The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Second Edition
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The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Second Edition

Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate

This thoroughly revised Handbook provides an assessment of the scope and content of environmental sociology, and sets out the intellectual and practical challenges posed by the urgent need for policy and action to address accelerating environmental change.
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Chapter 18: Environmental Hazards and Human Disasters

Raymond Murphy


Raymond Murphy Introduction Risk is the concept that unites environmental research and investigations of disasters. For example, greenhouse gas emissions constitute an environmental problem causing global climate change that brings the risk of disastrous sea-level rise, extreme weather events, drought, wildfires and other difficult-to-foresee threats (Broecker, 1997; IPCC, 2001; Webster et al., 2005). This is just one of many cases where the very successes of science, technology and development create new risks of disasters in their interaction with the broader environment of nature’s processes. Societies are forced to decide on a case-by-case basis how to deal with the unintended harmful side effects of developments that bring additional prosperity, comforts and leisure. Even deciding to go full speed ahead with business as usual constitutes a decision. Reflective modernity has arrived, with the significant issue being whether the reflection will be appropriate or badly chosen for society’s interaction with nature’s hazards. Disasters have been referred to as ‘the monitor of development . . . Whether these processes [of development] have been planned or whether they have been fortuitous, whether they have caused or exacerbated vulnerability, or whether they have reduced vulnerability, will be exposed in the manifestation of natural hazards’ (Lewis, 1999: 146). Disasters have been called ‘unpaid bills’ and an externalized ‘debt of development’ (IDNDR, 1998) because costly preventive measures were not implemented. Sylves and Waugh (1996) and Quarantelli (1998) argue that the intensified activities of industrialization have exacerbated vulnerability and will increase the frequency and cost of disasters in the twenty-first century. Turner...

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