Given the global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems a crucial time to reflect, from the perspectives of those who have studied disasters and public health crises, on social science’s insights and its potential impact (positive and negative). In this introductory essay to the “Disaster Studies” theme of our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Alexa Dietrich and Scott Gabriel Knowles highlight how disaster research can shed light on the mutual effects of social inequality and disaster over time. Conversely, this theme will both explore how research through a disaster-focused lens can help us understand and address the preconditions and consequences that make the pandemic so devastating, and what can usefully be learned from the responses of institutions and communities worldwide that have most effectively reduced its impact, or that may signal hope for society’s future.
As Puerto Rico faces hurricane-induced devastation, the “Just Environments” series publishes an essay by Alexa Dietrich, Adriana María Garriga-López, and Claudia Sofía Garriga-López situating the current catastrophe within a broader historical context. Viewing it as an unnatural disaster, the authors point to a confluence of postcolonial industrialization, lax environmental regulation, and the privatization of utilities, which have all contributed to the island’s deteriorating infrastructure. Moving forward, they advocate for sustainable economic development and reliable public services as means of strengthening already-existing resilient and adaptive capacities.
Alexa Dietrich co-launches the “Just Environments” series by reflecting on the environmental challenges faced by transnational communities—in this case, families that live on opposite sides of the US-Mexico border, whose lives are separated by stringent immigration policies. In highlighting the connections between immigration and the environment, Dietrich argues that a more humane approach to legal residency is critical to bolstering local resilience to climate change on both sides of the border.