Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Climate Solutions Lab

Climate and Social Vulnerability

American University

Political Science,Public Policy / Admin,Sociology,Geography


Prof. Jesse Ribot


Documentary Video / Films,Readings from Underrepresented groups

Vulnerable, at risk, prone, fragile, precarious – coping, secure, adapted, resilient. What do these terms mean? How do they and the concepts behind them inform our approach to reducing the likelihood of damage in the face of climate stress? Climate extremes and climate change call for and justify policies to protect exposed and sensitive individuals and groups. Why, however, are these people vulnerable in the first place? How does gender, ethnicity, race, caste, class, religion, place of origin, age, profession, education shape people’s risk? Who is vulnerable and how did they come to be exposed and sensitive? We live in a world of haves and have nots, of the secure and insecure, the included and excluded. What processes generate extreme precarity for some? People need protection from storms and droughts. But to protect them we need to understand why they are vulnerable so we can treat the social and political-economic causes behind their vulnerability – the forces within society that expose them and push them to the edge. Without vulnerability, natural events are manageable. With vulnerability, these events become ‘hazards’ that can push people over that edge – off the cliff of precarity. This course focuses on the social roots and the reduction of vulnerability. We will explore: 1) causes of climate-related vulnerability; and 2) practices and policies designed to reduce economic loss, hunger, famine and dislocation in the face of climate trends and events.