guarantees, cost-sharing programs, and federally funded research, development, and demonstration projects and commercialization.

The climate section expands the federal government into private ventures in electric and alternative vehicle refueling stations. (Did we team with Henry Ford and Standard Oil a century ago to build private gas stations?) It also expands cost sharing for weather-resistant infrastructure and includes grants for reflective sidewalks and tree planting, even though these are highly local projects (that could be) paid for by states and local municipalities.

The bill spends as much on modes like mass transit and Amtrak as it does on highways, even though buses and rail account for a tiny fraction of travel as commuters avoid the “Covidsphere” of public transit by working from anywhere but in the central business districts.

These are but three affronts embedded in the 2,700-plus pages of this bloated piece of legislation. The onion metaphor applies: The more layers you expose, the more it stinks.

Steven P. Scalici, P.E., M.ASCE, New York City