I’ve been reading several different books and articles suggested by colleagues and all dealing with environmentalism and pro-environmental behavior. One of these was suggested by Scott Miles - Breakthrough: From the death of environmentalism to the politics of possibility, authored by Nordhaus and Shellenberger. This provocative, though not particularly academically-disciplined, book suggests that concerns over clean air, clean water and environmental protection historically emerged out of the post-WWII era of expansiveness. There was a wide-spread sense of economic and physical security, in sharp contrast to earlier decades of economic depression, food insecurity, and then physical security threats during the war years. Moreover, a sense of global status and purpose was provided with the new world order. With basic materialistic needs met, post-materialist needs concerns emerged for post-WWII Americans. These included a concern over quality of life and personal expression needs, some of which were to become the basis for the environmentalist movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
The corollary to their argument is that for many nations, for insecure sub-populations here in the
There are certainly criticisms to be made about their often simplistic painting of the environmentalist movement (e.g. NY Times, here at IGCR Miles intends to write another). However, I think their arguments are still interesting to consider in light of the issues of disaster risk reduction and emergency planning.
Certainly, it is a challenge to promote long-term strategy thinking about disaster risk reduction in a community where more immediate “first order” needs have not been met. In
Given the constant tensions between immediate needs and long-term threats from disasters, how do we advocate for disaster risk reduction policies? Certainly decisions made now to address these first order needs often impact our community’s future disaster resilience. Job creation, economic growth and inexpensive construction in an economically insecure community (whether that be someplace in a developing nation or right here in our own formerly forestry-oriented counties) can “build in” vulnerability to disasters years or decades down the road. Once poorly built construction is in place, it often takes an earthquake to tear it down. Flood plane encroachment has the same effect. Its hard to tear it down, once its been built. There is rarely enough political will to undo poor planning decisions prior to a disaster.
There is also a second, more hidden process that is also related to Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s argument. It difficult to sustain interest in some future disaster risk when more immediate concerns loom large, thus, without a disaster its hard to get people to prepare for one. Investment in other quality of life issues is often viewed as more important and regarded as having more immediate returns.
But, following a disaster, the situation may not improve. Following a disaster, basic needs are often not even met. In a major disaster, people are without homes, clothes, livelihoods and even without loved-ones. Their concern is once again, reverted to meeting basic needs, and meeting them fast. Concern about how decisions may impact future risk is again subservient to concerns over meeting basic needs. Following Hurricane Katrina, residents I worked with were many times more concerned about getting the right to return to their homes and neighborhoods than they were with the very substantial risk of loss and even death in future hurricanes and levee breakages if they did return. Their concerns were rational, if not unfortunate from a disaster risk reduction, policy and planning perspective.
So, what is to be done in a profession where the public will, in large, remain impassive to our major concern? I am still reading Breakthough, but the authors have some suggestions for dealing with climate change that might also apply to disaster risk reduction. They suggest that environmentalist concerned over climate change, must champion solutions that address people’s lower-level concerns for security, status and purpose. For example, be concerned about developing country debt relief if you care about the rain forests of
The pressure and release model of disasters does the same for disaster risk reduction, highlighting root causes of disasters in other more basic human needs issues. Current international efforts are pushing this envelope. Including disaster risk reduction in the MDGs, arguing for the twins of development and risk reduction, focusing on livelihoods and disasters are all strategies that combine strict disaster risk reduction. NSET advocates better building in