New compendium of tools for post-disaster recovery (and vulnerability assessment)

The result of a grant from the Institute of Structural Engineers, Laura Howlett of University College London has written a report detailing currently available tools for post-disaster recovery. It’s titled “Measuring Recovery: signposts to good practice” and can be downloaded from the EEFIT Grants website, here.

Significantly, many of the tools work not only for post-disaster recovery but also pre-disaster vulnerability assessment, making the report useful for a range of academics and professionals working on either prevention or recovery.

Weekly Productivity Template

Summer should be the time for academic writing, but if you’re a teaching oriented person (as I am), it’s very easy to become consumed with teaching-related tasks. In many ways teaching is more seductive to me during the summer because it’s when all the fun planning happens for the new classes I’m teaching in the next year – textbook and article selection, puzzling out the right pedagogical tools to employ to engage students in the material, dig around the internet for new case studies, demonstrations, and games. All of that is so fun and writing doesn’t get any easier just because it’s the summer.

Continue reading “Weekly Productivity Template”

Two new climate change educational resources

A coalition of environmental research institutions in Ithaca, NY have produced a resource for high school science teachers teaching climate change. You can download it for free from their website, or order a paper copy for $25, and they are also running a crowd-funding campaign to send a copy to every high school science teacher in the US.

There’s also a new MOOC available via Coursera for the general public who are interested in climate change, want to take action, but don’t feel like they know how to do it. I think it costs something to take the course, but there are scholarships available. The course was developed and is taught by professors from the University of Michigan and elsewhere. I particularly like this idea because it focuses not just on education, but on how individuals and groups can take action to address climate change.

An Open Letter to the New York Times


In response to Bret Stephens’ debut as an op-ed columnist. NB if you want to voice your concern about the Gray Lady employing this person, there is an online petition protesting Stephens’ appointment.

To the Editors of the New York Times

As a climate scientist, I was unnerved by your appointment of Bret Stephens as a new op-ed columnist. However, as a long-time reader of the New York Times, I decided to trust your judgment.

However, Stephens’ first column indicates that your judgment has failed, and your willingness to court controversy and indulge the anti-intellectual bias of the right wing is now an abdication of your responsibility to fact-based journalism. Continue reading “An Open Letter to the New York Times”

On universities and social mobility

Readers interested in higher education might take a look at the recent article by Andrew Delbanco in the New York Review of Books, Our Universities: The Outrageous Reality. One of its major points is that higher education may not be the locus of social opportunity it is supposed to be – in fact, it may be entrenching or even widening social inequality. This retrenchment of the haves and have-nots, like implicit racism, operates on a range of levels, many of which are subtle and complex.

At the top of the prestige pyramid, in highly selective colleges like those of the Ivy League, students from the bottom income quartile in our society make up around 5 percent of the enrollments. This meager figure is often explained as the consequence of a regrettable reality: qualified students from disadvantaged backgrounds simply do not exist in significant numbers. But it’s not so. A recent study by Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Christopher Avery of Harvard shows that the great majority of high-achieving low-income students (those scoring at or above the ninetieth percentile on standardized tests, and with high school grades of A- or higher) never apply to any selective college, much less to several, as their better-off peers typically do.3 Their numbers, which Hoxby and Avery estimate at between 25,000 and 35,000 of each year’s high school seniors, “are much greater than college admissions staff generally believe,” in part because most such students get little if any counseling in high school about the intricate process of applying to a selective college—so they rarely do.

Continue reading “On universities and social mobility”

Inspiration: Anna Atkins

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the birthday of Anna Atkins, a pioneering botanist and photographer, and I’d like to write a quick note joining in the celebration.

Atkins is best known for her cyanotype photographs of British seaweed, documented from her personal collection. It is almost certainly the first book to be illustrated with photographs, which are actually all contact prints, made with the seaweed directly on the photographic paper which is then exposed to light to develop it. As a result, the images are extraordinary, both natural and abstract and deeply inspiring. I love cyanotype photography – Prussian blue is one of my favorite colors, I love botany, I love looking at specimen books. If I ever become spectacularly wealthy I would love to own one of Atkins’ original prints; in the meantime I spend time looking at them via NYPL digital collections.

089.tif 064.tif cystoseira fibrosa

CFP: Discourse, Disaster, and the Urban Hazardscape

Note that this CFP has closed – I’m just leaving it up here for posterity.

Call for Papers for the 2015 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting. Chicago, IL. April 21-25, 2015

 Session Title: “Discourse, Disaster, and the Urban Hazardscape”

Session Organizers: Erin C. Bergren (UC Berkeley), Esther G. Kim (UC Berkeley)

Format: Paper presentations, followed by a facilitated discussion between presenters and audience


Our session begins with the understanding that disasters are catalytic processes which emerge from existing social relations and also have the power to trigger further change in socio-ecological systems (Watts 1983; Pelling and Dill 2010). This CFP seeks to engage in conversation with other scholars who apply the concepts of hazardscape and discourse as critical tools for better understanding these processes and relations behind environmental disasters.

The recent literature on environmental risks and vulnerabilities examines the dimensions of the produced hazardscape. As described by Cutter, Mitchell, and Scott, a hazardscape is a “mosaic of risks and hazards that affect people and the places they inhabit” (2000, p. 715). Mustafa takes an overtly political approach and refers to hazardscape as a “way of seeing that asserts power and as a socio-environmental space where the gaze of power is contested and struggled against to produce the lived reality of hazardous places” (2005, p. 566). Khan, Crozier, and Kennedy (2012) then extend hazardscape into the cognitive or behavioral sphere, adding locally-mediated perceptions of hazard and susceptibility to the physical and political dimensions noted above. The concept of hazardscape, then, emerges as a valuable tool for analyzing how disasters are produced by local hazard systems and the social-ecological relations of power and difference which modulate these systems.

Disasters, of course, are produced discursively as well as materially, and this session is also concerned with utilizing discourse as a critical theoretical tool. Described by Hajer as “a specific ensemble of ideas, concepts, and categorizations that are produced, reproduced, and transformed in a particular set of practices and through which meaning is given to physical and social realities” (1995, p. 44), discourse provides another analytic lens with which to unpack the construction of disaster. As the sociopolitical elements of hazardscapes illustrate, disasters are powerfully shaped by the ideas and meanings behind risk, hazards, and human/nature relationships (Bankoff 2001; Wisner et al 2004; Steinberg 2000). By explicitly utilizing discourse as a theoretical tool, we wish to investigate how discursive constructions of disaster intersect with the ways that hazardscapes are (re)produced, experienced, and resisted. At a more essential level, this session asks how discourse contributes to the construction of disasters, the reconfiguration of the urban hazardscape, and the different lived, embodied experiences of such a hazardscape.

Although hazardscapes can be found in every part of the world, we seek to examine the politics and production of hazardous landscapes within an urban context. As more and more of the global population come to reside in urban environments and as cities materialize from unique configurations of social and ecological factors, the ways in which discourse and hazardscapes converge to produce and/or respond to disasters is an important field of scholarly inquiry.

Papers can explore, but are not limited to, the following topics:

●     Uneven distributions of urban environmental hazards.

●     Opportunities for discursive contestation originating in disastrous situations.

●     Hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourses of hazards, risk, and vulnerabilities.

●     How urban natures are framed in the discourse of disaster.

●     The different perceptions and experiences of disaster in urban, suburban, peri-urban contexts.

●     The impact of climate change to the construction and experience of hazards.

●     Case studies of disaster and hazards in Global South contexts.

●    Approaches in critical geography, political ecology, environmental justice.

Please submit abstracts to and  by Friday, October 31. We will get back to you by Monday, November 3.  


Bankoff, G. (2001). Rendering the world unsafe:‘ vulnerability ’as western discourse. Disasters, 25(1), 19-35.

Cutter, S. L., Mitchell, J. T., & Scott, M. S. (2000). Revealing the vulnerability of people and places: a case study of Georgetown County, South Carolina. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 90(4), 713-731

Khan, S., Crozier, M. J., & Kennedy, D. (2012). Influences of place characteristics on hazards, perception and response: a case study of the hazardscape of the Wellington Region, New Zealand. Natural Hazards, 62(2), 501-529

Mustafa, D. (2005). The Production of an Urban Hazardscape in Pakistan: Modernity, Vulnerability, and the Range of Choice. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 95(3), 566-586

Pelling, M., & Dill, K. (2010). Disaster politics: tipping points for change in the adaptation of sociopolitical regimes. Progress in Human Geography, 34(1), 21-37

Steinberg, T. (2000). Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Watts, M. (1983). On the poverty of theory: natural hazards research in context. In K. Hewitt (Ed.), Interpretations of Calamity (pp. 231-262). Boston: Allen and Unwin

Wisner, B., Blaikie, P., Cannon, T., & Davis, I. (2004). At Risk: natural hazards, people’s vulnerability, and disasters (Second ed.). London: Routledge.