A frightening, from-the-trenches overview of “natural” and man-made disasters—and responses to them—across the globe.
This father-and-son team of scientists—Stan (Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing, 2013, etc.) is a research coordinator at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and his son, Paul, is an anthropologist based in Copenhagen—delves closely into “geoclimatic hazards,” such as earthquakes, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, and mudslides, from Missouri to Australia, gauging the human toll and cultural value of so-called victimization and resilience. These are personal stories of cataclysm—e.g., the almost resigned, mystical attitude of Filipinos to deadly cycles of typhoons and earthquakes, during which thousands of people perish, a toll unimaginable to Western nations; or conditions in the slums of flooding-prone Mumbai, where residents have no choice but to accept their role as “absorber” of shocks for the rest of the stricken city. The authors also offer stories of how disasters are used as opportunity, especially in economic rebuilding—i.e., pushing through much-needed legislation for reinvigorating the status quo, which occurred in Joplin, Missouri, after a deadly tornado wiped out its blighted business district in 2011 or in New York City and coastal New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Each chapter of this work of wide-traveled research takes up one aspect of these geoclimatic hazards once considered a kind of punishment for man’s sins (such as the mother of all disasters, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755). More recently, the horrendous 2013 mountain landslides in Uttarakhand, India, were arguably the result of man-made road building and deforestation. In the end, the authors assert that communities at risk, such as Miami Beach, Florida, “have to abandon as a mirage the old promises of security and development” and embrace what is going to become the art of resilience.
Though short on a clear thesis, the book is strong on examples of human adaptation in the face of catastrophe.