After nearly every hurricane, heatwave, drought, or other extreme weather event, commentators rush to link the disaster with climate change. But what does the science say?
In this fully revised and updated edition of Disasters & Climate Change, renowned political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. takes a close look at the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the underlying scientific research, and the climate data to give you the latest science on how climate change is related to extreme weather.
What he finds may surprise you and raise questions about the role of science in political debates.
The substantially updated and revised edition includes the following:
- Updated data from official government sources on trends in extreme temperatures, extreme precipitation, tropical cyclones, floods, drought and tornadoes.
- A summary of the conclusions of the most recent IPCC reports on extreme events.
- Documentation of the most recent peer reviewed science on trends in global disaster losses.
- A summary of the conclusions of the 2017 US National Climate Assessment on extreme events.
- Data on progress with respect to the UN SDG goal of reducing disaster losses as a proportion of global GDP.
- A discussion of the move within some parts of the scientific community to abandon the IPCC framework for detection and attribution (for extremes) towards a far less rigorous approach emphasizing partial event attribution.
- My experiences being investigated by a member of the US Congress, appearing in Wikileaks as the target of a campaign to silence me, and ultimately receiving the full support of my campus leaders as I have largely departed the climate field (but not entirely!).
- A broader discussion of the deeply pathological politics of climate policy and what it will really take to move in the direction of practical action, not just angry debates.
- Updated data from BP on trends in global carbon free energy consumption and the continuing expansion of fossil fuels.
With this short book Dr. Pielke seeks to shed some light on oversold claims of a climate and disasters connection.
In this book, Roger Pielke Jr. summarizes those facts to answer the question, “Have disasters become more costly because of human-caused climate change?” Many people do worry that climate change is causing disasters to get worse, but Pielke presents a wealth of data, including the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to show why such concerns are not supported by the available science.Unlike the conditions in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion, the reasons for rising disaster losses are well understood and unlikely to change significantly with new revelations or data.Why, then, are disaster costs rising? The reasons are apparent: populations continue to grow, the economy and the built environment continue to expand, and people migrate to and concentrate on coastal and flood plains. There are simply more people, and more of the things that people depend on in their lives, in harm’s way.Moreover, these demographic trends feed continued environmental degradation of highly populated coastal, riverine, and mountainous regions, which in turn exacerbate the consequences of disasters. Most of these trends are further amplified in developing countries. Climate isn’t the only thing that’s changing in our world, and it’s these other changes that are causing disaster losses to increase.
More specifically, disasters have become both more economically costly and less deadly over the past century. But there is precious little evidence to suggest that the blame for the increasing tally of disaster costs can be placed on more frequent or extreme weather events attributable to human-caused climate change.
About the Author
Roger Pielke Jr. has been on the faculty of the University of Colorado Boulder since 2001. He is a professor of environmental studies.