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How the World Breaks



For the first time, I was asked to write a book blurb. That book is now ready for you to buy and you should do so. It’s Stan Cox and Paul Cox, How the World Breaks: Life in Catastrophe’s Path, from the Caribbean to Siberia. The authors travel the world to disaster sites and tell amazing stories of people’s resilience in the face of these disasters. But of course, these disasters, many of which are blithely called “natural disasters,” even though they are the product of a combination of natural and human forces that reflect preexisting inequality, can only happen so often before the both social and ecological systems around the world break down. They tell stories of these geoclimatic disasters–fires, tornadoes, landslides, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc.–showing how climate change makes many of these disasters far worse, but also highlighting the human experience in them. Ultimately people are amazing because they are so resilient. So is the planet. But at some point, and that point is rapidly approaching, neither people nor the planet can take so many disasters, one on top of the other. Systems do break down. That’s the story of this book. Ranging from the Greenberg, Kansas tornado to fires in Australia to landslides in India, the authors tell amazing stories. But the authors point out that this talk of resilience becomes an excuse for nations not to do anything about climate change. Kiribati may be about to be swallowed into the ocean, but if that nation’s people are resilient, they will figure something out. That something will of course mean becoming climate refugees, which is hardly an answer. They talk about how we are now being told that we have to be flexible and expect catastrophe, giving up ideas of security. It’s amazing to me how this language mirrors that of neoliberal economic planners who have forced workers to give up any idea of security in order so that the global wealthy can capture more profits. Of course, those not wanting meaningful action on climate change are the same people foisting the current economy upon us. The authors ultimately call for a climate justice movement that includes reparations from industrialized countries to the world’s poor nations forced to bear the burden of climate change impacts.

This is a very good, very readable book that many of you will enjoy. You should buy it.

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  • Turkle

    Not related, but I finished your book, “Out of Sight” last week, and it exceeded my expectations in every way. It’s one of those books that changes the way I read the newspaper each morning. I’ll be recommending it to all and sundry. Cheers.

    • Thanks!

      • advocatethis

        This is no reflection on you, because it’s a well- and clearly written book, but Out of Sight is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read. Once I got through the background and into the present day information, I find I have to stop reading every day after just a few pages to process it mentally and emotionally. I don’t know how you live with yourself.

        • Well, I have to force myself to keep a critical analysis, even when I’ve seen terrible things personally. Otherwise, you can get overwhelmed by it all.

          • CrunchyFrog

            I really should buy a copy to support your efforts on this – which are essential – even though I don’t think I could force myself to read all of the way through due to the emotions involved. Is there a preferred source for you?

            Also, I’m adding How the World Breaks to my short reading list.

            • At this point it doesn’t matter too much. Improved Amazon ratings never hurt although it’s not like it’s going to start selling thousands of copies or anything. Or Powell’s, which is a union shop, although I don’t think the online part of it is, so whatever.

  • Brett

    The authors ultimately call for a climate justice movement that includes reparations from industrialized countries to the world’s poor nations forced to bear the burden of climate change impacts.

    That’s not going to happen. Or rather, what payments there are will be described as “adjustment” payments to help poorer countries transition to cleaner fuels.

  • Joseph Slater

    Jeez, and I expected your first book blurb to be for a work with a title something like “Everything is Awesome: How the World Was Great, Is Greater, And Will Be Greatest in the Future.”

    • “Capitalism Rules: Why We Should All Vote Republican.”

      • Ronan

        A ghostwritten autobiography , “Once more into the Nadir”

  • Bruce Vail

    What a weird looking church in the middle of your photo illustration?

    Any idea where it is? Sort of has the look of an Andean mountain pass.

    • keta

      Here’s the skinny.

      I too was curious. (Hover over image; right click; “search Google for image.”)

      • Bruce Vail

        Wow…I guessed Peru or Ecuador. I was only off by about 5,000 miles.

    • advocatethis

      I was thinking the Himalayas.

      (Ed…and I see that Keta beat me by half an hour)

  • Gregor Sansa

    My wife did a project in Chuk Muk, a resettled community near Lake Atitlan of a hamlet that had been destroyed by a landslide with over 100 dead. This was a “natural disaster” in name only; the truth is that living on deforested hillsides in a hurricane zone is not “natural” unless you’re really poor in a country without good public health.

  • galanx

    Taitung, a small city on the east coast of Taiwan, where I have lived for over 25 years, was hit last Friday by a typhoon with record-breaking wind speeds; the worst typhoon in 60 years. Fortunately only three people killed, but lots of damage- houses flattened, cars flipped, signs, poles, and trees blocking the roads.

    Worst was the trees. Over the last few years we’ve been transitioning from a farming/fishing economy to tourism, and the local government put a lot of effort into ‘greening’ the city: bicycle paths, lining the streets, turning old wasteland into parks. A lot of that is gone- our main forest park had 70% of the trees flattened or stripped of leaves.

    Still, it was a fast-mover and cleared out in a day. The one that caused the most damage, Typhoon Morakot in 2009, was huge and slow, allowing it to sit over us and dump water for three days. Over 500 killed, mostly in mountain villages inhabited by Aborigines which were wiped out by mudslides, mostly caused by deforestation, a big problem here.

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