Due to its unique geography, Puerto Rico is at the forefront of climate catastrophe. In theory, Puerto Rico’s devastating experiences should provide nations around the world with insight into impending climate fluctuations. But as my presentation reveals, the global disaster-response methods being used by governments and contractors tend to be underpinned by power, greed, and discrimination. Most troubling, they reinforce racism and sexism—propping up the powerful, exploiting the vulnerable, and enacting state-sanctioned violence. As I will argue, governments and recovery organizations need to develop ethical responses that address the concerns of their most vulnerable citizens, rather than profiting from disaster capitalism. Based on interviews with Puerto Rican survivors of Hurricane San Felipe (1928) and Hurricane María (2017) and on archival research, this presentation highlights the devaluation of life and the increase in violence, particularly violence against women, that has wracked the island in the wake of the hurricane. Building upon the activist practices of the environmental justice movement, which seeks ethical treatment for all living beings, I offer compelling solutions to these inequities, such as the formation of disaster-specific mental health services and communally owned energy infrastructure. These mechanisms, paired with ongoing climate activism, provide opportunities for addressing post-disaster spikes in violence against the vulnerable and the marginalized.
Christina Boyles is an Assistant Professor of Culturally-engaged Digital Humanities in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. Her research explores the relationship between digital humanities, surveillance, social justice, and the environment. Her published work appears in Digital Humanities Quarterly, Bodies of Information: Feminist Debates in the Digital Humanities, American Quarterly, The Southern Literary Journal, The South Central Review, and Plath Profiles.