Education and environmental vulnerability

As part of a larger project, Forecasting Societies’ Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change, a Special Feature entitled Education and Differential Vulnerability to Natural Disasters was published in the journal, Ecology & Society.

Mangroves, India © | flickr Creative Commons License

Mangroves, India

The project, Forecasting Societies’ Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change, was funded by an Advanced Grant of the European Research Council (ERC) to Wolfgang Lutz. The results of the project were published in a Special Feature, Education and Differential Vulnerability to Natural Disaster, in the journal, Ecology & Society [1]. The basic hypothesis being tested was that societies can develop the most effective long-term defense against the dangers of climate change by strengthening human capacity, primarily through education, which helps to improve health, eradicate extreme poverty, and reduce population growth.

The 11 studies in the Special Issue provide consistent findings of the positive impact of formal education on vulnerability reduction and adaptive capacity enhancement. The results are robust across units of analysis – be it at individual, household, community, or country level – and across countries being studied. Many studies also show that the effect of education remains significant after accounting for wealth/income. Moreover, in many cases, income/wealth does not have a clear tendency nor clear correlation with vulnerability reduction [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]. Thus, there is strong evidence that investment in public education can be a positive externality in vulnerability reduction efforts.

A variety of disaster-related outcomes are investigated in this Special Issue. They range from the pre-disaster phase, through the duration of disaster events, to disaster aftermath. Prior to a disaster event, mitigation efforts can help reduce vulnerability to disaster impacts such as injuries and loss of life and property. Avoiding building in areas of high hazard is one effective mitigation action.

The study of tsunami-risk areas in southern Thailand [3] shows that individuals and households with higher education had greater disaster preparedness, for example, by stockpiling emergency supplies and having a family evacuation plan. 

The post-disaster phase mainly concerns disaster impacts and recovery. With respect to physical impacts, the cross-national time series analysis of deaths from natural disasters as well as the study of human lives lost from floods and landslides in Nepal consistently show that countries with a higher proportion of women with at least secondary education and communities with a higher mean year of schooling suffered lower mortality from disasters [2].

The comparative study of Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cuba also reports lower disaster-related mortality in Cuba, the country with the most educated population of the three [7].


[1] Special Issue, Education and Differential Vulnerability to Natural Disasters, is published in Ecology & Society. Individual papers can be accessed at the same page.
[2] Samir K.C. (2013). Community Vulnerability to Floods and Landslides in Nepal.
[3] Muttarak R, Pothisiri W (2013). The Role of Education on Disaster Preparedness: Case Study of 2012 Indian Ocean Earthquakes on Thailand’s Andaman Coast.
[4] Sharma U, Patwardhan A, Patt AG (2013). Education as a Determinant of Response to Cyclone Warnings: Evidence from Coastal Zones in India.
[5] Striessnig E, Lutz W, Patt AG (2013). Effects of Educational Attainment on Climate Risk Vulnerability.
[6] Wamsler C, Brink B, Rantala O (2013). Climate Change, Adaptation, and Formal Education: the Role of Schooling for Increasing Societies’ Adaptive Capacities in El Salvador and Brazil.
[7] Pichler A, Striessnig E (2013). Differential Vulnerability to Hurricanes in Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic: The Contribution of Education.


European Research Council (ERC).

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Last edited: 22 May 2014


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