The following text draws from an address I gave to the 4th International Conference on Community Resilience (August 29-30 2013) to greet the participants in the name of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences.


The 4th International Conference on Community Resilience in Davos, Switzerland on 29-30 August 2013 centered on community resiliency, an important issue in a changing world in which our influence on the planet has become such that we, human beings, are the cause, maybe indirect, of some of the major problems that a fraction of us will encounter in the coming decades and centuries.

The congress participants discussed how we  should prepare to respond to major events, "natural" catastrophes.

My first reaction when considering this issue is that we, our societies in general, should not forget that the best  way to successfully go through a turbulent period is to avoid the problems, in our case to prevent the catastrophes. We cannot eliminate all natural disasters, many are outside our influence, be they tectonic, weather related or of astronomical origin. However, we must remember that a significant part of the extreme weather related issues are due to our dumping of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere  in an uncontrolled way. We should, therefore, not give up efforts to control our emissions in the atmosphere. We must be prepared, in a way as a first step in resiliency, to consider how we can act to keep our climate as benign as possible. Once that we know what we have to do, and we largely know this by now, we must act according to our findings. This can be metaphorically expressed by making an analogy with sailing: A good sailor is not one who masters all storms, it is one who avoids them. Another, more economic, way  of seeing this aspect of our action is to remember that it is most of the time less expensive to maintain a system in good working order than to let it break down and than attempt to mend the pieces.

This said,  not all disruptive events can be avoided. Plate tectonics, an essential recycler of elements essential for life, is linked with earthquakes and volcanic activity, one major cause of natural disasters. Hurricanes or major meteorological events did not wait for the industrial revolution to take place and near Earth objects have been hitting the Earth and will continue to do so in the future. Hence  efforts to prepare policies and plans to meet such events and make them as little disruptive as possible are an important, if not the most important, element of public policy.

Let me end  with a question.  Discussions of policies relevant to resiliency are often made in national contexts. This is understandable in the world  as it emerged from European views on the state as a nation and vice-versa, because  in this configuration the strongest actors on the world scene are  national governments. However, the effects of catastrophes may well ignore national boundaries. Consider,  as a very concrete example the threat due to approaching astronomical bodies. The present way of dealing with such events -that will take place- is that, upon detection of a threatening body of a size such that it could break havoc on a regional scale, the trajectory of the object should be measured precisely and  modified so that it avoids the Earth altogether.  This type of manoeuvre is  in principle possible. There is,  however,  a risk that another region on Earth is hit rather than the one on the original trajectory. Would  national governments, whose responsibility is primarily towards their people, their electors, not satisfy themselves with no action if their geographical area are not concerned?

This is but an example showing that in dealing with many major events, or   in matters of  climate   control, the actions need be taken at a global level.

We are ever more aware that we live on a single spaceship. We should therefore  possibly put little by little more emphasis on the governance of the spaceship as a whole and give attention, also in resiliency issues, to global matters.