With bloodless technicality, risk can be defined as function of two terms: hazard – a damaging “event” of a given type and magnitude, with some probability of occurrence, that impacts people or assets (things of value to someone); and consequence – typically represented as some measure of people affected or assets damaged by a given hazard event.

My own research involving risk, particularly in coastal settings, is situated in bloodless technicality. Buildings and erosion rates are amenable to number-crunching. To illustrate: consider beach erosion. Unto itself, beach erosion is a natural consequence of sediment transport by water or wind, when more sand is carried away from a place than delivered to it. (And by the rule of “no free lunch,” if one place is eroding, then another place must be accreting.) Erosion becomes a hazard when it begins to impinge upon something that someone, or some institution, values as an asset: a road, a house, a pavilion of public toilets. Hazard is not inherent in a beach. But inherent in a piece of beachfront property – expressly because it is regarded as “property” – is the risk that erosion might carve it away.

People, by comparison, are mind-bogglingly complex. Thus, contemplating risk not just in terms of human life (population) but also lived experience in a risky context puts in sharp relief how blinkered the bloodless definition of risk really is.

Fundamentally, risk is a calculation – one in which time and space are intrinsic components.

But a calculation of what? And who is doing the calculating? Did a person choose to be in a risky context, or are they in that context by circumstances beyond their control? Are they even aware of how their situation is a risky one? How does awareness change their attitude toward that risk?

(These are important questions to ask.)

This podcast is an effort to explore the extraordinary diversity of risk and its manifestations – in environmental, social, financial, economic, cultural, and health contexts, and the liminal spaces in which those contexts blur.

In these episodes, I speak with people who are investigating risk in different ways – in different fields and topics and settings, through different research methods, and from different theoretical and conceptual and empirical perspectives.

Accompanying each episode are a few links to relevant supporting material.

Furthermore, this project is taking shape as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to play out. These interviews take place via Skype, warts and all – you can hear patchy Internet connections; you can hear the erms and uhms (mostly mine) of thinking aloud; you can hear sirens and trucks reversing and the household sounds that come with not recording in a studio.

If you’re wondering, I have no operating budget for this project – but I do have the collegial goodwill of Southampton’s School of Geography & Environmental Science. I am indebted to everyone who has agreed to talk with me about the ideas that keep them busy – and I thank them for their valuable time. These recordings have been exceptionally fun to make.

Finally, I encourage you to do something else while you listen to these episodes. Go for a walk, do the dishes, fold laundry, repot plants, polish shoes, peel potatoes, draw elaborate doodles on scrap paper. Listen in headphones or crank it from your floor speakers or play it at modest volume from the little radio in the kitchen.

I’d be glad to know your thoughts (on topics other than vocal fry or my ad hoc production quality), and to hear your suggestions for people to interview and subjects to discuss in future episodes. But troll me no trolls.

Thank you for listening.

GOR graphics by @luckydarren

Episodes (Season 1)

Episode 1 – Prof Andrew Tatem – tracking patterns of pathogens

How novel data sources and spatio-temporal analysis have delivered insights into the spread – and containment – of killer pathogens, from malaria to COVID-19.

Episode 1 – Prof Andrew Tatem: patterns of pathogens
(recorded 18/09/20; aired 05/10/20)

Episode 2 – Dr Dianna Smith – food environments

The global pandemic is exacerbating structural inequalities in access to healthy food.

Episode 2 – Dr Dianna Smith: food environments
(recorded 15/09/20; aired 08/10/20)

Episode 3 – Dr Andrew Power – caringscapes

Provision of informal care for people with special needs is an intensive and often invisible labour. What happens when the resources upon which those previsions rely get disrupted?

Episode 3 – Dr Andrew Power: caringscapes
(recorded 01/10/20; aired 12/10/20)

Episode 4 – Dr Suzanne Reimer – risky employment in the “risk society”

Employers discovered the benefits of “flexible” working arrangements. Employees entered a new era of precarity.

Episode 4 – Dr Suzanne Reimer: risky employment
(recorded 15/09/20; aired 15/10/20)

Episode 5 – Courtnae Bailey – climate finance

Climate finance isn’t just carbon markets – it can be much more local. How do communities access the funds they need for projects to help them mitigate against & adapt to climate change?

Episode 5 – Courtnae Bailey: climate finance
(recorded 23/09/20; aired 19/10/20)

Episode 6 – Dr Danielle Rivera – disaster colonialism

When disasters hit places that have deeply entrenched structural legacies of colonial occupation, the modern processes of disaster relief tend to reinscribe old patterns of inequity and coloniality.

Episode 6 – Dr Danielle Rivera: disaster colonialism
(recorded 06/10/20; aired 22/10/20)

Episode 7 – Anna Weber – disasters are not natural

The “levee effect,” the “safe-development paradox,” and “disasters by design” – does the promise of protection make hazard-prone places riskier?

Episode 7 – Anna Weber: disasters are not natural
(recorded 25/09/20; aired 26/10/20)

Episode 8 – Dr Rebecca Elliott – flood insurance & freighted maps of value

A deep-dive into the US National Flood Insurance Program, and how flood-insurance rate maps connote judgements of “value” far beyond the actuarial.

Episode 8 – Dr Rebecca Elliott: flood insurance & freighted maps of value
(recorded 24/09/20; aired 29/10/20)

Episode 9 – Dr Zac Taylor – turning risk into markets

Insurance turns risk into a tradable commodity. Real estate inscribes the dynamics of those markets into real landscapes.

Episode 9 – Dr Zac Taylor: turning risk into markets
(recorded 06/10/20; aired 02/11/20)

Episode 10 – Dr Miranda Mockrin – fire at the wildland–urban interface

When our built environment expands into fire-prone landscapes, that expansion changes the dynamics of wildfire risk in fundamental ways.

Episode 10 – Dr Miranda Mockrin: fire at the wildland–urban interface
(recorded 08/10/20; aired 05/11/20)

Episode 11 – Dr Gemma Sou – intangible resources & how disasters hit home

In the long wake of a disaster, losing those things that make a place home – from appliances and seemingly small conveniences to the familiar smells of cooking and the sounds of evening – are their own kind of dislocation.

Episode 11 – Dr Gemma Sou: intangible resources & how disasters hit home
(recorded 28/10/20; aired 09/11/20)

Episode 12 – Dr Tomaso Ferrando – disaster capitalism makes landfall

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, in September, 2017, a controversial piece of land-reform legislation was proposed for the island of Barbuda that, if enacted, would change the island in fundamental ways.

Episode 12 – Dr Tomaso Ferrando: disaster capitalism makes landfall
(recorded 03/11/20; aired 12/11/20)

Episode 13 – Dr Jazmin Scarlett – socio-volcanology & perspectives of “dark heritage”

How can historical accounts of eruptions on post/colonial volcanic islands help reduce future risk? Critical perspectives in heritage research complicate the ways disaster impacts are preserved or erased.

Episode 13 – Dr Jazmin Scarlett: socio-volcanology
(recorded 26/10/20; aired 16/11/20)

Episode 14 – Dr Junia Howell – disasters, aid & the widening gyre of racial wealth inequality

Longitudinal studies of disaster impacts take the long view. For many kinds of systemic patterns, that’s the only way to see them. Addressing them is something else entirely.

Episode 14 – Dr Junia Howell: disasters, aid & the widening gyre of racial wealth inequality
(recorded 02/11/20; aired 19/11/20)

Episode 15 – Ben Weeks – way-offshore lobstering in the Gulf of Maine

Rare insights from the helm of a 50-foot commercial lobster boat working 100 miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine.

Episode 15 – Ben Weeks: way-offshore lobstering in the Gulf of Maine
(recorded 09/10/20; aired 23/11/20)
Night steam, en route to haul. < sound on >

Episode 16 – Zoë Kitchel – Fish and fisheries in a changing climate

Marine species can adjust where they live in ways that terrestrial species can’t. But the fisheries that depend on those species are not necessarily as mobile.

Episode 16 – Zoë Kitchel: fish & fisheries in a changing climate
(recorded 21/10/20; aired 26/11/20)

Episode 17 – Dr Nishat Awan – visual counter-geographies

Visually representing perceptions and experiences of contested physical terrains and spaces with maps that stretch and twist (in a way).

Episode 17 – Dr Nishat Awan: visual counter-geographies
(recorded 09/11/20; aired 30/11/20)

Episode 18 – Dr Olalekan Adekola – shipbreaking & in/formal institutions

A glimpse into the dangerous, not-not-legal world of shipbreaking – a kind of resource-use institution with its own rules and norms that exists in a liminal space between the formal and informal.

Episode 18 – Dr Olalekan Adekola: shipbreaking and in/formal institutions
(recorded 12/11/20; aired 03/12/20)

Episode 19 – Prof John Dearing – social–ecological systems, tipping points & safe operating spaces for humanity

“Thinking in systems” is crucial for a holistic sense of how environments function, and how humans use them – for worse and better.

Episode 19 – Dr John Dearing: social–ecological systems & tipping points
(recorded 05/10/20; aired 07/12/20)

Episode 20 – Dr Paul Rouse – Geoengineering the climate

Geoengineering – or “climate-altering approaches” – sounds like science fiction, but it is very, very real. And if you’ve never heard of it before, then you should hear this.

“Weather made to order” – cover of Collier’s Magazine (1954)

Episode 21 (season finale) – Prof Imogen Tyler – austerity

Austerity is not like storminess or sea-level rise – it’s not an ambient, external environmental force of change that exacerbates pre-existing socio-economic disparities. Austerity policy is a tool. And socio-economic inequality is what it delivers.

Episode 21 – Prof Imogen Tyler: austerity
(recorded 20/11/20; aired 15/12/20)

Episodes (Season 2)

S2E01 Danielle Venton – reporting on wildfires

Changing public narratives about wildfires by reporting on them as systems – with which people, and landscapes, have a long history.

S2E1 – Danielle Venton: reporting on wildfires
(recorded 23/09/21; aired 04/10/21)

S2E02 Mark Buchanan – exploring the dynamics of economic markets

A behind-the-scenes look at how science writer (and physicist) Mark Buchanan came to write about the feedbacks, crashes, and wild nonlinear dynamics typical of economic systems – but missing from neoclassical economics.

S2E2 – Mark Buchanan: economic markets
(recorded 07/10/21; aired 13/10/21)

S2E03 Jadele McPherson – performing sacred histories

A performance artist and scholar whose vocal craft is rooted in Afro-Cuban sacred music discusses her art, and the cultural complexity of its origins.

S2E3 – Jadele McPherson: performing sacred histories
(recorded 07/10/21; aired 27/10/21)

S2E04 Prof Giuliano Di Baldassarre – sociohydrology

How does infrastructure intended to mitigate against flood hazard end up creating flood disasters? How does infrastructure intended to guarantee water security result in water scarcity? These are the sorts of questions – and feedbacks – that underpin the rapidly emerging field of sociohydrology.

S2E4 – Prof Giuliano Di Baldassarre: sociohydrology
(recorded 24/09/21; aired 09/11/21)

S2E05 Prof Robert Steneck – gilded traps

With community dependence on a single, lucrative economic sector comes precarity. The money is too good to stop, but a disruptive shock – whether economic or ecological – can be devastating.

S2E5 – Prof Robert Steneck: gilded traps
(recorded 01/10/21; aired 26/11/21)

S2E06 Dr Ariadna Anisimov – climate adaptation & policy

A world of policy and governance has emerged to address the social and environmental complexities of climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

S2E6 – Dr Ariadna Anisimov: adaptation & policy
(recorded 05/10/21; aired 07/12/21)

S2E07 Dr Adom Philogene Heron – Caribbean cyclone cartography // surviving storms

Disasters – and resilient responses to them – are personal, in ways that never appear in news cycles or the bottom-lines of big-budget recovery packages. Stories of people’s lived experiences, and drawing connections among those stories, can provide invaluable insight into the larger-scale processes and dynamics of disaster recovery.

S2E7 – Dr Adom Philogene Heron: surviving storms
(recorded 18/11/21; aired 17/12/21)

S2E08 Elizabeth Kolbert – breaking the climate

Still relatively new as a staff writer at The New Yorker – but not new to reporting – Elizabeth Kolbert got the green light to pull together a long-form piece on anthropogenic climate change. What emerged was a definitive, unsettling three-part work, “The Climate of Man” (2005). Her incisive, expansive coverage of climate change and the climate crisis – then, as now – is as good it gets. In this interview, we discuss the origin and process of that first triptych.

S2E8 – Elizabeth Kolbert: breaking the climate
(recorded 12/10/21; aired 22/12/21)

S2E09 Dr Alex Moulton – bouncing forward

A deep-dive into the importance of rethinking and reframing discourse regarding post-disaster recovery, and the contexts – often the persistence of colonial power dynamics – that set up disasters in the first place.

S2E9 – Dr Alex Moulton: bouncing forward
(recorded 17/03/22; aired 15/09/22)