Media Tip Sheet: Investigating the Underlying Forces of Natural Disasters

September 26, 2022

Climate change is now affecting every country on every continent – from the devastating aftermath in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Fiona, to the Western United States ravaged by wildfires, and neighborhoods in Pakistan under water after flooding. One professor at the George Washington University says it’s time to investigate the larger forces at work that make many people and places more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than others.

GW Professor Lisa Benton-Short

If you would like more context on this matter, please consider Lisa Benton-Short, a professor of geography at GW. Benton-Short is an expert on urban sustainability, environmental issues in cities, and cities and immigration. Benton-Short says climate change has gone from an inconvenient truth to an undeniable reality.

Instead of focusing on the impacts of climate change as ‘natural’ disasters, I prefer the term environmental hazard/disaster because it highlights the social, economic and political forces that mediate or exacerbate hazards,” Benton-Short says. “‘Natural’ disasters created by wildfires in the western states of the U.S., massive flooding in Pakistan, and hurricanes Maria and Fiona destroying large parts of Puerto Rico are, on closer inspection, much more closely connected to social processes than we often acknowledge.”

“When people build on eroding hillsides or locate houses in earthquake zones, the natural disaster turns out to be in part a social construction. When a government fails to invest in upgrading electrical or water infrastructure to make it more resilient to climate change, entire communities and cities may lose power or water for days or even weeks following a storm, hurricane or earthquake.”

Benton-Short can also discuss the social-economic impact of natural disasters and the disproportional effects these events have on communities.

WATCH: Find more insight from Betnon-Short here

If you would like to speak with Professor Benton-Short, please contact the GW Media Relations Team at [email protected].