Social Roots of Risk: Producing Disasters, Promoting Resilience

Social Roots of Risk: Producing Disasters, Promoting Resilience

Social Roots of Risk: Producing Disasters, Promoting Resilience

Social Roots of Risk: Producing Disasters, Promoting Resilience


The first decade of the 21st century saw a remarkable number of large-scale disasters. Earthquakes in Haiti and Sumatra underscored the serious economic consequences that catastrophic events can have on developing countries, while 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina showed that first world nations remain vulnerable.

The Social Roots of Risk argues against the widespread notion that cataclysmic occurrences are singular events, driven by forces beyond our control. Instead, Kathleen Tierney contends that disasters of all types-be they natural, technological, or economic-are rooted in common social and institutional sources. Put another way, risks and disasters are produced by the social order itself-by governing bodies, organizations, and groups that push for economic growth, oppose risk-reducing regulation, and escape responsibility for tremendous losses when they occur.

Considering a wide range of historical and looming events-from a potential mega-earthquake in Tokyo that would cause devastation far greater than what we saw in 2011, to BP's accident history prior to the 2010 blowout-Tierney illustrates trends in our behavior, connecting what seem like one-off events to illuminate historical patterns.

Like risk, human resilience also emerges from the social order, and this book makes a powerful case that we already have a significant capacity to reduce the losses that disasters produce. A provocative rethinking of the way that we approach and remedy disasters, The Social Roots of Risk leaves readers with a better understanding of how our own actions make us vulnerable to the next big crisis-and what we can do to prevent it.



The first decade of the twenty-first century was marked by disasters of epic proportions, both in the United States and around the world. The terrorist attacks of September u, 2001, left over two thousand dead and ushered in a new age of terror. In late 2004, the Great Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake and the tsunamis that followed killed approximately 230,000 people in fifteen nations. Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, washed away coastal communities, and drowned the city of New Orleans, killing at least 1,800 and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. In May 2008, tens of thousands died in a major earthquake in China’s Sichuan province. A crisis in the global financial system, which began slowly and almost invisibly gained momentum, came close to causing a total meltdown of the world financial system in the fall of 2008. Complete collapse was averted, but the United States and other nations around the world were plunged into a deep and prolonged recession. In January 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. The death toll in that catastrophe is in dispute but could number as many as 300,000. More people lost their lives in Haiti than in any disaster that had ever occurred in the Western Hemisphere. Relative to the size of Haiti’s population, the death toll made the earthquake the deadliest disaster to strike any nation in modern times. Just weeks later, a massive 8.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Chile; it was among the largest temblors ever recorded. In April 2010, a volcanic eruption in Iceland resulted in widespread flooding in that nation and spewed ash into the atmosphere, shutting down air travel to and from numerous airports in Europe, including its two largest, London Heathrow and Frankfurt, for days. That same month, on April 20, an explosion on the British Petroleum-operated Deepwater Horizon oil platform and drilling operation caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history, far surpassing the 11-million-gallon Exxon Valdez spill . . .

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