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Ecology of Fear

  • Date Submitted: 04/25/2012 07:43 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 51.6 
  • Words: 988
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The Los Angeles area has faced natural disasters throughout its history. Built over a number of fault lines, and across a floodplain, the city sits in a vast danger zone. Even without human settlement, the region would still be faced with a pattern of drought and flood, earthquakes, and fires. With a huge arrival of people, though, the financial and human toll of the disasters has increased exponentially. In his Ecology of Fear, Mike Davis investigates the ways in which people’s actions have worsened the damage of “ordinary disasters” such as earthquakes, fires, and floods. The civic decisions related to planning and development, while not the cause of the disasters themselves, have certainly been the cause of the severity of damage.
The unpredictability of earthquakes makes them difficult to fully prepare for and, as Davis shows, the attempts at predicting the “Big One” have all failed. Yet the preparation that has occurred has shown itself to be insufficient already. Buildings that were made to withstand quakes from the strike-slip and reverse faults like the San Andreas weren’t able to withstand blind thrust fault earthquakes such as the Whittier Narrows quake of 1987. The discovery of new active fault lines led to more research, but no way of predicting future earthquakes. Instead, it resulted in more of what residents already knew: there is the possibility of very large, very damaging, and very dangerous quakes throughout the Los Angeles area. Davis discusses the potential for damage, and the likelihood that California is subject to a “quake debt” (33). He doesn’t assign blame for the earthquakes, but does cite the “fatal flaw in the design of Southern California as a civilization”: the basing of safety planning on a record of disaster that is only a few generations old (35).
This shortsightedness also informs Davis’ example of what he terms “Walden Pond on LSD” (16). This is a particularly interesting look at the damage of floods and droughts in the...


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