BSc (Hons), MEnvSt (Master of Environmental Studies).
Managing cyclone prone human-ecological communities for resilience and sustainability.
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Past, Present and Future: Processes of Human Adaptation to Risk in Complex Adaptive Systems
Rapid and exponential population growth, unhalting development in vulnerable disaster prone regions and anthropogenic climate change are contributing to unprecedented disasters from known natural phenomena across the globe. Despite extensive government planning, preparation, risk management and mitigation programs to deal with the potential effects of such phenomena, some human groups and individuals are overwhelmed when an extreme event strikes resulting in chronic losses. Other groups, however, respond proactively, dramatically reducing losses in their community. The latter seem to have adapted or learnt from their own, or others, past risk experience more successfully than the former. If we could better understand this inconsistency in human behavior then many lives can be saved and future losses can be reduced if not avoided completely. Furthermore, learning from past risk experience can help policy makers design better policies that contribute to more resilient and sustainable communities.
The thesis adopts critical realist philosophy and applies soft systems thinking and theories from cognitive science and risk research to gain a better understanding of individual and social processes of adaptation to riskor learning from risk experience. To investigate the problem in-depth, a case study community prone to tropical cyclone risk in the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia is investigated. The case study community is viewed as a complex adaptive system: a socio-environmental system in which humans learn and human behaviour changes in response to its surrounding environment and one that is characterized by self organization and emergence. Primary data in the form of in-depth interviews and secondary data in the form of historical documents, laws, media and so on are used to investigate human adaptation to risk at individual and social system scales. The study reveals that a number of beliefs, perceptions, traditions, myths and urban legends emerge from the complex adaptive system and contribute to both past and present adaptive and maladaptive practices. The study concludes by presenting a number of possible approaches or interventions that would better enable individuals and society to adapt to risk especially in the context of a changing world with an uncertain future.