Disasterology: June 2021

This newsletter is a compilation of recent disaster ~things~ that I think are cool, important, or otherwise of interest to people who are intrigued with disaster (broadly defined).

There’s a little something for everyone!

Happy Monday, Friends! 

It really is brutal out here.

The State of Emergency Management

Tropical depression Claudette caused damage in the south, a tornado swept through the Chicago suburbs, there was flooding in Detroit, and a condo building collapsed in Florida. The pandemic continues, obviously, and no, it did not stop climate change

This brings me to the primary subject of this month’s newsletter: the drought, the heatwave, the fires, and how climate change is at the center of it all.

The West

Scientists have been ringing the alarm bell for decades: climate change will bring drought, heatwaves, and fires to the west. Now, it’s happening. 

There is a long history that has led us to this moment– we are talking here about changing conditions that mean whether or not people will be able to continue to live where they do now. These are life and death issues steeped in complicated policies, divergent interests, and shifting priorities. As one article put it, “generations of tensions could escalate in volatile new ways”.

Which perhaps is why I’ve seen so many struggling to talk about what is happening. I’ve seen a constant stream of concerns from those who are living through this crisis that people don’t understand how severe the intersecting crises are and how much worse they are anticipated to become. So, I’ve compiled a list of articles here that can be a starting point to try and make sense of these intersecting crises. 

First, heat. Records are falling by the minute throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Houston Chronicle looked at how heatwaves in Houston drive home the inequality of climate change. This article from Vice on how smart thermostats are being used to turn down air conditioners struck me as particularly dystopian. 

Moving onto fire. Grist highlighted the importance of Indigenous fire practices as we try to deal with this new reality. Relatedly, Sanford Social Innovation Review had an important piece on utilizing an Indigenous systems approach to the climate crisis. Grist also made the connection between increasing wildfire risk and housing policies in California. The New York Times reported on how wildfires can threaten urban water supplies in the long-term which is a great segue to drought/ water issues.  

The New York Times has an explainer about the Western drought. High Country News explains why some argue ‘aridification’ is the more appropriate term to be using. The Los Angeles Times looked at how the drought has ravaged California’s reservoirs this summer. Earther warns the current water restrictions are just beginning. Since we’re talking about compounding threats we also need to talk about cybersecurity. NBC News reported on50,000 security disasters waiting to happen to our water supply. 

Finally, on the subject of utilities… Bloomberg covered how California is walking a ‘Tight Rope’ as their hydropower supply fades and Earther looked at how extreme heat could knock out the Texas grid again. 

Of all the hazards impacted by climate change, heatwaves arguably have the most instinctual connection. (This is why, for example, researchers have focused on linking climate change to deaths caused by extreme heat.) However, other research has found that contrary to what many of us have hoped, extreme weather may not lead to climate action. This work also found that the one type of weather that did affect beliefs about climate change were hot, dry days. This suggests it is critical that media coverage clearly makes the connections between climate change and these high temperatures (among other hazards). 

Which is why there is widespread frustration over much of our current media coverage in the U.S. A quick analysis found only about 4% of local Colorado media coverage of the heat wave connected it to climate change. Four Percent. As Andrew Dessler put simply, “At this point, you should assume that every severe heat wave has been made worse by climate change – that should now be the null hypothesis.” Nationally things are looking a bit better, though still pitiful. A Media Matters analysis found that only 27% of broadcast TV news segments mentioned the connection between the heatwave/ drought and climate change. 

So what are we doing about this long-term risk? Well, far less than we should. Federally, President Biden was at FEMA again talking about resilience. He specifically noted that he would be raising the pay for federal firefighters. (Grist has an excellent feature that breaks down the lack of compensation.) There is another big meeting this week to specifically discuss the drought, heat, and wildfires in the West. So, I guess we’ll see. 

While I have focused on the United States here, these issues are repeated globally

~MEME~ Break: 

The Book of the Month:

“Getting to the Heart of Science Communication: A Guide to Effective Engagement” by Faith Kearns

Do you ever read a book and think, “oh, this was written specifically for me?” That was me on every page of Getting to the Heart of Science Communication 

This is an absolutely incredible book that examines how we do science communication (broadly defined). It is a must read for anyone doing science communication work but because Kearns specializes in water, fire, and climate it is especially relevant for those of us doing disaster-related work. Besides researchers I also think many emergency management practitioners -- especially those that do outreach -- will find this book invaluable. 

The Disasterology Monthly Newsletter gives this 10/10 stars.

You can read more here and buy it here.

Get In Losers, We’re Donating

I wanted to draw your attention to the #GiveAIR Fund which is an initiative started by youth climate activist Haven Coleman. Haven is raising money to purchase air purifier kits for households in disadvantaged communities. What I really love about this effort is that she’s bridging climate activism into disaster work. Yes, we need big structural change but we also have to meet the needs of our communities as we begin to experience the consequences of the climate crisis. 

I’ll be donating 100% of the proceeds from this month's newsletter and I’d love for you to join me! (Even if you can’t donate right now it would be great if you could share it on socials.) 

Important Disaster Related Media Coverage This Month:

Overall there was some good disaster coverage this month. This piece from Chris Flavelle, Why Does Disaster Aid Often Favor White People? And the related Dispossessed, Again: Climate Change Hits Native Americans Especially Hard stood out for me. We also got to hear much more from Administrator Criswell


Grist: During wildfires and hurricanes, a language gap can be deadly 

The Guardian: Disaster patriarchy: how the pandemic has unleashed a war on women 

Washington Post: High stakes and high stress, forecasting tornadoes can take psychological toll 


ABC News: Houston seethes over being frozen out of federal funds

Undark: A $26-Billion Plan to Save the Houston Area From Rising Seas 

The New York Times: A 20-Foot Sea Wall? Miami Faces the Hard Choices of Climate Change 

Accuweather: Weather adds stress to America’s crumbling infrastructure  

CNN: Helicopter blasts pipeline protesters with dirt and debris 

The Advocate: Bayou rebirth: Fixing a century-old mistake that robbed Louisiana of land and a scenic waterway  

Grist: This Louisiana neighborhood is retreating in the face of climate change 

Atmos: Why Scientists Are Urging Us to Look at Managed Retreat 


Buzzfeed: This Louisiana Town Is A Bleak Forecast Of America’s Future Climate Crisis 

The State: Years after 2015 floods, nearly 200 Columbia homeowners wait on disaster relief 

High Country News: After wildfire, a motel becomes a temporary refuge

Atmos: ‘The Kids Have Trauma’: The Miskito Are Not Ready for Hurricane Season 


Bon Appétit: This Disaster Kit Helps Me Feel Prepared for Anything    

Reuters: U.S. cities put trust in community hubs to counter climate, social shocks 

Government Executive: FEMA Seeks More Staff as It Rests Beleaguered Employees Ahead of Busy Season 

The End Bits:

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