I met Ted Wolf almost exactly ten years ago, when I was writing my first article for the New York Times—about the Natural Capital Center, a project of Ecotrust, where Ted worked as the Director of Communications.
Two memories of that time stand out: we went to press the day of the Nisqually earthquake (February 28, 2001), and the editors excised the word ”sustainability” from my story. “We at the Times like to be precise,” the editor remarked over the phone, as I wondered about aftershocks.
A decade later, I might describe the confluence of those events—meeting Ted, the Nisqually earthquake, writing an article about a building devoted to a “conservation economy”—as foreshadowing.
I say that because Ted, who left Ecotrust that summer and has since authored several books, among other accomplishments, is now spending much of his time thinking about the relationship between a sustainable economy–and earthquakes.
Or, as he puts it, “I am determined to put seismic resilience on the sustainability agenda.”
I have written, on this blog, about the irony of living in the Pacific Northwest, a region that is at once dedicated to green living and threatened with devastation by the Cascadia Subduction Zone quake.
But it’s one thing to note the irony–another to articulate the relationship between sustainability and seismic resilience.
To commemorate our “anniversary,” I asked Ted to respond to a few more questions on the subject. His answers are posted here:
Q: When and why did you shift your attention from sustainability to Oregon’s earthquake risk?
Wolf: I don’t consider it a “shift” so much as a broadening of my perspective. The Chilean earthquake last year was a wake-up call — it was so similar to the Cascadia quake and tsunami that will strike the Pacific Northwest! As I learned more about the seismic geology of Cascadia and about the structural deficiencies of our public schools in particular, I began to see a new way in which our present form of inhabiting the Northwest is far from sustainable. Our kids are at risk! There is no version of sustainability in which that should be tolerable.
Q: What does it mean exactly to “put seismic resilience on the sustainability agenda?”
Wolf: It means to begin to think, and to act, systemically with respect to seismic risk, as we are learning to do with sustainability concerns from energy and climate to the design of cities. Seismic resilience involves decisions and investments in exactly the same systems that are the focus of the sustainability agenda: energy, transportation, water, the built environment. In fact, taking seismic resilience seriously is a way of protecting the important investments we are making in sustainability.
The Governor’s school energy-efficiency initiative is a great place to begin, because behind that initiative is a question: What kind of schools are appropriate for the future our children will inhabit? Here in Oregon, the answer is “safe green schools.
ADDENDUM: in a subsequent email, Ted said he’d like to add another item to his agenda: LEED points for seismic resilience.