Environmental disaster

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Seabirds killed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound. The spill in March 1989 dumped approximately 10.8 million US gallons of crude oil into the sound, killing over 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, and numerous other wildlife.[1] The Alaskan fishing industry also suffered tremendously as a result of the spill.

An environmental disaster or ecological disaster is defined as a catastrophic event regarding the natural environment that is due to human activity.[2] This point distinguishes environmental disasters from other disturbances such as natural disasters and intentional acts of war such as nuclear bombings.

Environmental disasters show how the impact of humans' alteration of the land has led to widespread and/or long-lasting consequences.[3] These disasters have included deaths of wildlife, humans and plants, or severe disruption of human life or health, possibly requiring migration.[4] Some environmental disasters are the trigger source of more expansive environmental conflicts, where effected groups try to socially confront the actors responsible for the disaster.

Environmental disasters[edit]

Environmental disasters historically have affected agriculture, biodiversity including wildlife, the economy and human health. The most common causes include pollution that seeps into groundwater or a body of water, emissions into the atmosphere and depletion of natural resources, industrial activity or agricultural practices.[5]

The following is a list of major environmental disasters:

Climate change and disaster risks[edit]

A 2013 report examined the relationship between disasters and poverty world-wide. It concludes that, without concerted action, there could be upwards of 325 million people living in the 49 countries most exposed to the full range of natural hazards and climate extremes in 2040.[8]

Social vulnerability and environmental disaster[edit]

According to author Daniel Murphy, different groups of people are able to adapt to environmental disasters differently due to social factors such as age, race, class, gender, and nationality.[9] Murphy argues that while developed countries with access to resources that can help mitigate environmental disasters are often the countries that contribute the most to factors that can increase the risk of said disasters, developing countries experience the impacts of environmental disasters more intensely than their wealthier counterparts.[10] It is often the case that the populations that do not contribute to climate change are not only in geographic location that experience more environmental disasters, but also have fewer resources to mitigate the impact of the disasters.[9] For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, many scientists argued that climate change had increased the severity of the hurricane.[11] Although the majority of the U.S. emissions that can contribute to climate change come from industry and transport, the people who were hardest-hit by Katrina were not the heads of large companies within the country.[12] Rather, the poor black communities within Louisiana were the most devastated by the hurricane, despite not contributing as heavily to factors like climate change that likely increased the severity of Hurricane Katrina. [13]

Mitigation efforts[edit]

There have been many attempts throughout recent years to mitigate the impact of environmental disasters.[14] Environmental disaster is caused by human activity, so many believe that such disasters can be prevented or have their consequences curbed by human activity as well. Efforts to attempt mitigation are evident in cities such as Miami, Florida, in which houses along the coast are built a few feet off of the ground in order to decrease the damage caused by rising tides due to rising sea-levels.[15] Although mitigation efforts such as those found in Miami might be effective in the short-term, many environmental groups are concerned with whether or not mitigation provides long-term solutions to the consequences of environmental disaster.[15]

See also[edit]

An aerial image of Nauru in 2002 from the U.S. Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program. Regenerated vegetation covers 63% of land that was mined[16]


  1. ^ "Exxon Valdez | Oil Spills | Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program". darrp.noaa.gov. Retrieved 2023-12-09.
  2. ^ Jared M. Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005
  3. ^ "Burning oil night and day". Archived from the original on 2007-02-08.
  4. ^ End-of-the-World Scenario:ecological Disaster
  5. ^ "Environmental Disaster Videos on Gaiagonewild.com". Archived from the original on 2007-12-03.
  6. ^ Richard Schiffman (12 March 2013). "Two years on, America hasn't learned lessons of Fukushima nuclear disaster". The Guardian.
  7. ^ Martin Fackler (June 1, 2011). "Report Finds Japan Underestimated Tsunami Danger". New York Times.
  8. ^ Andrew Shepherd; Tom Mitchell; Kirsty Lewis; Amanda Lenhardt; Lindsey Jones; Lucy Scott; Robert Muir-Wood (2013). "The geography of poverty, disasters and climate extremes in 2030". Archived from the original on 2013-10-24. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  9. ^ a b Murphy, Daniel; Wyborn (January 2015). "Key concepts and methods in social vulnerability and adaptive capacity". Research Gate. Retrieved 2021-02-08.
  10. ^ "Inequality is decreasing between countries—but climate change is slowing progress". Environment. 2019-04-22. Archived from the original on April 1, 2021. Retrieved 2021-03-31.
  11. ^ reaTWeather. "10 Years Later: Was Warming to Blame for Katrina?". www.climatecentral.org. Retrieved 2021-03-31.
  12. ^ US EPA, OAR (2015-12-29). "Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions". US EPA. Retrieved 2021-03-31.
  13. ^ Allen, Troy D. "Katrina: Race, Class, and Poverty: Reflections and Analysis". Journal of Black Studies, vol. 37, no. 4, 2007, pp. 466–468. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40034317. Accessed 31 Mar. 2021.
  14. ^ Murti, R. (2018, June 01). Environment and disasters. Retrieved February 24, 2021, from https://www.iucn.org/theme/ecosystem-management/our-work/environment-and-disasters
  15. ^ a b Ariza, M. A. (2020, September 29). As Miami keeps Building, rising SEAS DEEPEN its social divide. Retrieved February 24, 2021, from https://e360.yale.edu/features/as-miami-keeps-building-rising-seas-deepen-its-social-divide
  16. ^ Republic of Nauru. 1999. Climate Change – Response. First National Communication – 1999. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations

Further reading[edit]