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During the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires in Australia, debate raged as to whether the ‘worst fires in Australia’s history’ were a result of hazardous conditions caused by climate change, the severe drought or poor mitigation.

Josh and Andrew speak with leading disaster researcher and Professor of Disasters and Health at the University College London, Ilan Kelman about whether climate change is responsible for an increase in disasters.

We also discuss Ilan’s new book – Disaster by Choice, exploring how the choices we make can increase our vulnerability to disasters.

This is an episode not to miss! Join the discussion and share your thoughts using #MeMyselfDisaster on social media.


Voiceover 0:07
This is me, myself and disaster the show all about disasters with a human focus. From hurricanes to humanitarian issues. We journey across fault lines to explore trends in disaster preparedness, response and recovery and understand how our guests became involved in disasters. Over to you disaster brothers, Josh and Andrew. Hello,

Joshua McLaren 0:35
and welcome back to me, myself and disaster, the show where we talk all things disaster with a human focus. When the worst bushfires in Australia’s history impacted the East Coast. Last summer, debate raged about the cause of these fires. Was it lack of hazard reduction burns? Was it drought? Was it climate change? Or was it something else? Andrew, who’s joining us on the show today to take us through the answers to this loaded question,

Andrew McCullough 1:02
Josh, we are both excited about this episode today because we have one of the most respected disaster research academics joining us live from London. Alon killman is a professor of disasters and Health at the University College London and author of more than 140 academic papers, and 60 book chapters. He’s recently published a new book disaster by choice. And we’ll be asking Alon how we as disaster professionals can reduce disaster risk in a world full of choice but challenged by climate change and geopolitical issues. I’m keen Andrew,

Joshua McLaren 1:38
let’s get talking to Ilan Kelman. Hi Ilan, Thanks for joining us on me, myself and disaster.

Ilan Kelman 1:47
Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Joshua McLaren 1:49
Ilan we’re really grateful to have you on the show today. And I wanted to start by first reflecting back on the black summer bushfires that impacted Australia in 2019 and 2020. And would be pardon the pun burned into the memory of a lot of our listeners from Australia. fires were still burning when the public debate was raging about what caused the worst fires in Australian history. And I just want to take us through this clip just to set the scene. So let’s take a listen. From a commissioner of Fire and Rescue New South Wales, Greg melons gave expert testimony to the Royal Commission.

Ilan Kelman 2:23
This is a worldwide calamity. We need to put a lot more money into preparation, planning, response and recovery. But the bottom line is if we don’t do something urgent on emissions and climate change, we’re dooming future generations to even worse, climate change is making Australia and the world much more dangerous. We’re going to see more catastrophic bushfires more floods, storms, heat waves, cyclones, or less cyclones, but there’ll be more intense. And we must deal with the causal factor.

Joshua McLaren 2:55
I think that news clip really sets the scene for our discussion today. And I wanted to start with something a little bit controversial. What would you say to the notion that climate change worsens the impact of the Australian bushfires over black summers?

Ilan Kelman 3:11
Well, I think that what the x fire Commissioner is saying about fires is absolutely right, because we know that human caused climate change is happening, we know that it is heating the atmosphere, which means that there’s a lot higher temperatures, which then exacerbate the fire. There’s a lot less moisture in the system, which means if buyers can burn and of course, it’s going to be wind impacts, whether it’s local or regional. The difference, though, is a fire compared to a fire disaster. So we have so much control over what the impacts are. And that’s where it’s really up to us. So yeah, there’s no question that the fires are getting worse because of human caused climate change. And this is concerning. On the other hand, if we don’t want a fire disaster to happen, we should be making the choices to stop people dying and to stop properties being lost. You know, there’s nothing wrong with living in a fire prone location, as long as we accept fires. So we actually have to protect life which means protecting property. We have to have plans to both adequate and protect property and have a decision making process so people know what they’re doing and don’t put themselves or others in harm’s way. And also recognize that unfortunately, people may have to evacuate within hours notice and return to nothing. So be ready to lose everything. We cannot wait until a smoker flames are over the horizon. We cannot wait for the calculations on why the fire is worth due to human caused climate change. We need to start now. Prepare yours before the ignition happens. And never stop preparing never beat never stop being ready. This is the cost of living in a fire zone irrespective of how fires are It’s a scary concept.

Andrew McCullough 5:02
And I’d love to touch on that concept of choice A bit later. But first, I wanted to ask about your research, which is referenced in 1000s of papers around the world. And even I know studying my master’s degree at uni, referencing your work many times are very helpful. So thanks for that. But I wanted to talk through your career, how did you develop an interest in disasters and and have you reached this point in your career?

Ilan Kelman 5:26
Well, and I also hope, in addition to referencing and using my work, that you critique it and improve it, because we all have so much to learn, and we all have so much to do, which, in fact, is how I got into this field. Because I am so interested in using knowledge and using science to serve society, I always wanted to make a positive difference. I’m very interested in the world. And I’ve been so privileged to being traveled to have traveled to many other places, and to work with so many wonderful people. So I wanted to ensure that my work and my contributions were International. But it’s not just about looking out there. And we can’t deal with other people as those others who were trying to assist because I need help, too. And that has to be relevant to our own living relevant to my own place. And the third element that I was looking for is really challenging. I had to be challenged, I had to keep myself informed, you know, I do get bored sort of easily, and I don’t like simple or simplistic approaches. So I wanted something which would fulfill me and make it useful. I’ve shortlisted a lot of topics talked a lot of people who are very generous with their time. And really, disasters seem to be a major issue that affects the soul. They’re always concerning. And it is really life or death. What intrigued me was that everyone wants to respond after. So almost like just wait around for a problem, and then actually jump in and try and help. Whereas for me the real challenge, and the real positive difference. And the real difficulty with the world was how to make thinking more long term, how to deal with prevention, how to deal with risk reduction. So those three elements, trying to make a positive difference, being International, but relevant to myself. And also being challenging and useful, really led me into the idea of disasters, but very much stopping disasters, rather than waiting for something to happen, and then responding.

Andrew McCullough 7:25
I think it’s really interesting what you said there. I know, for me, when I sort of found an interest in disasters, it was really kind of the connection of or the nexus between engineering, which I studied in my undergrad, and all these different social sort of issues, actually, disasters really involve everything. So it’s kind of a real hot part of a whole range of different topics in the world. And this, there’s so many challenges that presents to us. So I think disasters are like an amazing sort of topic to study. But I’m wondering about your thoughts on how we might bridge the gap between that academic knowledge and the knowledge in our institutions in government and how we how we better utilize research to shape government policy, and action by the private sector, particularly in the rapidly changing geopolitical environment.

Ilan Kelman 8:10
Interestingly, you’ve articulated it really perfectly, and our backgrounds are similar. So my three degrees are engineering. But I realized also that so much, if not almost everything, is related to behavior, to policies to knowledge use. as engineers, we’re super at solving problems. And there’s obviously so much technical research to be done. There’s so much technical knowledge we don’t have. But we have a good proportion of what we actually need Technically, the real challenge, or is exactly what you’ve asked, Well, how do we use that? What about government, the private sector, the nonprofits, and just people in the street? Ultimately, though, because I have like challenges, and because I’m trying to really make a positive contribution? To me, we don’t have that answer. We have so many good practice examples. We have so many examples where problems arose. We have so many ideas about the patterns and the approaches and what we can do and what we should not do. But this fundamental question, how do we galvanize everyone, into using the knowledge we have, in practice, in reality, is one problem where we still need a lot of research and a lot of help. And this is not the engineering side. This is the people side, which is why I really shifted like yourself from engineering into the wider context, and particularly thinking about people thinking about policies. What I would say is how can we work better with leaders, the senior civil servants, managers, politicians, company leaders, philanthropists, philanthropic leaders, and we particularly have to overcome a baseline challenge of people with power, who are not interested in the evidence. So they’re not interested in review. Assessing the evidence are not interested in thinking through decisions based on knowledge. They actually don’t care about science. Instead, it’s ideological, it’s of some type. And they actually want that they actually support that. So to me, the fundamental challenge, is this this issue, and I don’t know how to overcome it. We’re working on it, but we need your support, we need the support from everyone to actually answer that question, while using everything that we do know, and all the positive experiences, which we do have to draw

Joshua McLaren 10:31
on. And I think it all starts with a conversation. I think that’s a really interesting thread that I think we’ll kind of unpack as we go through this podcast. But I think part of it is about conversation. It’s actually a conversation, Andrew, and I’ve had, you know, for the past 1015 years, it’s all about engineering science, you know, how do we get stem into schools? And I said to Andrew, I think, really the next century, it’s really got to be about people. What are those social elements that drive behaviors? How do people think we’ve really got to understand that we have we have some of the technology, we have some of the solutions? But how do you get people to uptake? Some of those solutions? How do you get people to understand problems, when you really understand behavioral, we need to, you know, the behavioral science elements of things, I think, is really something we need to look into. And that kind of leads me to my next question is a lot of our listeners, practitioners or they may be working in this space. For them, do you have any practical advice? If they’re dealing with or influencing leaders? How do we help them influence leaders around the science behind climate change and the impact on disasters?

Ilan Kelman 11:35
Yeah, again, do we really know, we have very good examples of what has worked in some places and what hasn’t worked in other places. When it comes back to STEM education, I think it is still important to have those fields and encourage people to go into them and to study them. Partly for the knowledge base. We do need engineers, we do need doctors, we do need scientists working in the labs and working on the fault lines and the coastlines. But it’s not so much everyone having the same knowledge as everyone having those analytical skills. And even though I don’t do a lot of specific Engineering Research at the moment, I find that I’m using the skills every single day, you know, anyone can learn how to solve a system of partial differential equations. Yeah, it’s hard. But we can do it, to instill the skills and to think about how can we bring together knowledge domains for policy and practice. That’s actually the real challenge, particularly in this context that you’ve just asked of how we do want to influence leaders on the science behind climate change, but more to the point, the science behind people, the science behind sustainability, the science behind living on one planet, of which we’re currently creating quite a mess. This baseline of leaders who do not want to use science, who do not respect analytical skills, of those with power, who deliberately bypass the evidence who deliberately contradict the evidence. This is one of the fundamental aspects which we have to dress. Again, there are ways of overcoming it. We’ve managed throughout history, whether it’s issues of equity, or racism, or sexism, moving forward with risk issues, such as smoking, seatbelts, safe approaches to intimacy, dealing with emotions, stopping violence, countering war, a lot of failures, but also phenomenal successes. They had the same challenges that we do, whether it was vaccine hesitancy against smallpox, whether it was saying, Oh, no, of course, alcohol and tobacco are healthy, what’s the issue? we’ve overcome that. still a long way to go, but we have overcome it. And so we need to learn from it, to work on the ground with folders to work out the higher levels of politicians, and to really understand their modes of thinking, in order to say what can we offer? What can we provide to have a much more balanced and respectful debate? rolling the screaming and yelling based on ideology and assumptions?

Joshua McLaren 14:18
Yeah, I really love this idea of conversation. I really think it’s, it’s, it’s the first step, it’s the first step in tackling some of these issues. And it’s a really great segue into this next question. And it’s this idea around no natural disasters. And I think this movement is quickly spreading across the world. And I think it’s gaining traction, because people are actually recognizing that this is not just a conversation about semantics. This is really a conversation that should fundamentally drive our approaches to disaster risk reduction. Can you unpack for us a lot? For our listeners, why this idea of no natural disasters is so important to yourself and the research and the work that you do,

Ilan Kelman 14:56
for me is about instilling a sense that disasters are not enough. We can and should make choices to avoid them. It comes down to the fact that it’s not really the environment, which causes a disaster. It’s very much these long term processes of vulnerabilities about where and how we live, which puts us in danger without the resources, choices or power to deal with our situation. vocabulary is important. We need to express ourselves to communicate what we’re really talking about. And it’s such a simple change from natural disaster to disaster, which encompasses decades of science, decades of policy decades of practice, to say that disasters do not come from nature of the environment. And we can indicate that very straightforwardly by objecting to the phrase natural disaster, and just calling them disasters.

Andrew McCullough 15:54
So I want to touch on on climate change, and the link between climate change disaster is what we kind of covered earlier. But all other things being equal. If we were to see an increase in climate risk, say like rising sea levels and rising temperatures, are we likely to see an increase in disasters to

Ilan Kelman 16:13
No, no disasters inevitable? That’s the whole aspect of saying that we have choices and we should be making those choices. It is not good, that we are changing the climate, we are changing global environmental system, and we are doing it rapidly. When it comes to disasters, we need to act anyway, simply because what climate change does by definition is it changes the weather. You know, the UN has two different definitions of climate change, but what they come down to is simply long term changes in the weather. Weather is only environment. Environment does not cause disasters. So whether we need a stronger umbrella to deal with climate change, impacting the weather is a question. But not everyone can afford an umbrella. So this is where it is coming back to vulnerability, not about climate change. There are exceptions. Heat is extremely concerning. When it gets to the point, that outdoor labor becomes dangerous because of heat coming from human caused climate change. There’s not a lot of ways to reduce our vulnerability, you know, sure, oh, everyone has 24 seven cooling will know that it’s energy intensive. People can’t afford it, they don’t have access to it. And we have to be outside to get our food, and also for peace of mind. So heat is one of these exceptions, it is incredibly dangerous, it is going to cause major problems. But when people talk about all storms, and floods and droughts and landslides being exacerbated by climate change, yeah, the hazard is changing. But the vulnerability is up to us. In the end, climate change actually brings very little which is new. So we need to enact these actions anyway. And if we want to stop disasters, as I do, and I hope we do, then nothing is inevitable, we can make the choices to move forward, no matter what the climate is doing.

Andrew McCullough 18:12
Yeah, hate is one of those issues that I think the world is gonna have to face. Even more so with climate change. And he’s one of those things in Australia where you’d kind of say the desert got hot, but places around the coast were okay. And now we’re starting to see places around Western Sydney. So we’re talking 2030 kilometers from the coast are becoming so hot, they’ve sort of almost getting up to 50 degrees at some point in the near future. And these, these hate islands are full of people who can’t afford to live near the coast, and they don’t need to be near Sydney. So that’s gonna be certainly a challenge and touching that vulnerability there. So that’s really the key to the discussion of disaster risk reduction. Absolutely. But

Ilan Kelman 18:51
when we get to these temperatures, like 50 degrees, that is where human caused climate change is leading to disasters, and it’s terrifying, some of the projections for Melbourne also means that you have to be indoors all the time, and I don’t think that’s appropriate or viable.

Andrew McCullough 19:07
That’s pretty terrible life that I’ve experienced that during lockdown, and we don’t want that for the future. So that’s something Yeah, I guess to consider in our choices over if we use fossil fuels or if we’re gonna use solar power. I wanted to dig a bit deeper, though into that notion of choice. And, and you mentioned this in your book disaster by choice. But can you take us through what you mean by disaster by choice, and particularly why some of the more vulnerable communities, such as those inside the low lying Pacific Islands, that don’t have the same choices as others?

Ilan Kelman 19:37
What it means is a basic idea that disasters come from vulnerability. vulnerabilities are caused by society. Society has trusts. It is up to us to ensure that people are not marginalized. It is up to us to ensure that resources are distributed appropriately. It is up to us to ensure that people are not living in harm. Way, and have abilities, resources and power to deal with environment to deal with, with potential hazards and natural hazards. The key to disaster by choice is that we’ve structured society so that not everyone has those choices. Unfortunately, the choices are typically made by a minority for the majority, especially when it comes to equity and marginalization. This is where the the islands example the Pacific Islands example comes up. But I would say, we all strengths and weaknesses, we can all learn, we can all teach. So labeling a whole area or a group of people is vulnerable, can make them feel hopeless, it labels them as a victim, conversely, not doing that can give them a false sense of security, and suggest they don’t deserve as assistance. And in fact, resilience has been used to say, Oh, well, you’re resilient, or you should be resilient. So why should I help you? We all have vulnerabilities we all have resilience says it’s about doing better ourselves without outside help, doing better for ourselves, while helping those who need it and accepting the help that we need. This is working together. And it’s ensuring that we can assist each other to overcome all our vulnerabilities while helping ourselves and building you know, what people are calling resilience, whatever that means. It basically to avoid disasters, we can all do it, we can all contribute, we all need help and doing it,

Joshua McLaren 21:28
this conversation of avoiding. It’s possible that, you know, as we have these conversations, as the conversation becomes more mainstream, people will become more in tune with the risk around them and may decide to remove themselves. But what are some other strategies that people could utilize? I mean, some people don’t actually have the, you know, the capacity or capability to actually remove physically remove themselves from an area of risk. What are some other strategies that you’ve seen or that you’ve studied, that could be, you know, that could be taken to build this notion of resilience

Ilan Kelman 22:03
is both technical and social. So there are things for example, that you can just take the hit from the environment and rebuild. So we talked about fires earlier. And for me, it was devastating to see individuals and families losing absolutely everything coming back ashes. If you’re ready for that, if you can deal with that. You just rebuild, and it’s not an issue. But not everyone wants that. And that’s fully understandable. So then you can have technical and behavioral approaches, which actually stopped the damage. There are plenty ways to build properties were which are flood resistant, which are fire resistant, which are wind resistant, so that a major hazard comes along, but there’s not a lot of damage. The behavioral aspect is ensuring that you’re comfortable living through the fire living through the flood living through the wind, the behavioral aspect is knowing how to decide when to get out of there, and when to stay, and ensuring that you’re both physically and psychologically prepared to stay or to evacuate. A lot is contextual. This is where hazard is so important, because what you do for fire is different than what you do for a flood. So people have to have the power, the time and resources to find out what their local situation is, and what the specific measures are, for what they’re dealing with. Even with sea level rise. I personally am used to living on dry land. But many cultures around the world are much more amphibious. So do we want to change our behavior? So we accept living in houses on stilts, and we just climbed down the ladder hop in the boat at high tide and then go to land or we can walk along the mud at low tide? Or do people not want to do that and therefore they have to move their options there. It’s whether or not we can provide people with the resources to do so. And whether we’re culturally psychologically and behaviorally prepared to do things differently, and to adjust to a changing environment. I really

Joshua McLaren 24:06
liked that notion of hazards specific and really understanding what that means to the individual I think it was rod who he originally had on who was talking about, you know, some of the semantics around grouping people and using the term community you know, we need to really think what each hazard and what that circumstance means for that individual I think that leads really nicely into this next example I really want I’m pack with you. Back in 1991 the Pinatubo volcano erupted in the Philippines displacing hundreds and 1000s of people including 50,000 indigenous people they ater who lived on the mountain, well devastating for the community. I found it really interesting that the concept of disaster by choice again applies in the aid his recovery a lot as they were forced to live in a temporary camp with many CT infections and died. Can you take us through how choices or a lack of choices applies in this situation and this scenario.

Ilan Kelman 25:03
That’s a super example base that really illustrates exactly this point. Ultimately, the 80 were not given many choices, well apart from dying in different ways. They had to be evacuated or also have all died. And Pinatubo example is a huge success story in terms of getting 200,000 people out of the danger zone just before the major dangers manifested. It was very sad that several 100 people did die bc took shelter in buildings which were built to withstand Ashfall by a typhoon came in at the same time, the ash absorb the water, and extra weight caused the roofs to collapse, killing several 100 people, the ayto were placed in an even worse situation, and several 1000 of them died, their cultural needs were not counted for their psychological relationship to the mountain was not accounted for. They were in fact, just dumped and poorly managed camps, without resources without appropriate food. And we’re totally you know, just deal with it. That’s the way it is. But it’s not the way it is we make a choice not to support people in trouble. We make a choice not to provide them with the opportunities with the livelihoods with the self help measures, which they wanted, and which they needed. So quite understandably, they just said, Well, I can get measles and die here. I can be unhealthy because of lack of food. I consider around doing nothing waiting for aid because I’d be given no opportunities to work for myself. Or I can go back home on the erupting mountain. I think I know what choice I would take, recognizing the risks. And I also don’t want to sit around just getting handouts. I want to be working for myself, helping others and ensuring that I’m providing the food, the water, the shelter, which I need. So I fully understand why many the age I made the decision to return. Despite the fact that mudflows call Lars, we’re continuing, despite the fact that everything we known had been destroyed, despite the fact that the volcano could have erupted again, this is how we have to create positive Choices, choices to live in different ways. Rather than simply what they ate experience was their choice to die in the camps or to die in the mountain,

Andrew McCullough 27:24
or the rough story sort of really brings back to home that concept of choice. And also, I guess, vulnerability in terms of how we can really handle the whole sort of disaster landscape a whole lot better. But I

Joshua McLaren 27:35
think also how important recovery decisions are, I think, often, recovery is seen as this afterthought, but I think, as Alon said earlier in the podcast with a little bit of thought and constantly thinking about how do we prepare for the future? what’s coming next? What’s the unimaginable thing that could come? You know, some of these things could have actually been mitigated? And I think that’s something that our that our practitioners in our listeners need to think about is how are they really meaningfully thinking about the individuals and the lives and and what those impacts their decisions as policymakers and operational people actually going to have real effect and long term effects on people?

Andrew McCullough 28:11
So in terms of recovery, do you think climate change impacts the ability of the community to recover from a disaster? I know we’ve talked about in terms of the disaster risk, but in terms of recovery, even how emergency services and charities operate in the recovery space after disaster, do you think climate change has an impact there as well.

Ilan Kelman 28:31
It’s entirely up to us. We need to start doing climate, stopping blaming climate, climate change for what we are not doing, and stop blaming the environment for the decisions over which we have control. There’s no doubt we are changing the climate and doing so rapidly. That’s not good. And there are so many ways that we could and should stop it with many reasons other than climate change. But to highlight climate change, to put the focus on what climate change does, is actually diverting our attention and diverting our resources, from the key issue of vulnerabilities and diverting ourselves from what we should be doing on the ground no matter what the climate does, no matter what the weather does. If we tackled why people are vulnerable, if we addressed how we should improve the situation, then we’re in a much much stronger position to tackle earthquakes and cyclones and terrorist attacks and societal issues and inequity and injustice as well as climate change. We must address climate change, but we must address these other challenges, all of which we’ve created. So unfortunately, because of the political impetus towards emphasizing climate change and highlighting climate change as the issue and as a problem, yeah, emergency services charities governments are being distracted by it. It draws away from admitting the poor choices we’ve made and the power we have to overcome it. Missile lining work to focus on climate change, neglects everything which is not related to climate change. What we should be doing instead is never ever neglecting climate change, but not letting it dominate. Climate change is one major big topic which we must deal with. Among many,

Andrew McCullough 30:19
I think to climate change is one of those things that politicians can kind of have some sort of reaction to and implement some sort of strategy or announcer ball to say, like a rebate on on electric cars or something like that, you can kind of say, yes, here’s some sort of unanswerable in whatever sort of forum and it’s well received, given the climate change threat, the role or a lambda. But vulnerabilities have an awkward truth, it’s hard to come back, this is so ingrained is so hard, so hard to solve vulnerability. And at that level, it is requires so much work on the ground, small steps, but you can certainly do it. But it’s not something who’s on the outside. So we’re going to make the communities vulnerable doesn’t sound the same ring for a politician to sort of announce. I know, it’s very hard, I think, but what that means taking responsibility.

Ilan Kelman 31:04
So if politician ca know what its hazard, its vulnerability. Well, who creates vulnerability is those with power, which includes the politicians,

Andrew McCullough 31:13
as a powerful health and thought, Well, how that’s something our listeners can take away from this episode, it’s for sure. And like this is there’s a big issues in emergency management, I think, or disasters feels like a rapidly growing space and for us, in our careers, that certainly, though, can see opportunities everywhere now. It’s one of those big things it’s growing and governments asunder recognize the need to prepare for increasingly challenging disaster. I think COVID-19 certainly has impacted that as well. So a lot if you’re looking to the future by say 10 or 20 years and spot some of those big issues that disaster professionals need to consider or be aware of, what do you think they’d be? And and what should disaster professionals be doing today to prepare for those challenges of tomorrow?

Ilan Kelman 31:59
she asked them, and it says, I’d asked you because they know the wonderful work that you do in the careers you’ve set up. Since Yeah, okay, I’m being asked a question, I’ll answer it. I would say to prepare for tomorrow, we have to work together. We have to work across disciplines and across topics, we have to sit down with people talk to them have that conversation you were mentioning, we are all experts in our different ways. So sure, okay, I have a PhD. I’m a professor. Why would I necessarily know any more than someone who has fished or farmed all their life, even without formal education, we can learn and support each other, to prepare for tomorrow, to think about tomorrow, focus on the long term causes, work on long term solutions, not piecemeal, but together to overcome our short term thinking, to overcome our instant gratification, and to think about the people. In the end. Preparing for tomorrow is not about what the environment is doing to us, as well, what we are doing to the environment, and what we are doing to society. We are creating and perpetuating people and populations in difficult situations, removing options, resources and power from them, which means disasters become inevitable. To prepare for tomorrow, we have to reverse that, over the long term thinking generation

Andrew McCullough 33:27
is a much better answer than what I would have given if I was to say that for me, I think certainly like some of these challenges are big. And I think just the scale of disaster in the future. I think that the growing population leading to growing vulnerability, just because that’s the choices we’re going to make. I think that is inevitable. Unfortunately, those going to be solved. I think like what you said as well in terms of working together, because whether it’s public working with private or, or authority and government working with community directly, I think those connections have to be made, it’s comes back to things like spontaneous volunteering, which I also worked on this podcast. But those are the ways to get the community involved, realize a disaster risk and hopefully start to consider how we reduce disaster risk and invulnerability.

Joshua McLaren 34:07
And I agree with you as well, I think it’s, it’s something that countries need to think about as well. It’s this whole, you know, what’s the national approach? How do you actually intersect across the depth of water of what what a country is? How do you actually engage community? How you engage local councils or local governments, then how do you engage, you know, your next level up and your, your federal governments, how you bring your private sector, your charities, NGOs? How are you bringing everyone together on the same page? And I think Alon talked a lot about it today. It’s really about how do you bring people together with collective effort. And I think it’s a really, it’s something that I’m actually going to take away today it’s, I need to be careful that climate changes conversation about climate change doesn’t actually detract our effort and our focus on what we actually really need to do. And at the end of the day, we need to come to the same page as a group of individuals and To put some strategies together and start to collectively move forward with one another. And I think that’s, that’s something that I’m really going to take away from today. But to finish off today, we want to introduce a new segment for season two of me, myself and disasters. And that’s our disaster mailbag. Throughout the first episode, first season of this podcast, we had a lot of listeners Alon, were conversations and podcasts or guests that we had on was stimulating people to think and ask questions and start to send them through to our mailbox. And there was one in there that we saw from Dominic, one of our listeners, and I think it really matches the conversation that we’ve had today. And the end, the question was, what would be your top three considerations or strategies to counter previously made poor decisions, which have led to an increased disaster is in the context of climate change?

Ilan Kelman 35:50
I would say, admit the fundamentals. And I’d give three fundamentals. So number one, equity, inclusion, equity and inclusion. Everyone needs to be involved and contribute what they’re able to. Number two demographics, we have to look at population numbers and distributions, how we live, and how we are permitted to live. Why are some demographics marginalized and excluded? Why do some dominate the power structures? And number three is ideology? Why are some people again, emphasizing those with a lot of power? Why are they not interested in evidence? Where do anti evidence belief systems emerge from and grab that space of power? So to me, it’s these three is equity, inclusion, demographics and ideology. Yet, most importantly, what am I missing? What am I getting wrong? How am I miss communicating? Can we deal with that with evidence not within equity, not with oppression, not with ideology? How can we have that conversation, be balanced and respectful, and hoping that everyone listening can be part of it and looking forward to learning and changing with you with particular appreciation to you too, for doing this podcast, which is part of what we need?

Joshua McLaren 37:06
Then just a quick follow on question, before we finish up? Do you think it’s too late to turn the ship around?

Ilan Kelman 37:12
Never. There’s always so much that we can do. If we made the choices, we could do it very quickly. Once an example, we were told, oh, well, if we disrupt our global transportation system, or we can’t do that very quickly, and it’s going to cause major problems. But you know what, in 2010, a volcano erupted in Iceland, and that happened in Europe. And then March 2020, comes along, and we have a pandemic. And we stopped most international flying almost overnight. No one wanted it this way. It has been absolutely devastating. But it shows that if we’re ready for it, we could do it without hurting people. So where they told us you can’t just shut down intercontinental flights or international flights. But we did it when we had to at severe costs and highly damaging. So let’s sit down now and plan to overnight, change our energy and electricity and fuel system, we can do it if we want to.

Joshua McLaren 38:12
That’s actually a really interesting point. Because I think, at the end of the day, we’re going to come to a point where we’re going to have to make the decision. Do we make the decision now, where we think logically, and we think we take a considered approach? Or we? Or do we make the decision when the decision needs to be made and the consequences on our doorstep? And we’re not going to have the time to be considered and logical about it.

Ilan Kelman 38:35
Exactly right. Let’s get out of reactive mode, prepare for what we know has to be done anyway. And do it sensibly balanced and equitably, so that people are not hurt in the same way that they were in 2010 and 2020.

Andrew McCullough 38:47
Yeah, well, the challenges ahead, I think it all comes down to choice. So hopefully you can do that. A lot. It’s been an absolute treat to have you on the show today. And in talking all about disaster risk, climate change and the concept of disaster by choice, which I think we’ve certainly, as Josh mentioned a lot about that. And and I guess climate change is that sort of almost an excuse or that distraction for us. It certainly is an issue, but I think we’ve got to sort of put it where it belongs. Not our listeners as well would have learned a lot from our discussion today. But if you’d like to learn more, be sure to check out disaster by choice from alarm killman from your favorite bookstore. And I shall put a link on our website for that as well. We’ve posted more info about this and alarm and his research on our website at me myself. disaster.com Thanks so much alarm for joining us on May myself in disaster Australia’s leading Emergency Management podcast. Thanks for opportunity and pro the work you’re doing.

Joshua McLaren 39:43
That’s all we have time for on the show today. Join us again next time as we talk to more interesting guests from across the world about their experiences during disasters. Catch you then.

Voiceover 39:54
Thanks for listening to me, myself and disaster subscribe today at me myself. Design monster.com learn more about disasters and follow our blog at disaster proz.com

Ilan Kelman

Professor of Disasters and Health at the University College London and author of Disaster by Choice: How Our Actions Turn Natural Hazards Into Catastrophes.