Power and disaster

In Greek and Roman Antiquity extreme weather events and natural disasters like droughts, earthquakes and floods were a frequent occurrence. They also offered important stages for the display of political power. Political leaders would rush to the occasion to help the population out of their hardship and make sure that other powers and posterity notice. In fact, according to historian Holger Sonnabend, political power was recognized mainly by the ability to help and rebuild. This was even sometimes used by suffering cities to get as much support as possible from rivaling politicians.

Accompanying the imperative of help was the public display of grieve. Compassion was expected of those in power and it was common for leaders to require historians to write up their grieve in dramatic ways. Here is an example from the 7. Century CE by Georgios Kedrenos, who describes in retrospect the expression of grieve of emperor Justinian upon the earth quake in Antiochia in May 526.

“He threw aside his crown and his imperial clothes, and, dressed in dirty rags, wept for several days, and even on feast days he entered the church in pitiful robes because he could not bear to put on any signs of his power.”

The educator and historian Libanius (314 – 392 CE) on the other hand wrote in an eulogy on emperor Julian that the earth itself mourned with an earth quake and several tsunamis in the Mediterranean in 365 CE the loss of this great emperor the year before.

“Earth truly has been fully sensible of her loss, and has honoured the hero by an appropriate shearing off of her tresses, shaking off, as a horse doth his rider, so many and such great cities. In Palestine several; of the Libyans all and every one. Prostrate lie the largest towns of Sicily, prostrate all of Greece save one; the fair Nicaea lies in ruins; the city, pre-eminent in beauty, totters to her fall, and has no confidence for the time to come! These are the honours paid to him by Earth, or if you choose, by Neptune himself; but on the part of the Seasons, famines and pestilences, destroying alike man and beast, just as though it were not lawful for creatures upon earth to enjoy health now that he has departed! What wonder then is it, if such being the state of things, many a one, like myself, deems it a loss not to have died before!”

(full text in english)

For the disaster of 365 in the Mediterranean see also this post.

Globalize local initiatives

In this speech, Colette Pichon Battle, formerly of Gulf South Center for Law and Policy and now working with Taproot Earth, explains why in cimate change adaptation the local knowledge of “frontline communities” is important and why and how the local initiativves need to connect and globalize their efforts.

Thanks to Aron Chang for the lead.

yonaoshi – the cleansing disaster

In japanese culture, disasters are commonly interpreted as a call and chance for renewal. The then governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara published a statement only two days after the Tsunami of March 2011 calling “the disaster a punishment from heaven because Japanese have become greedy. […] We should avail of this tsunami to wash away this greed. I think this is a divine punishment. ” Shintaro was a controversial figure, an extreme right-wing politician, but also a popular literary author and former film maker. He later apologized for the statement and in 2012 resigned as governor of Tokyo. Still, this concept is quite popular among Japanese who are also very much accustomed to natural disasters. It is called yonaoshi (世直し) which translates as world renewal or great revolution.

Sources from: Christian Rumrich, Sichtbares und Unsichtbares, in: Mensch. Natur. Katastrophe. Von Atlantis bis heute. Mannheim: 2o14

Divide the Seas!

To counter the global sea level rise, several initiatives have formed to block seas off from the global water flow. The idea behind it: If you control the global water flow, you could control the sea level locally without having to tackle the problem globally. Of course, from a political point of view, this is a case of eco-protectionism taken to the next level. It would create an unprecedented case of separatism, a whole area shutting itself off from global interdependency that is essential to what human culture is – an interdependent global network.

About these plans, one scientist from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research said: “See this as a warning. What we’re saying is: Here’s a plan, a plan we don’t want. But if we end up needing it, then it’s technically and financially feasible.”

See the article from the New York Times from 2020.

Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin

Soldiers Grove is a village situated along the Kickapoo River in Crawford County, Wisconsin, in the United States. The population was 592 at the 2010 census. The town has become a case study in best practices for managed retreat. In 1978, flooding inundated the Soldiers Grove area. In the aftermath of the disaster, $900,000 in federal funds were provided to assist in relocating the village’s business district to higher ground. Construction of the new business district began in 1979 and was completed by 1983. A park replaced the old downtown area along the river. It later became the self proclaimed “America’s First Solar Village”. (Quote: Wikiepdia)

USA; 20. Century; Policy, Managed Retreat; City: Soldiers Grove


The small nation state Kiribati has become well known, because it is projected to be one of the first nations who’s citizens are forced into migration because of Rising Sea Levels. Kiribati is made up of 32 atolls scattered across the southern Pacific Ocean. There are no places on these atolls high enough so that migration within the country would be a solution. So the government has created a program called “migration with dignity” to help it’s population to become settled in other nation states. Find here an extensive research on the policy.

Republic of Kiribati; 21. Century; Policy; Managed Retreat

You’re next!

A sign in front of a home in the town Matatā in New Zealand, that been forced into “managed retreat”, the process where communities, buildings and infrastructure are gradually evacuated from areas designated uninhabitable or to dangerous. The sign reads ‘Whakatane district council stole our homes. Watch out the rest of NZ, you’re next!’ (Photograph: Stephen Langdon/The Guardian)
Source and full article!

New Zealand; 21. Century; Sign; City: Matata