Adaptation over Fatalism: Leveraging High-Impact Climate Disasters to Boost Societal Resilience


The property damaged and the lives disrupted by recent hurricanes, floods, droughts, and water quality violations highlight the inadequacy of water infrastructure in the United States and around the world. Decisions about managing these infrastructure systems are strongly informed by societal perceptions of risk, which in turn are shaped through narratives of high-impact events in academic, governmental, commercial, and popular media. In recent years, post hoc analyses of high-impact water and climate disasters have increasingly focused on the role of anthropogenic climate change (ACC). This is a welcome development that helps to build support for much-needed mitigation of global greenhouse gas emissions and pushes companies, governments, and aid agencies to prepare for a changing environment. Yet climate impacts require a confluence of physical hazards and societal vulnerabilities, and so narratives centered only on the role of ACC can neglect the aging infrastructure, increasing development with exposure to climate risks, and inadequate maintenance that set the stage for meteorological and hydrological events to become humanitarian disasters. The fatalistic narratives that emerge, which often imply that because an event was exacerbated by climate change its consequences could not have been averted, discourage adaptive planning.

In Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management