Environmental Disasters Symposium

Thursday 21 and Friday 22 November 2019

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RD Watt Seminar Room, RD Watt Building, Science Road, University of Sydney



Sydney Social and Humanities Advanced Research Centre,
University of Sydney Office of Global Engagement.

We are living in a rapidly changing world. Temperatures are rising around the globe, the frequency and intensity of weather extremes is increasing, and human and natural systems are interacting and compounding with exponential complexity and unpredictability.

Both natural and human-induced disasters have a strong influence on human society and decisions about agricultural production, natural resource use and urbanisation. Natural disasters, like droughts and heatwaves, are more often occurring simultaneously and thus catalysing further events such as wildfires. Meanwhile, human-induced disasters, whether unintentional sociotechnical failures like the BP Oil Spill, or intentional events such as the bombing of industrial sites during conflict, often carry long-term social and environmental consequences that are unpredictable on both local and global scales.

As the rates and scales of global change continue to accelerate, these events cascade and compound, blurring the line between natural and human-induced disasters. The 2011 earthquake in Japan, for example, triggered a tsunami, which lead to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor meltdown.

This symposium takes up the concerns of how such ‘cascading hazards’ and environmental disasters can be prevented and mitigated through governance at various scales and by a range of actors. Disasters are not the purview of any single discipline, and so we invite people from around the world and from within Australia to engage with governing environmental disasters from a range different disciplines: geography, law, economics, political science, international relations, history and political economy.

Over the course of two days, we seek to grapple with a series of key questions. What kind of conceptual utility does defining an event as an environmental disaster have? How do environmental disasters occur in terms of the intersection of natural and human processes, and how is the feedback loop from the disaster discussed and debated? Do environmental disasters result from failures in forecasting, accountability, regulation processes, or response timing? And finally, what are the means for improving the prevention, mitigation and governance of environmental disasters at local, national, regional and international levels?

The symposium will be held at the University of Sydney, and is sponsored by the Sydney Social and Humanities Advanced Research Centre, the Sydney Environment Institute and the University of Sydney Office of Global Engagement.