Puerto Rico: Climate Change, Disaster and Colonial Legacies

Authors: Thomas Weidemeyer*, Florida International University
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Latin America
Keywords: Puerto Rico, disaster, colonial, legacy, climate change, Tesla, rift
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 2:40 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Balcony K, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Disaster scholars have long emphasized the social as well as environmental dimensions of vulnerability to extreme events. The particularly devastating 2017 hurricane season, provide stark illustrations of many Caribbean islands’s vulnerability. This paper situates the region’s vulnerability within the wider environmental history of colonial rule. Specifically, it asks how environmental history might inform ongoing recovery and reconstruction activities. I discuss colonial legacies including the BONUS Nuclear Reactor built in Rincon, Puerto Rico (a prototype plant decommissioned in 1970), as well as the current situation in Puerto Rico and its dialogue with Tesla. I use archival and current literature analysis from a variety of sources to compare and contrast the two case studies, and offer a conclusion of reproduction of colonial/imperial exploitation. As Sealey-Huggins states, “To be clear, a specific consequence of the legacies of imperialism and colonialism, and contemporary forms of neoliberal capitalism, is the globally unequal distribution of wealth that leaves many Caribbean countries without the resources necessary to adequately respond to climate change.” Stemming from this lack, Caribbean countries indebtedness limits their ability to transform prevailing unequal social and ecological relations.The rifts (literal and figurative) and dehumanization experienced in the wake of these extreme events lead me to state that the people of Puerto Rico are "inhabiting an unfamiliar planet", so I will discuss "where they are looking for guidance, insight, and receiving admonition".

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