Storms, floods, fires, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other disasters seem not only more frequent but also closer to home. As the world faces this onslaught, we have placed our faith in "sustainable development," which promises that we can survive and even thrive in the face of climate change and other risks. Yet while claiming to "go green," we have instead created new risks, continued to degrade nature, and failed to halt global warming.
Unnatural Disasters offers a new perspective on our most pressing environmental and social challenges, revealing the gaps between abstract concepts like sustainability, resilience, and innovation and the real-world experiences of people living at risk. Gonzalo Lizarralde explains how the causes of disasters are not natural but all too human: inequality, segregation, marginalization, colonialism, neoliberalism, racism, and unrestrained capitalism. He tells the stories of Latin American migrants, Haitian earthquake survivors, Canadian climate activists, African slum dwellers, and other people resisting social and environmental injustices around the world. Lizarralde shows that most reconstruction and risk-reduction efforts exacerbate social inequalities. Some responses do produce meaningful changes, but they are rarely the ones powerful leaders have in mind.
Unnatural Disasters reveals how disasters have become both the causes and consequences of today's most urgent challenges and proposes achievable solutions to save a planet at risk, emphasizing the power citizens hold to change the current state of affairs.
Introduction: “It Won’t Be Easy, But We Have Little Choice”
1. Causes: “Disasters Happen for a Reason”
2. Change: “They Want to Build Something Modern Here”
3. Sustainability: “They Often Come Here with Their Talk About Green Solutions”
4. Resilience: “They Say That We Must Adapt”
5. Participation: “They Want Us to Participate in the Construction of I-Don’t-Know-What”
6. Innovation: “We Need Something Really Innovative, They Said”
7. Decision-Making: “We Want to Be Able to Make Our Own Decisions”
8. Humility: “The Damn Circumstance of Water Everywhere”
Gonzalo Lizarralde is a professor of architecture at the Université de Montréal, where he holds the Fayolle-Magil Construction Chair in Architecture, Built Environment, and Sustainability. He is the director of the Canadian Disaster Resilience and Sustainable Reconstruction Research Alliance. His books include The Invisible Houses: Rethinking and Designing Low-Cost Housing in Developing Countries (2014).
"In this book, Gonzalo Lizarralde tackles some of the most pressing and difficult questions the world faces today as we struggle to adapt to climate change and intensified disasters. The result is a valuable and unique compendium of wisdom and experience, full of insight into both environmental problems and human nature."
– David Alexander, professor of risk and disaster reduction, University College London
"Lizarralde provides an erudite and searing critique of the development paradigm and its buzzwords, and ultimately challenges the reader to find hope in the courage and leadership of the oppressed. The highly accessible stories contained in this book radically humanize and uplift people experiencing the long-term process of a disaster. Unnatural Disasters is a call to repoliticize our narratives and consider our participation in this site of contested power."
– Jason von Meding, M. E. Rinker Sr. School of Construction Management, Florida Institute for Built Environment Resilience, University of Florida
"This book explains the contentious and complex topic of why disasters are not natural in an accessible and passionate way. It also challenges our current thinking by highlighting the gaps that we need to bridge in order to limit risk creation. Lizarralde's account of ordinary people's experiences is wonderful and will help readers connect with the issue."
– Ksenia Chmutina, coauthor of Disaster Risk Reduction for the Built Environment
"This book draws on Lizarralde's long experience as a scholar and practitioner to examine, in an engaging prose and with a sharp eye, the roots, complexities, and consequences of what he lucidly calls "unnatural disasters" and responses to them. By taking an intellectual scalpel to commonly held assumptions and conventional solutions, backed by rigorously researched case studies in a social justice framework, Unnatural Disasters makes an important contribution to development scholarship, policy formulation, and practice."
– Julio D. Dávila, professor of urban policy and international development, University College London