Climate extremes, like droughts, storms, and hurricanes, have always challenged people’s lives and many would argue that disasters are affecting human security in ever-greater ways. Today, disaster managers urge that we reduce human-created vulnerabilities in order to reduce impacts from climate challenges. But governments and NGOs are hard pressed to direct funds to reduce vulnerabilities before a disaster when those vulnerabilities have not yet been realized - people are not starving, infrastructure has not collapsed. So how do we confirm that human-created vulnerability is a strong predictor of the scale of impact of climate extremes? Archaeological and historical studies can offer a way, through analysis of long sequences of change in climate, environment, and society. In those sequences, we can examine whether the scale of impacts from climate extremes is greatest where people have the highest vulnerability load. I will look at rare climate challenges and human-created vulnerabilities in the long-term history/prehistory of seven areas, three in the subpolar North Atlantic Islands and four in the arid-to-semiarid deserts of the US Southwest and evaluate the magnitude of changes to food security and social conditions following extreme climate events. Results of these analyses support the role of human-created vulnerabilities in the occurrence of “disasters” associated with climate extremes.
Speaker: Margaret Nelson, Arizona State Univ.
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