Book projects

Project #1:  Why disasters matter (sometimes)?

Agent agreement signed with Jean V Nagger Literary Agency Inc, New York, proposal in preparation.

I will keep postings on the blog part of this site describing how this is going.

Right now I have written the proposal and have sent it to the agent Elizabeth Evans.

Description (as would appear on the inside jacket cover)

Television loves a disaster; the stuff of the Nature Channel’s enduring specials with titles like The Savage Earth.  We are obsessed by Nature’s power and the inability of modern societies to deal with these ancient and primal forces.  But natural disasters are doing far more than causing the Earth to writhe in an earthquake, hurricane winds to howl and drought to parch the landscape.  They drive a wedge between rich and poor that will separate us further as we grow in number and a warmer world will become an even riskier place.  Climate change is set to further divide an already divided world.

Nature can be destructive but cannot be unjust.  The “naturalness” of natural disasters is almost inconsequential to the differential effect they have on people’s lives.  Nature provides the proximate cause, the trigger like that of the assassin’s gun that shot Archduke Ferdinand and gave us a starting date for WWI.   The unjust social outcomes originate from deeper underlying causes for which only our own actions are fully responsible.  But transfixed by the moment of Nature’s grand performance covered almost voyeuristically if briefly in the media we miss the deeper causes that separate people.  Some suffer cruelly, others hardly at all; some even benefit.  Why?

Why Disasters Matter answers that question.  Disasters occur when Nature meets human nature under extreme duress.  They are at once natural and social processes that can only be understood from those dual foci.  A staggering suite of disasters have occurred in the early 21st century in vastly diverse settings, from cyclones in Myanmar, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, earthquakes in China, Haiti and Chile, droughts in the Horn of Africa to floods in Pakistan.  Examining these disasters from the dual lens of natural and social process shows how injustices arose.

A new understanding emerges.  Natural disasters, in the way they impact people’s lives are seen to be little different from industrial disasters or financial crises and even the disaster of armed conflict.  They are all social shocks; episodes extreme stresses caused by loss of productive capital assets whether it’s crops lost to drought, factories lost to an earthquake, currency lost to devaluation, businesses and homes lost in the current US financial crisis or the many consequences of armed conflict on people and economies.  An amplifying natural-social feedback is at work in all forms of disasters –existing social inequalities amplify the stress that disasters bring and at the same time disasters increase underlying social stresses and inequalities.  The wounds of the social shock don’t heal.  Cause and consequence cannot be disentangled.
We too often view Nature as a blind agent bringing social disruption from outside, something we can do little about.  If some suffer more than others we can blame it on Nature.  In diverting the blame away from our own actions and inactions we have permitted injustices to prosper.   The purpose of Why Disasters Matter is to understand how that has happened and show how to put it right.

Project #2: Science Fundamentals for Sustainable Development

With Ruth DeFries this is a text to support the undergraduate course we co-teach EESC2330 “Science for Sustainable Development”

We have completed a description, chapter outline and have completed a survey of students who have taken the class to solicit their input using a survey monkey — over 100 responses.

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