Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction have issued a report finding that in the past 50 years, 11,000 droughts, storms, extreme temperature and other extreme weather events have accounted for 50 percent of all disasters and three-fourths of known economic losses, totaling $3.64 trillion. They killed over two million people.
Scientists have found that the climate emergency from our burning coal, gasoline and natural gas has intensified droughts, superstorms, and heat waves and made droughts and heat waves more frequent.
Droughts and hurricanes/ cyclones were the biggest killers, accounting for 650k and 577k deaths respectively.
Most of these disasters, which aren’t natural any more given how much stronger human burning of fossil fuels has made them, have increased exponentially in their cost. In the 1970s, each such disaster used to cost about $50 million each day of the year. Today, the typical cost is $383 mn. per day.
The UN says that studies in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society demonstrate that of the 77 extreme weather events reported in just two years, 2015-1017, 80% were driven in significant part by human burning of fossil fuels.
Being a boomer, I heard the Twilight Zone theme song in my head when I read the following sentence: “Three of the costliest 10 disasters, all hurricanes that occurred in 2017, accounted for 35 per cent of total economic disaster losses around the world from 1970 to 2019.”
This finding shows that the climate emergency is speeding up and getting more monstrous with every passing day.
Actually, Paramount Plus has a reboot of the Twilight Zone so maybe it is current after all.
Hurricanes are getting more destructive for four big reasons. Global heating from heating our homes with coal and fueling our cars with gasoline has warmed up the oceans. Hurricanes feed on warm water, which increases the velocity of their winds. Then, warm water takes up more space than cold water, so warming contributes to higher sea levels. Higher sea levels lead to more destructive storm surges and floods. Sea level rise is also caused by the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. Fourth, increased heat causes more evaporation of water and more water in the atmosphere. That increases the amount of rain dumped by storms.
The catastrophic flooding in New York from Ida came about because at one point 3.15 inches of rain fell on Central Park in just one hour, breaking all records. The subway system was not built to deal with that kind of downpour. Ordinarily, only about 46 inches of precipitation comes down on New York City in an entire year. It got nearly a month’s worth of rainfall in just one hour.
The study says this about North America (including the Caribbean and Central America):
- “The region suffered 74,839 deaths and $1.7 trillion economic losses.
The region accounted for 18 per cent of weather-, climate- and water-related disasters, four per cent of associated deaths and 45 per cent of associated economic losses worldwide.
Storms were responsible for 54 per cent and floods, 31 per cent of recorded disasters., with the former linked to 71 per cent of deaths and the latter to 78 per cent of economic losses.
The United States accounts for 38 per cent of global economic losses caused by weather, climate and water hazards.”
The US has 4 percent of the global population, but it suffered almost two-fifths of the economic damage, showing that Americans are more at risk from such economic harm than most people in the world. That is because we are an advanced, industrialized country and these climate-driven catastrophes can therefore do more damage to us than they can to farms in the global south. We have more equipment to break. Ask New Orleans, which lacks electricity and probably will go on lacking it for another couple weeks at least, in humid, near 100 degrees F. weather.
The only good news in the report is that human deaths from the disasters is not increasing the way the economic cost is. Still, we will need better and better warning systems and ways of remaining resilient to avoid large numbers of death as storms become angrier.
WMO: “WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019)”