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SCIENCE FAILINGS, POLICY INADEQUACIES AND WHY FLOODING CAN ONLY GET WORSE

DR STUART N. LANE Professor of Physical Geography and Director of Research, University of Durham

Date: 1st May 2008

Time: 17:30

Venue: Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building

HEAR A RECORDING OF THIS LECTURE 

For a U.K. flood scientist, these are interesting times. Since the late 1990s, we have seen a series of flood events that have, quite simply, taken us by surprise. For a country that sits right in the track of North Atlantic storm systems, this seems really rather strange. It is even more strange when we start to look at historical records, whether data or eyewitness accounts, that point to a periods in recent history that have been ‘flood rich’. We have a collective memory that seems to be blind to our own historical experience. In this lecture I will explore a series of basic failings in relation to the U.K. flood problem. I will show that at least some of these failings can be traced into the work of scientists and engineers, through the ways in which we have become captured by our own technical imaginations, through the progressive removal of ‘expertise’ from flood risk management, and through the failure to recognize the geographical specificity of river basin processes. However, I will then argue that the real problem sits with flood risk policy, linked to the progressive growth of a centralized, institutional imperative for flood risk management, which has become long on rhetoric (e.g. Making Space for Water), which has nationalized responsibility for flood risk management and which, in so doing, is stripping the capacity of local people to live with local floods. Under this scenario, and regardless of whether or not flooding as a natural phenomena becomes more severe, flooding as a political-scientific headache can only get worse. I will conclude by arguing that, like many other uncomfortable environmental problems (e.g. climate change), this will require a wholesale shift in the ways in which we develop flood risk science and flood risk policy, one that is geographically grounded, and which both enables and captures the understandings of people who have to live with floods.

Dr. Stuart N. Lane obtained his undergraduate degree from Cambridge University in Geography in 1991, and went on to complete his Ph.D. in Geography/Civil Engineering, jointly based at Cambridge University and City University, in 1994. After being appointed as a lecturer at Cambridge University from 1994-1999, he went on to become Professor at Leeds University (2000-2004) then Durham University (2004-present). He is currently leading the Water Theme of Durham’s Institute for Hazard and Risk Research.

He is the Managing Editor of the journal Earth Surface Processes and Landforms and was awarded best paper prizes for journal articles from the International Association of Hydraulic Research and from the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society. He was also awarded the Jan de Ploey prize by the International Association of Geomorphologists in 1997 (for excellence in monitoring and modeling sediment and solute processes) and a Philip Leverhulme Prize in Earth Science in 2002.