The age of natural disasters is coming to a close. Where we once saw spontaneous destruction from cyclones, floods, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, and eruptions, we're coming to understand the deeper connections between our choices and our catastrophes. But in spite of this knowledge, year by year, the wreckage is piling higher.
Just when we should be rushing to act against basic causes – the hijack of the atmosphere, the inequalities of risk – a strange and dangerous optimism has taken hold. It says that communities under threat simply need to learn the art of resilience, to adapt, and thereby to survive. To make such a prescription is to deny the human hand in disaster creation and to demand that the Earth’s beleaguered people absorb the rush of floodwaters and the crush of landslides so disaster can become just another sector of the economy.
In How the World Breaks, Stan Cox, author of the much debated and widely acclaimed Losing Our Cool, and his son, anthropologist and writer Paul Cox, question the current wave of thinking about disasters and resilience by taking it out of the realms of theory into the muck and ash of the world's broken places. From the people living in the path of destruction, they learn that change is more than just adaptation and life is more than just survival.
Fire Regimes: Australia and Siberia
In October 2013, the Blue Mountains burned. . . .
Leave It Up to Batman: The Philippines
Two months after the strongest storm landfall ever recorded, Judith Buhay stood on a balcony at the point of impact, overlooking her community. . . .
Neighbors to the Sky: New York City
Disaster survivors can try to restore their world as it was on the day before, or they can hit fast-forward, attempting to speed over the rough patch to a better tomorrow. . . .
Grey Goo: East Java, Indonesia
At 5:00 a.m. on May 29, 2006, an eruption of water, steam, and thick grey mud emerged from a rice paddy in Porong subdistrict. Nine years later, the eruption had slowed but the mud showed no sign of stopping. . . .
Foreshock, Shock, Aftershock: L’Aquila, Italy
Nothing complicates disaster quite like blame. . . .
Atlantis of the Americas: Miami, Florida
“When I started this job, people kept asking me, ‘Why do we have so much flooding now?’ and I said, ‘Well, there’s just one problem: the whole city’s four feet too low—that’s all!’” . . .
The Absorbers: Mumbai, India and Kampala, Uganda
In booming cities like Mumbai and Kampala, the roots of vulnerability run fiendishly deep through the landscape. . . .
Keeping the Lights On: Montserrat, West Indies
The big trucks covered in grey dust rumble through a grey landscape, over the top of a lost city, to a grey pier. . . .
“We Do Things Big Here”: Greensburg, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri
It’s obvious as soon as you reach the only traffic light in Kiowa County, Kansas, and take a turn south off U.S. Highway 54: there is something different about Greensburg. . . .
When Mountains Fall: Uttarakhand State, India
The Ganges River begins as four chief tributaries, and the four chief tributaries spring from four glaciers atop the Himalaya. . . .
Stan Cox is research coordinator at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, where he lives. His other books include Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World and Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing.
Paul Cox is an anthropologist and a writer on development and disaster. He is based in Copenhagen and works all over the world.
Contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org