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Über dieses Buch

This book deals with the immediate effects of, and response to, Hurricane María on the social, ecological, and technological systems (SETS) of Puerto Rico. The SETS approach to analyzing hurricane effects places into historical context the role of social and technological factors, and compares social and ecological resilience on the same temporal scales. Written from the perspective of a Puerto Rican scientist who experienced Maria's wrath first-hand, the book uses extensive empirical knowledge of the ecological effects of hurricanes on Caribbean forests and combines that knowledge with a detailed analysis of the effects of Hurricane María on the social and technological fabric of Puerto Rico.
The comparison suggests that the effects of extreme events are dictated not only by the strength of the physical event, but also by the conditions of affected SETS at the time when the event exerts influence over them. Moreover, SETS have historical legacies that influence how resilient they can be when affected by an extreme event. Therefore, preparation and response to extreme events require an integrated social, ecological, and technological effort, known as the SETS response. The SETS response requires an understanding of the energetics of extreme events and their effects on the economy, which in turn determines social and technological resilience. Hurricane María demonstrated that the social and technological systems of Puerto Rico were not adapted to dealing with extreme events, in contrast with the ecological systems, which were. Hurricane María’s effect on Puerto Rico can be used as an example from which valuable lessons emerge for making SETS more adaptable and resilient to extreme events.



Chapter 1. Introduction

Islanders and ecologists had not experienced an event like hurricane María, but that did not inhibit them from anticipating the potential effects of such a storm, and the importance of being prepared for when an event like María would happen. The effects of María nevertheless surprised everyone. They eye of María entered Puerto Rico as a category 4 and exited as a category 3 hurricane 12 h later, exposing the island to 24 h of hurricane effects. In addition, Puerto Rico was affected by the passage of hurricane Irma north of the island and by the effects of winter storm Riley that passed over the northeastern United States of America in March 2018.
Ariel E. Lugo

Chapter 2. The Hurricanes of 2017: Pre-María and Immediate Social and Technological Effects

Puerto Rico’s infrastructure collapsed when exposed to the forces of hurricane María. The event also changed the course of rivers, altered the topography of sectors of the island, flooded lowlands and parts of uplands, and the ocean surge changed beach profiles and collapsed structures built close to the ocean. Islanders were left without power, water, and communications, and without access to cash and government services such as health and protection. People resurrected a life style and survival techniques thought to have been left behind in a past already forgotten by many. Complex island topography, high population density and poverty compounded the difficulties faced by those participating in rescue missions. In the confusion, blunders abound, mortality was difficult to estimate, levels of anxiety increased, and the people lost confidence in their government.
Ariel E. Lugo

Chapter 3. Immediate Ecological Effects

The ecological systems appeared to have collapsed after hurricane María because the defoliation of vegetation was so extensive as to give the appearance that the vegetation was killed. In reality, the rapid re-greening of vegetation quickly reversed these visible effects. Forests continued to yield clean water from watersheds and began a process of change that would restore their structure and functioning, even if species composition might change as they matured. Extreme events such as María have positive long-term effects on Caribbean forests and contribute to adaptability of organisms to a changing world environment.
Ariel E. Lugo

Chapter 4. Recovery and Long-Term Effects

The recovery of services to society, including those from private and governmental sectors, is displayed graphically to illustrate how fast different components of the social-technological system performed after hurricane María. The performance of different sectors varied with its particular circumstances, but it is clear that the recovery of power generation and delivery affected the whole economy. Moreover, much of the early recovery was based on locally generated power, which means that the initial recovery was not sustainable until power to the island was restored. An analysis of the power of María in relation to its effects shows that the effects on Puerto Rico were also dependent on social and technological factors. María was not only a biophysical event it was also a social-technological event, which placed people in the throws of a humanitarian crisis. Moreover, extreme events have invisible effects that become visible months after the event is thought to be over. Extreme events uncover all the limitations and inadequacies of government assistance programs and they need to be evaluated as social-ecological and technological events.
Ariel E. Lugo

Chapter 5. The Roots of Vulnerability

Twenty-one vulnerabilities to the passage of hurricane María of different sectors and activities of the Puerto Rican economy are analyzed and their causes and effects discussed. This analysis shed light on the potential roots of the problems uncovered by the passage of María. The history of debt of the Commonwealth suggests that financial decisions made decades before the passage of María led to the collapse of infrastructure after the hurricane event. Out of control capitalism, unacceptable behavior in professional and governmental elites, and the bypassing of Constitutional controls on burrowing resulted in a level of corruption that exacerbated the biophysical effects of María on Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the same forces that collapsed the economy and exacerbated the effects of María are at work in the recovery from both extreme events.
Ariel E. Lugo

Chapter 6. Fundamental Lessons of Hurricane María

When infrastructure and government service collapse in a technologically advanced society, people are first stunted but soon react to assure survival. After María, the importance of individual and community action at a time of need became a lesson that was obvious to all Puerto Ricans. This lesson was made more relevant in light of another lesson, that of the failure of governance. The conditions after María underscored the importance of governance to a society. Puerto Ricans understood and witnessed how corruption was affecting them directly by turning governance against their interests. A third lesson was that after passing through the consequences of María, which are still in progress, business as usual is not the path to a healthy, resilient, and just society.
Ariel E. Lugo

Chapter 7. Energy and Ecological Basis of Extreme Events

Extreme events like hurricane María have and energy basis and play important planetary roles well beyond the effects that they may have at smaller scales. They are part of the Earth’s energy hierarchies that span the whole scale spectrum from the sub-atomic to the planet as a whole. At the smaller scale of an island like Puerto Rico, its intensity, duration, area affected, component forces, and return frequency of each component can categorize the event, and how its component forces interact with affected systems. Using energy calculations it is possible to compare the power, load, and effects of different extreme events that affect social-ecological-technological systems (SETS). Ecologists have always studied the effects of these disturbance events on ecological systems, but their focus and emphasis has changed historically. A SETS approach expands the scope of the traditional ecological focus on disturbances. On the short-term after María, the ecological sector had a greater resistance and faster recovery of its main power source (photosynthesis measured as greening) than did the technological system by delivering power to the social sector. On the longer term, these results are reversed, with the social-technological sector recovering faster than the ecological sector. A case is made on how the state (sensu system’s thinking) and functioning of Puerto Rico as a SETS is a result of extreme events interacting with the social and political condition of the island. The effects of these interactions are measured in the state and functioning of the landscape and economy of the island. To avoid collapses after each extreme event, the changes made after the events must be adaptive or anticipatory of future extreme events. Adapting to environmental change requires the generation and selection of alternative solutions to problems.
Ariel E. Lugo

Chapter 8. Looking to 2080: A New Puerto Rico

After an extreme event there is a strong momentum to repair damages and resolve the problems created by the event. Money and resources are made available to those that are quick with fixes. Ideas and suggestions are abundant and come from all sectors of society. There is social license for action. However, each social sector acts independently from other sectors. There is little or no integration or search for a common vision of the future. It is a dangerous period for a SETS because the impetus for action can lead to business a usual and a repeat of past mistakes that led to the damages and problems that society is looking to avoid. This is happening in Puerto Rico at this time, when business as usual is preventing a course reversal with a radical new way of reacting to an extreme event. Governance and social actions need an overhaul in Puerto Rico. Resilience thinking, systems thinking, or SETS thinking provide a blueprint for expanding social dialogue towards greater inclusivity and consensus. It is not clear what direction Puerto Rico will take over the long-term.
Ariel E. Lugo


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