Part of the environmentalists’ apocalyptic frenzy about climate change is the fact that natural disasters seem to have worse consequences than ever before, with more property destroyed and more people killed. Time Magazine, of all journalistic places, puts that into perspective, reminding the hysterics of something they might have forgotten: we have more people than ever before.
Before I quote from the article, let me remind you of something. In statistical terms, the Black Death was probably the greatest kill off in mankind’s known history, resulting in the death of up to one-third of the European population (and that’s not even touching deaths in Asia, where the plague originated). Were that to happen now, deaths would be in the billions. Back then, European deaths were about 25-50 million. It’s a staggering number, but would be only a fairly biggish drop in the demographic bucket today. It certainly wouldn’t equal a third of the West’s population.
Having laid the stage, let me go back to Time’s bracing take on death and destruction from today’s natural disasters:
If it seems like disasters are getting more common, it’s because they are. But some disasters seem to be affecting us in worse ways — and not for the reasons you may think. Floods and storms have led to most of the excess damage. The number of flood and storm disasters has gone up 7.4% every year in recent decades, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. (Between 2000 and 2007, the growth was even faster, with an average annual rate of increase of 8.4%.) Of the total 197 million people affected by disasters in 2007, 164 million were affected by floods.
It is tempting to look at the lineup of storms in the Atlantic Ocean (Hanna, Ike, Josephine) and, in the name of everything green, blame climate change for this state of affairs. But there is another inconvenient truth out there: We are getting more vulnerable to weather mostly because of where we live, not just how we live.
In recent decades, people around the world have moved en masse to big cities near water. The population of Miami-Dade County in Florida was about 150,000 in the 1930s, a decade fraught with severe hurricanes. Since then, the population of Miami-Dade County has rocketed 1,600%, to 2,400,000.
So the same-intensity hurricane today wreaks all sorts of havoc that wouldn’t have occurred had human beings not migrated. (To see how your own coastal county has changed in population, check out this cool graphing tool from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)
If climate change is having an effect on the intensities of storms, it’s not obvious in the historical weather data. And whatever effect it is having is much, much smaller than the effect of development along coastlines. In fact, if you look at all storms from 1900 to 2005 and imagine today’s populations on the coasts, as Roger Pielke Jr., and his colleagues did in a 2008 Natural Hazards Review paper, you would see that the worst hurricane would have actually happened in 1926.
You can read the rest of this intelligent, calming article here.Email This Post To A Friend
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