Full title: Discourse, Disaster, and the Urban Hazardscape: The political ecology of climate and disasters after Hurricane Sandy (Dissertation)
This dissertation examines how the phenomenon of climate change is changing the public conception of natural disasters, and vice versa. Using the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York City as a case study, this project draws on a year of in-depth fieldwork triangulated with media coverage, public reports, and city-level quantitative data to illustrate how popular misconceptions about how disasters happen were at work in the public response to the catastrophe. In particular, my research develops a conceptual framework using discourse analysis, to identify two false doctrines or tropes which underlie many of these misconceptions. The first, the doctrine of natural disaster, asserts that environmental disasters are fundamentally physiological rather than social in origin. The second, the doctrine of disaster exceptionalism, asserts that so-called natural disasters are rare and unpredictable events. The results of this project indicate that while climate change has the potential to disrupt these two false doctrines, this is not yet occurring in the public response to disaster. This dissertation also extends earlier work on the intersection of climate policy and environmental justice, known as the “climate gap”, and extends it to adaptation, proposing an “adaptation gap” is also at work. Finally, this dissertation proposes a new test for delineating different types of climate change adaptation, further developing work on what constitutes transformational adaptation.