Navigating disruption: mobile society and hurricanes Juan and Igor: a travelogue

Sodero, Stephanie (2016) Navigating disruption: mobile society and hurricanes Juan and Igor: a travelogue. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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In the course of a decade, two record-breaking hurricanes made landfall in Atlantic Canada: Juan (2003) and Igor (2010). During each hurricane, mobility networks central to the movement of people and goods (i.e. road, marine, air and rail) were disrupted, interrupting emergency services, commercial operations and personal transport. In some cases, alternate transport modes and routes emerged, while in other cases people and goods were rendered immobile. The anchoring idea for my research is that fossil fuel-powered transport contributes to climate change and climate change disrupts transport. The energetic boomerang comes full circle with severe weather events disrupting complex, weather-exposed transport networks. While linking specific weather events to climate change is tenuous, I explore these hurricanes as examples of the type of conditions (e.g. high winds, intense precipitation, storm surges) that are expected under a changing climate. To build societal resilience to extreme weather events, we need both theoretical and applied approaches to transport that incorporate recognition of climate change. Through this project I ask what responses and frames, particularly related to socialecological interactions, emerge when mobility networks are impacted by hurricanes. I examine sources of resilience and vulnerability (e.g. social, ecological, infrastructural), as well as ask how greater social and ecological resilience can be achieved. Using an inductive case study approach and drawing on media articles, legislative transcripts, policy documents and semi-structured interviews with key informants, I identify and analyze the resulting responses and frames as they pertain to social-ecological resilience and vulnerability. This research is grounded within the mobilities literature and informed by the disaster literature to elaborate an ecopolitics of mobility. I complement the applied areas of sustainable mobility (i.e. climate change mitigation) (Banister 2008) and resilience (i.e. transport, infrastructure, social-ecological) (Brown 2014; Folke 2010), with the theoretically oriented mobilities paradigm (Sheller and Urry 2006), including the politics of mobility (Cresswell 2010). Further, I inflect the politics of mobility, which provides a nuanced approach to the analysis of power within mobility systems, with Foucault’s work on governmentality and circulation of societies and ecologies. In terms of practical contributions, I find that in the aftermath of Hurricanes Juan and Igor, reinstatement of mobility was an uppermost priority with a dominant tension between the frame ‘we’ve never seen anything like it’ and ‘we need to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.’ I develop a list of practices used for managing mobility in the preparation, response, recovery and mitigation phases of disaster, as well compare the resiliencies and vulnerabilities of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland’s mobility networks. In the case of Nova Scotia, a key source of vulnerability in the context of Hurricane Juan was the entanglement of trees and power lines. Key sources of resilience include the cultural instinct to batten down the hatches, the adaptable role of transit and the coordination of emergency services. Residents successfully, if somewhat precariously, governed their own mobility (i.e. governmobility). Further, the experience of successive intentional, technical and ecological adversities fostered a culture of all-hazards disaster readiness. In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador, a key source of vulnerability in the context of Hurricane Igor was the scale of road washouts combined with limited routes, modes (e.g. car, truck), fuel types and fuel storage. Key sources of resilience were coordination and cooperation among different levels of government, the private sector and residents demonstrating a high capacity to restore the road network to functionality within ten days and coordination among residents to cope in the interim. Based on the empirical case studies, I develop and elucidate three ideas that are valuable in reconceptualizing the social and environmental power dynamics inherent in transport networks: mobility webs, the ecopolitics of mobility and climate routing. I describe this set of concepts as an ecopolitical approach to mobility. Borrowing from the ecological concept of food webs, I use the term mobility webs to reflect the environmentally exposed, but also diverse and adaptable dimensions of contemporary transport networks arguing for an approach that cooperates with, rather than dominates, the environment. To underscore the view that transport networks and ecological flows are interwoven and, in an anthropogenic age, co-constructed, I forward the concept of an ecopolitics of mobility. Adapting Cresswell’s (2010) six elements of the politics of mobility – motive force, velocity, rhythm, route, experience and friction – to the interface of the environment and contemporary social-technical assemblages of mobility, I analyze socialecological power dynamics, including related sources of resilience and vulnerability to disrupt and reframe interactions between mobility and the environment. Informed by the disaster sociology of Freudenburg (2009), Klinenberg (2004) and Murphy (2009), I consider the possibilities for an ecologically reflexive modernization in the field of transport, extending the focus of transport resilience from restoring the status quo to include reflecting on the role of mobility in contemporary society (Beck 2015). I adapt the marine navigation concept of weather routing – the practice of altering a ship’s course to take maximum advantage of tidal, current and wind conditions to reduce the physical resistance of the ship moving through water – and posit the concept of climate routing. As conceived, climate routing involves six measures: creating a transport resilience task force, deliberating decentralization, internalizing externalities, planning for green and blue flows, rebranding redundancy and thinking flex. Primary considerations are lessening social-ecological contention, increasing resilience, questioning mobility practices and maintaining or increasing quality of life. In sum, my research offers innovative contributions by orienting mobilities research to social-ecological considerations – extending previous work on sustainable mobility even further – and orienting disaster sociology to mobility and related transport considerations.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 12381
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 302-327).
Keywords: climate change, mobility, disaster, severe weather, hurricane
Department(s): Divisions > On the Move Partnership
Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Sociology
Date: July 2016
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Hurricanes--Atlantic Coast (Canada); Emergency transportation--Atlantic Coast (Canada); Emergency management--Atlantic Coast (Canada); Climatic changes--Atlantic Coast (Canada)

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