Responses to Hurricane Sandy consistently cluster into two types according to how the issues have been defined and understood. On one hand, the crisis was seen as an extreme weather event that created physical and economic damage, and temporarily moved New York City away from its status quo. On the other hand, Hurricane Sandy exacerbated crises which existed before the storm, including poverty, lack of affordable housing, precarious or low employment, and unequal access to resources generally. A Tale of Two Sandysdescribes these two understandings of disaster and discuss their implications for response, recovery, and justice in New York City.
The white paper is based on 74 interviews with policymakers, environmental groups, volunteer first responders, and residents affected by the storm; ethnographic observation; analysis of public reports from government, community-based organizations, and other groups; qualitative analysis of canvassing forms and data; and a review of the academic literature on disaster response. As a framing document, A Tale of Two Sandys selects certain case studies for their exemplary nature, including how different groups identified vulnerable populations, timelines for aid and recovery, a case study of housing and rebuilding, and finally, urban climate change politics. The primary purpose of A Take of Two Sandys is to propose a sophisticated, accurate, and useful way of understanding the inequalities entwined with Sandy’s aftermath and to enable ways to address them.
Freely available at Superstorm Research Lab
Full title: Discourse, Disaster, and the Urban Hazardscape: The political ecology of climate and disasters after Hurricane Sandy (Dissertation)
This dissertation examines how the phenomenon of climate change is changing the public conception of natural disasters, and vice versa. Using the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York City as a case study, this project draws on a year of in-depth fieldwork triangulated with media coverage, public reports, and city-level quantitative data to illustrate how popular misconceptions about how disasters happen were at work in the public response to the catastrophe. In particular, my research develops a conceptual framework using discourse analysis, to identify two false doctrines or tropes which underlie many of these misconceptions. The first, the doctrine of natural disaster, asserts that environmental disasters are fundamentally physiological rather than social in origin. The second, the doctrine of disaster exceptionalism, asserts that so-called natural disasters are rare and unpredictable events. The results of this project indicate that while climate change has the potential to disrupt these two false doctrines, this is not yet occurring in the public response to disaster. This dissertation also extends earlier work on the intersection of climate policy and environmental justice, known as the “climate gap”, and extends it to adaptation, proposing an “adaptation gap” is also at work. Finally, this dissertation proposes a new test for delineating different types of climate change adaptation, further developing work on what constitutes transformational adaptation.
The first chapter of my dissertation lays out the foundational arguments, including a description of two pervasive fallacies which I have found to structure the public discourse around disaster: that disasters are “natural” rather than social in character, and that disasters are exceptional, aberrant events. The second chapter articulates the concept of hazardscape, a holistic approach to risk, resilience, and vulnerability that incorporates a critical approach to socio-environmental systems. In my third chapter, I describe representations of adaptation, resilience, and vulnerability which were used in public debates in the wake of the disaster, and how these representations obscure how the status quo is maintained in the city’s approach to resilience. In my fourth chapter, I demonstrate that adaptation can, without an explicit commitment to social justice and addressing inequality, reproduce the social vulnerabilities which undermine resistance. Finally, I return to the idea of the two fallacies which has run throughout the rest of the work, and explore how the phenomenon of climate change might disrupt these fallacies. By recognizing the fundamentally social character of climate-related disaster, adaptive policies can better address the social aspects of resilience and vulnerability.
Freely available on Academia.edu