Let’s Talk About Natural Disasters—Who’s to Blame?

Uneasy about discussing natural disasters—and who's to blame for their death and destruction—with your students? Here are some resources to start the conversation.

Americans believe that today’s natural disasters are getting worse. And some wonder if we should call these disasters ‘natural.’ Are climate change, humans, and corporations responsible for such death and destruction?

Natural disasters—and who’s to blame— may seem like a heavy topic to unpack and discuss with students because it feels complex and uncomfortable, yet this issue impacts everyone. 

Thoughtfully talking about these controversial topics also cultivates critical thinking. 

This month’s “Let’s Talk About” feature explores the roots and impact of natural disasters. With YES! stories and outside resources, plus discussion questions and curriculum, you and your students will learn about this topic from multiple angles. 

In the end, we hope that this discussion will help students reflect on the human contribution to the cause of natural disasters, and what they can do when disaster strikes. 

This is our third collection. We will post a new collection on a different topic on the first Thursday of each month. 

If you have ideas you’d like to share with other teachers or want to tell us how we could make this collection better, please share your thoughts in the comment section at the end of the article.

How to Use This Collection

Suggested below are steps to a thoughtful and meaningful discussion with your students about natural disasters and who is responsible for their cause and impact. Choose what is appropriate for your class.

1. Have students complete a pre-survey (optional).
2. Choose at least one YES! article and one outside article for a robust compare and contrast.
3. Use the discussion questions—or craft your own—to gauge your students’ understanding and opinions.
4. Have students complete a post-survey (optional).
5. Explore curriculum if you’d like to dive deeper.

Reading Materials

YES! Articles

Hurricane Harvey Isn’t a “Natural” Disaster. Politics Created the Chaos 
Wildfires Are Essential: The Forest Service Embraces a Tribal Tradition 
When Fighting Wildfires Does More Harm Than Good 
A Clear Choice: My Fossil Fuels—or 5.6 Million People Fleeing a Hurricane
90 Companies Helped Cause the Climate Crisis—They Should Pay for It

Outside Resources

Why the 2017 Fire Season Has Been One of California’s Worst (LA Times) 
Wildfires Spark Where Growth is Sprawling (High Country News)
The Trauma After the Storm (Scientific American)

Discussion Questions 

1. One reason natural disasters receive so much media coverage is its immediate effect on so many people. What natural disaster could strike your community? Is your neighborhood and community prepared for a disaster? 

2. When a natural disaster strikes—think of a wildfire, flood, or hurricane—is everyone impacted equally? If not, who is impacted more than others?

3. What are meaningful ways that young people can help a community that has recently been hit by a natural disaster?


Teaching Hurricane Harvey (NY Times)

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