Don't Blame Climate Change for the Hurricane Harvey Disaster, Blame Society

There is an old adage in disaster studies: "there is no such thing as a natural disaster." This article explains that idea clearly by arguing that nature and climate change are not driving causes of crises like Harvey, but instead the causes originate from social and political structures and human decisions. Kelman writes:

A disaster involving a hurricane cannot happen unless people, infrastructure and communities are vulnerable to it. People become vulnerable if they end up lacking knowledge, wisdom, capabilities, social connections, support or finances to deal with a standard environmental event such as a hurricane.

The socionatural disaster in Houston, as well as in New Orleans during Katrina, were largely caused by uncontrolled sub/urbanization, unregulated development of industry and housing, and as Michael Grunwald, writing in Poltico outlines, by Federal flood insurance policy. However, in Katrina we witnessed the failure of the structural, technological mitigation system and the failed political evacuation, rescue, and rebuilding, which all took its heavies toll on African Americans and the poorest residents of New Orleans and surrounding Parishes. We have yet to see the uneven toll that our social order has taken on the people of Southeast Texas. This will become more clear in the days, weeks, and months, and honestly years. 

The Media Loves Doomsday Stories About the West's Water Crisis

Brad Plummer interviews John Fleck on the politics and empirics of the Western water crisis. Rather than doom and gloom, Fleck argues that when you look behind the headlines you find communities, users, and governments working to solve the problems. Fleck argues:

And the reason is that all across the West, when people are confronted with the fact that there’s not enough water, they’ve been really successful at using less. So rather than the catastrophe I’d been led to expect, what I found instead was people working hard to figure out how to adapt.

Water crises and their variability, Fleck argues, are not natural but rather: 

the difference has a lot to do with the socioeconomics of land use planning and infrastructure in poor communities.

Check out Fleck's new book Water is For Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West. 

Flint, Michigan's water crisis: what the national media got wrong

Connor Coyne, writing for Vox.com, on the unfolding of the Flint poisoned water crisis:

In October 2015, the state finally confirmed the worst of our fears: There was lead in the water after all. The city switched back to Detroit water, but the damage had already been done. We, and our children, were being poisoned.

The whole article is worth a read. It's part first person narrative and part sociological overview of the crisis. 

Can Louisiana Hold Oil Companies Accountable for its Vanishing Coastline?

A great photo essay series would be "The Political Ecologies of the Age of Oil." A great place to start would be coastal Louisiana. The next place to go would be the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.

 Image via thinkprogress.org

Image via thinkprogress.org

Most Disaster Prone Places in the United States

Below are some great maps with types of crises. It appears simply geographical, but we must also remember the social factors that produce different and unequal experiences before, during, and after socio-natural crisis. The full article has a mouse over feature so you can look up each county of the United States for more fine grain detail.

 Image via Washington Post

Image via Washington Post

Pollution Killed 7 Million People Worldwide in 2012

A World Health Organization report found that the fossil fuel economy and industrial civilization is already leading to 1 out of 8 deaths among humans each year (the number would be high for non-humans too). That is an immediate danger, more immediate than what climate change may be contributing to now. In the developing world, the main culprit is burring biomass for cooking and heating, with women being at greater risk than men. In the developed world, the main culprit are fossil fuel automobiles and industrial production.

Elegy for a Country's Seasons

A beautiful, moving essay by Zadie Smith on climate change and mourning a world we lost: 

Oh, what have we done! It’s a biblical question, and we do not seem able to pull ourselves out of its familiar—essentially religious—cycle of shame, denial, and self-flagellation. This is why (I shall tell my granddaughter) the apocalyptic scenarios did not help—the terrible truth is that we had a profound, historical attraction to apocalypse. In the end, the only thing that could create the necessary traction in our minds was the intimate loss of the things we loved.

California Snowpack January 2013 Versus January 2014

 
 California snowpack January 2013 and January 2014. Image via National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

California snowpack January 2013 and January 2014. Image via National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not good. Not good at all.

Pregnant Pause

Hillary Rosner: 

Pregnancy has allowed me for the first time to understand how hard it is to tell good information from bad. As a science journalist, I make my living by being able to decipher the two, but all these warnings bewilder me. As a result, I feel like I can see a bit more clearly how misinformation can become epidemic, leading to collective panic and seriously bad policy making.
And suddenly, I began to understand something else: exactly how — and why — so many people opt to ignore the looming threat of climate change. Or to cherry-pick the facts that convince us that environmental problems are vastly overstated. Or to think that those preaching the most alarming outcomes are being melodramatic.

Disaster

“Our world appears to be on the brink of disaster, an appearance that is itself disastrous. The disaster of disaster is that disaster is everywhere, all the time: while on the one hand it appears obvious that disaster should be the exception that proves the rule of a generally non-disastrous world, in actuality no non-disastrous moment arrives.”

Timothy Morton, “Romantic Disaster Ecology: Blake, Shelley, Wordsworth.”