Are Natural Disasters a Threat to Democracy?

From a new paper by Ryan Carlin:

Can natural disasters undermine democratic legitimacy? This article maps a causal pathway from natural disaster damage to shifts in opinion and behavioral tendencies in less established democracies. It theorizes citizens who suffer damage in such contexts will tend toward lower evaluations of democratic institutions, lower support for democratic values and practices, and stronger dispositions toward action. These expectations are tested with national survey data collected following Chile’s 2010 earthquake and tsunami by analyzing intracountry differences in damage with matching techniques and regression analyses. Results are consistent with expectations, with important implications for Chile and other less established democracies.

There was a lot of coverage of the recent Science paper on the connection between higher temperatures and violence (read the Wonkblog recap for all the proper caveats), and Carlin’s paper adds to that general story. Global warming could lead to more natural disasters, which would lead to less support for democracy, more political instability, and a greater chance of civil war. Not that we need more motivation for stopping climate change, but it’s certainly troubling that rising temperatures seem likely to create instability above and beyond what we would expect from the predicted economic destruction.


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