Climate disasters: New study explores how people respond

January 12, 2011, Baylor University

New results from a Baylor University study show that different behaviors and strategies lead some families to cope better and emerge stronger after a weather-related event.

Dr. Sara Alexander, an applied social anthropologist at Baylor who conducts much of her research in Central America, studied different households in several coastal communities in Belize. While climate change has been an emerging topic of interest to the world community, little scientific data exists on exactly how people respond to different climate-related "shocks" and events such as more intense hurricanes and prolonged drought.

Using a livelihood security approach, Alexander and her team identified vulnerable households in these communities and examined how they adapted and coped with major and shocks such as , hurricanes and floods. The Baylor researchers also developed tools to measure each household's long-term resilience, an area that has not been extensively researched, and identified specific behaviors and strategies that allowed some families to "weather the storm" better than others.

The results indicate:

  • Sixty-two percent of vulnerable households made the assertion that chronic weather-related threats such as floods and prolonged drought are a greater concern than "one-off" disasters like hurricanes.
  • Perception about and played a key role in determining whether a household prepares adequately for a harsh weather event. For instance, 57 percent of households believed that storms today are more intense than they were five to 10 years ago, the household is more likely to prepare when weather forecasters predict threatening weather.
  • Vulnerable and more secure households differ in coping strategies when dealing with weather-related events. Forty-nine percent of vulnerable households turn to their faith, 43 percent to their family, and 36 percent turned to their friends for . Only 19 percent turned to financially-based responses and only 8 percent made attempts to secure credit to gain resources to make repairs rebuild. Households that have the highest levels of security are more likely to use their savings or sell their assets to engage in a financially based response by repairing and rebuilding, many times finding emotional support through this work.
  • A critical ingredient for reducing vulnerability and enhancing resilience is empowerment of marginalized groups and the associated access to resources.
  • Although the capacity of households to adapt to harsh weather is a function of perception of risk and access to resources, resilience of communities depends on the ability of people to think and act collectively.
"The results suggest that both vulnerable and secure households respond to weather-related events, but they do so in different ways," said Alexander, associate professor and chair of the department of anthropology, forensic science and archaeology at Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences.

The results will be published in the journal Climatic Change and Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change.

Alexander said over the last 150 years, data shows surface temperatures have increased and the associated impacts on biological and physical systems have become more evident. Some of the more notable changes that have gradually occurred are sea level rise, shifts in climatic zones, changes in precipitation patterns and increases in frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events like droughts, floods and storms.

Alexander said she has always maintained that by definition, more vulnerable households are not able to respond as effectively to a natural disaster as those households whose livelihoods are more secure, that is, their capacity for response is influenced by their weakened ability to guard against risk.

Alexander and her team developed a resilience-measuring index for human responses that examined certain long-term security indicators, including economic stability, human health conditions, adult education levels, social connectedness, environmental health, and food and nutrition security. The researchers then tracked those indicators as different weather-related events naturally occurred.

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5 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2011
little scientific data exists on exactly how people respond to different climate-related "shocks" and events such as more intense hurricanes and prolonged drought

A quick google search shows MANY studies in this area, of both contemporary and historical people.
3 / 5 (4) Jan 12, 2011
All of a sudden "weather-related events" become "climate disasters". Looks like George Orwell's pigs have been revising the Seven Commandments on the walls of the barn again.
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 13, 2011
Some people panic with or without actual climate events. Others stay relatively calm and work through it, passing their genes on to another generation.

I myself carry a genetic variant that, if I do not watch the amounts of what I eat, can kill me over time. But, this same mutation also makes it so that it is more likely that I will survive a famine caused by drought. Many carry the same variant. Should that day arise many of those of us who carry the variant likely won't panic.... :)

I don't live in a tornado belt and I don't live near hurricane regions, so that does not worry me much. I guess I mean to say that events happen and people will deal with them as best they can under their circumstances. There is no point in worrying about such events before they occur.

The only thing I concern myself about are geological events. The best thing is to be somewhat prepared for the worst at all times but not stress over it.
not rated yet Jan 13, 2011
Down here on Earth, I see weather. WTF is climate?
1 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2011
I also have another gene of course, one where I spy the ecoloonies trying to stop me buying Panda meat, a chinese medicine, helps build I need plenty of it :).
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2011
3432682- Mark Twain had the best definition: "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get"
not rated yet Jan 18, 2011
Socialism plays a role. The more dependent the population the more helpless.
The people of New Orleans are one example.
Being raised on the Great Plains of America, we had to learn how to depend upon ourselves and our neighbors when a blizzard shuts everything down for days.
That's another reason so many hate Sarah Palin, she lives and promotes independence along with the tens of thousands of people in AK and in other rural and western states.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2011
I also have another gene of course, one where I spy the ecoloonies trying to stop me buying Panda meat, a chinese medicine, helps build I need plenty of it :).

I see MikeyK still is busy using his rear underscore sockpuppets to cause confusion... I wonder whether his mommy knows he is using her computer...
1 / 5 (1) Jan 20, 2011
Of course I always like to underscore my rear! :)
1 / 5 (1) Jan 20, 2011
Of course I always like to underscore my rear! :)

I am quite sure of that, MikeyK. Quite sure. Your posts are the best evidence of that sort of behavior. Well, there is that and your past penchant for self-censoring certain words. :)

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