Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Australian Indigenous community DRR

 Much online discussion about the Australian bushfires – outpouring of sympathy etc. – and within that a growing role for First Australian knowledges on, well, survival.
And lest we lose sight of the contributions from Australian academics, let me remind colleagues and peers of a prescient paper by Dr. Heidi Ellemor who in 2005 published a work arguing for Indigenous voices to be heard in the strategies and tactics of environmental management in their territories (Ellemor, 2005). Dr. Ellemor’s work builds on that of John Campbell (J Campbell, 2006; John Campbell, 2010) who flipped ascriptions of Pacific vulnerability (a colonial hangover) to one of resilience.

In the time of takeaways, I cut and paste this from the paper:
“The recognition and inclusion of indigenous peoples’ knowledge can help to destabilise the hegemonic status that certain understandings or preferred readings of a situation have gained.”

Page four for the pedantic.
I’m sure back in the early days of the 1992 Mabo Decision, Australians of all mobs could expect to see a more environmentally just and survivable landscape, and that even the most diehard Ozzie racist (and they can be a frightening beast) would accept a collaboration (alignment? acceptance? trust?!) in any knowledge that would help the very survival of what you claim and cherish is at mortal risk?

Dr. Ellemor articulated all this very well, a generation of Australians (and geography grads) ago.
I follow Aussie politics more than most not from the Lucky Country, and for two reasons: 1) the remarkable endurance of myriad Indigenous communities (see the Uluru policy change); and 2) if the metaphor of ‘frontline’ is to mean anything in this instance, then Aussies are in the trenches again.
Now to Kiwi’s, the imagery of brutal trench warfare is closely linked to our Aussie mates and neighbours; I’m sure the ‘ANZAC spirit’ has been invoked. And with the orange haze over Aotearoa, and people goggling PM25, we realize that if we’re not in the trenches just yet, we can smell the carnage from the assembly point in godszone…


Barnett, J. (2017). The dilemmas of normalising losses from climate change: Towards hope for Pacific atoll countries. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 58(1), 3-13. Retrieved from doi:10.1111/apv.12153
Barnett, J., Lambert, S., & Fry, I. (2008). The hazards of indicators: insights from the the Environmental Vulnerability Index. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 98(1), 102-119.
Campbell, J. (2006). Traditional disaster reduction in Pacific Island Communities. Retrieved from Lower Hutt:
Campbell, J. (2010). An overview of natural hazard planning in the Pacific Island region. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 2010-1. Retrieved from
Ellemor, H. (2005). Reconsidering emergency management and indigenous communities in Australia. Global Environmental Change Part B: Environmental Hazards, 6(1), 1-7. Retrieved from doi:
Lambert, S. (2014a). Indigenous Peoples and urban disaster: Māori responses to the 2010-12 Christchurch earthquakes. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 18(1), 39-48. Retrieved from doi:
Lambert, S. (2014b). Maori and the Christchurch earthquakes: the interplay between Indigenous endurance and resilience through a natural disaster. MAI Journal, 3(2), 165-180. Retrieved from

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The climate crisis is also a biodiversity crisis

Important message from Dr. Andrea Byrom, Director of the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge who has been provoked into a forthright contribution to the NZ Sciblogs site.

International media outlets are full of gut-wrenching images of burned koalas, video footage of fleeing kangaroos, and firefighters sharing water with wildlife. Judging by the public outpouring of emotion (and donations) in response, intuitively we know something is very, very wrong. We care about biodiversity, and we care a lot. Indeed, we know that people experience grief in relation to biodiversity loss.

Among other points Dr. Byrom raises is this:

I’ve been surprised and disappointed at the scarcity of Indigenous voices in this crisis, at least in mainstream media. As Lorena Allam eloquently points out, Indigenous people in Australia have been connected to the land for tens of thousands of years, and they are watching in anguish as their sacred places go up in smoke. Perhaps Indigenous people can teach us a lot about disaster risk reduction, whether in New Zealand, Australia, or anywhere. That’s not to say that we should revert solely to traditional ways – these fires are unprecedented in their intensity and scale and landscapes are different now – but there is something to be said for listening to the voices of those who have deep connections with the land and its plants and animals, and working respectfully together to come up with contemporary solutions in the apocalyptic world we all find ourselves in.

Now if anyone knows anything about Aussies, they don't lack for confidence. Or they haven't until now. But I do sense a change in how Australia sees itself, both at home and in the world. I think they have lost confidence in themselves, and in their ability to manage their environment.

In the discussion on ecological tipping points we may now be witnessing a tipping point in political action down under.

link to the full blog post.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Post-disaster elections: will the Australian wildfires lead to a paradigm shift in Australian politics?

Spare a thought for our Indigenous brothers and sisters amidst the political storm raging around the wildfire response – or lack thereof – by the Australian government, personalized around the (in)actions of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Remarkable footage of Morrison forcing a young, distressed, woman to shake his hand, and being snubbed by a firefighter, has predictably gone viral.

But governments are not always punished in an election for actual or perceived ineffectiveness in the face of a disaster. President George W. Bush survived Katrina. NZ PM John Key survived the Christchurch earthquakes (his party’s position in the munted city improved in the next election, although anecdotally many opposition supporters may have been forced by their housing situation to relocate to other electorates).

So, what does the research say?

I did a quick Google Scholar search and pulled up some stuff.

First, a study published over 50 years ago by Abney and Hill (1966) made some interesting observations. Political scientists have traditionally assumed that political behavior is somewhat determined by their physical environment. We should not, for example, “expect a homogeneous political culture in a country sharply divided by mountains.” They go on to say that disasters have historically been considered ‘bad omens’ for sitting governments but note little empirical research on this: “political activity seems more determined by social environment than physical.” However, “such catastrophes place great stress upon the social framework and thus test the adaptive capabilities of the political system.”

Bien entendu. Since then there have been a number of studies. Summaries of just a few…

Olson and Gawronski (2010) give a very useful overview of the issues. They ask “Why is it that some authorities, governments, administrations, and even entire regimes emerge from disasters more popular and politically stronger, while most appear to emerge less popular and politically weaker, sometimes fatally so?” They argue that the “often problematic political consequences” of a disaster can be seen as ‘‘Maslowian Shocks’’ (yes, that Maslow who drew in Native American philosophy for this hierarchy of needs). A disaster rips off the scab of governance (“strong revelatory components” as they put it) as the voting public analyze government performance along six dimensions: capability, competence, compassion, correctness, credibility, and anticipation.

Bodet, Thomas, and Tessier (2016) found support for the incumbent Calgary mayor increased after the devastating 2013 floods, albeit at a lower rate in those areas of residential flooding. However, they acknowledged flooded areas differed “systematically” from those areas not flooded “in ways key to the election outcome” (p.85): “When analyzed more conservatively, results show that the flood had no effect on incumbent support or voter turnout.”

Arceneaux and Stein (2006) looked at a Houston election (November) that followed their (June) floods of 2001. Voters did punish the incumbent mayor for the flood if they believed he/the city was responsible for flood prep. This expectation of responsibility was shaped by whether a voter’s neighborhood had been hit by flood waters, and their knowledge of local politics. Sainz-Santamaria and Anderson (2013) examined U.S. disaster preparedness spending between 1985 and 2008 and found increased spending in competitive counties. They advise caution in demanding increased DRR spending as the dollars may be put to electoral ends instead of public safety.

The literature seems to be dominated by US case studies. Vanderleeuw, Liu, and Williams (2008) provide a very interesting analysis of New Orleans mayoralty election, post-Katrina (a more reasonable scale of analysis than the race for president (pun intended…). They describe a 15.8% decline in registered African-American voters and a decline of white registered voters of only 5.1%. So, while a black mayor was returned, “whites clearly were in a better position than they had been to challenge black domination in New Orleans politics.”

(Strange language when taken out of context, so please go to the original paper if you wanna argue, and take it up with the authors. I’m just cutting and pasting…)

From the US again, Reeves (2011) identified a relationship between a state’s ‘electoral competitiveness’ and the likelihood and number of presidential disaster declarations. Reeves argues that “presidents use unilateral powers for particularistic aims to gain electoral support.” His findings are based on data drawn from 1981 to 2004, with this relationship existing since the 1988 Stafford Act which expanded presidents powers in declaring a disaster. (The Stafford Act also has implications for Native Americans on reserve. More on that another time). Reeves also argues the use of presidential powers in these events do have the intended electoral benefits: voters will reward presidents for declaring a disaster in their state, more than a one point increase in support.

But what about Australia?

MacLean (2016) in one of the more entertaining papers I have read, hypothesizes the processes and transition of governmental power in a Zombie apocalypse. He argues that, at least in the initial stages, a zombie apocalypse will see coordinated emergency management from the three spheres of Australian government. But as the zombies spread across Australia, he predicts “that both the rule of law and effective communication networks will break down”. In this situation, the Commonwealth government will struggle to “project its power” and resistance will default down to the “effective use of people and resources” at the State and then regional or local government levels. And like any B movie, “[i]n the worst-case scenario, all the current recognised forms of government may fail and survival will depend on new polities created out of desperate need.”

Cold comfort indeed.

In answer the question, ‘Will the wildfires lead to a change of government In Australia?’ I’d have to kick for touch and say maybe. The next election will undoubtedly feature climate change, and many new leaders will arise, as we have seen in NZ through the Green Party. I do think PM Morrison is on shaky ground and whether he survives to lead his party into the next election is another matter, and down to the seething mass of jealousies and aspirations within his own party. I like the six dimensions provided by Olsen and Gawronski: capability, competence, compassion, correctness, credibility, and anticipation. From a distance, I’d rate the Australian government as C+, C-, C-, B-, D, and D respectively.

There's very few Indigenous voices to be heard in all this. 

Time to break out the Mad Max memes?


Abney, F. G., & Hill, L. B. (1966). Natural Disasters as a Political Variable: The Effect of a Hurricane on an Urban Election. American Political Science Review, 60(4), 974-981. Retrieved from doi:10.2307/1953770
Arceneaux, K., & Stein, R. M. (2006). Who Is Held Responsible When Disaster Strikes? the Attribution of Responsibility for a Natural Disaster in an Urban Election. Journal of Urban Affairs, 28(1), 43-53. Retrieved from doi:10.1111/j.0735-2166.2006.00258.x
Bodet, M. A., Thomas, M., & Tessier, C. (2016). Come hell or high water: An investigation of the effects of a natural disaster on a local election. Electoral Studies, 43, 85-94. Retrieved from doi:
MacLean, R. (2016). Unnatural Disasters: Emergency Management in a Time of Zombies Part I: Refereed Articles. Canberra Law Review(1), 47-62. Retrieved from
Olson, R. S., & Gawronski, V. T. (2010). From Disaster Event to Political Crisis: A “5C+A” Framework for Analysis. International Studies Perspectives, 11(3), 205-221. Retrieved from doi:10.1111/j.1528-3585.2010.00404.x
Sainz-Santamaria, J., & Anderson, S. E. (2013). The Electoral Politics of Disaster Preparedness. Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy, 4(4), 234-249. Retrieved from doi:10.1002/rhc3.12044
Vanderleeuw, J., Liu, B., & Williams, E. (2008). The 2006 New Orleans Mayoral Election: The Political Ramifications of a Large-Scale Natural Disaster. PS: Political Science & Politics, 41(4), 795-801. Retrieved from doi:10.1017/S1049096508081018

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

I'm still a long way from Aotearoa, a long way from the Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, the Pacific, but am re-immersing myself in the Maori Economy, so to speak. This scandal over Maori pepi and Oranga Tamariki is best explained by Professor Leonie Pihama, ...

Our people have called for generations for the halting of Māori child removal. Our tūpuna  shared with us their visionary aspirations for future generations, their dreams for us to hold to our self-determination, to live on our lands as whānau, hapū and iwi,  to know who we are and to live our lives as Māori.

Simon Lambert

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