Climate Disaster Confusion

 

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen

 

featured_image_cccSince May of 2019,  Christopher Flavelle, has been covering “climate adaptation for The New York Times, focusing on how people, governments and businesses respond to the effects of global warming.”  According to his Times by-line page,  he returns to the Times after a ten year hiatus where, in 2009,  he previously wrote pieces extolling the virtues of new boxing gloves, how governments measure citizen happiness (video),  and a terrific piece on the world’s most prolific drummer, Bernard Purdie (video) [recommended for fans of popular music and rock’n’roll].    In the interim, he had been churning out climate alarm for Bloomberg.

His latest piece at the NY Times is a bit of disinformation about “natural catastrophes” written for the almost-always-silly feature called the Climate Fwd: newsletter.  [Sign-up if you want to keep abreast of the latest narratives on climate change and read some truly amusing drivel in the bits called “One Thing You Can Do”  to save the planet from climate change — this week:  Reduce Junk Mail.

You can find Flavelle’s piece here — you’ll have to scroll down, it’s the second item in the newsletter, under the title: “2019 Has Seen Fewer Natural Disasters. It’s Probably a Blip.”  One has to love the mental gymnastics that our struggling journalist has to go through to make the facts — fewer natural disaster in 2019 — match the dictated editorial climate narrative of the Times — which calls for a  storyline that reports (regardless of facts) that climate change is real and is making all bad things more frequent and worse.

You may think I’m joking or stretching the truth but, first consider his title above, and then here is his lede:

The pace of natural disasters slowed in the first half of this year, but the ones that hit highlighted persistent weaknesses in the world’s defenses against catastrophes — weaknesses that will only become more dangerous as climate change gets worse.

What is Flavelle talking about? —  a press release from MunichRE.  “Munich Re Group or Munich Reinsurance Company is a reinsurance company based in Munich, Germany. It is one of the world’s leading reinsurers.” ( Wiki ) .

Reinsurance can be described as “insurance for insurance companies” — purchased so as to offset the risk one insurance company — say the one that holds your homeowners policy (and that of your neighbors) — might face when a disaster strikes. MunichRE insures insurance companies against disasters.

In the MunichRE press release:

“Thunderstorms, cyclones and heatwaves: the natural disaster figures for the first half of 2019

1. Cyclones in Mozambique and India with high casualty numbers and losses in the billions of dollars once again illustrate the urgent need for improved resilience against the consequences of natural disasters.
2. Tornadoes in the USA, severe thunderstorms in Europe and floods in Australia were the costliest natural disasters in industrialised countries.
3. Due to random factors, overall global losses in the first six months were lower than the long-term average.”  [ my bold — kh ]

MunichRE has counted the “natural disasters” from around the world and come up with these numbers according to Flavelle:

…there were 370 natural catastrophes worldwide in the first six months of 2019. That tally, which includes cyclones, flash floods, heat waves and other disasters, was down from 460 during the same period last year, and slightly less than the average of 400 over the past decade.”

One has to wonder about the validity of the counting — let’s not worry about definitions of which weather events were ‘disaster’s — of “cyclones, flash floods, heat waves and other disasters” as if they were a single item.  It strikes me like epidemiologists counting the “number of fruits eaten this week” in which individual blueberries, oranges, cantaloupes and whole watermelons are counted each equally as “one fruit”.

However, MunichRE is a reinsurance company and reinsurance companies are concerned not with number of disasters but with the cost of fulfilling (paying out) the insurance (reinsurance) liability from those disasters.  So, in that vein, the MunichRE press release states:

“Overview of natural disaster figures for the first half of 2019:

 A total of 370 loss events produced overall losses of US$ 42bn, which, after adjustment for inflation, is lower than the 30-year average of US$ 69bn. However, the losses from the severe floods in southeast China, which began in June and reportedly caused billions of dollars in damage, are not included in this figure.

 Insured losses came to US$ 15bn, which is below the long-term average of US$ 18bn. For many events, the insured portion of the overall economic loss was extremely small due to low insurance penetration in many of the affected countries.

 Around 4,200 people lost their lives in natural disasters. This figure is similar to that of the previous year (approximately 4,300). But at least the trend towards fewer casualties has continued, thanks to more effective protection measures: the 30-year average for the same half-year period is more than 27,000 fatalities.

[ bold mine — kh ]

The deadliest disaster worldwide up to the end of June was Cyclone Idai, which swept across Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa from 9 to 14 March. More than 1,000 people were killed.

In May, thunderstorms with tornadoes in the Midwestern US produced the heaviest losses, at US$ 3.3bn. The insured portion came to around US$ 2.5bn.

How does Flavelle at the NY Times report this?   He uses a solicited quote from Raghuveer Vinukollu, who heads the natural catastrophe solutions team at Munich Reinsurance America:  “A year is always a data point, which can be slightly lower or higher …but the overall trend is definitely saying higher.” And  Flavelle goes on to write: The world’s costliest disasters were once again in the United States. That’s a reminder, according to Mr. Vinukollu, of the vulnerabilities of the country’s infrastructure and building codes.  He said the United States needed to be more aggressive on both public infrastructure and building codes. “There is definitely a shortage of investment,” Mr. Vinukollu said.

The Times’ Flavelle is using the age-old trick of conflating two separate issues to support his editor’s narrative:  Disaster Losses/Costs and Weather/Climate Extreme Events.

One of these is generally trending UP.  Guess which?  That’s right!  Disaster Losses!

The other one, Weather Disasters and Weather/Climate Extreme Events (I lump these because they are, in the press and the mind of the general public, the same thing), are not trending up, but rather, worldwide, are down or neutral (flat).

The NY Times could have given us The Real Data™.  It is available from reputable sources and in the peer-reviewed literature — we needn’t seek out skeptical voices on this issue.

global_natural_disasters

That’s Global Reported Natural Disasters. [ I suspect the “reported” word is important, as there seems to be a rising amount of reporting going on from the early 1970s to about 1998.  I have emailed EM-DAT to confirm this. ]

We can see clearly a couple of things:

  1. Starting around the turn of the century, all of the different sorts of Natural Disasters have been down-trending — not up-trending.
  2. There are several types of natural disasters that are not Weather/Climate related in the totals: “Mass Movement (dry)” refers to Rock fall and Landslide (not involving rain–thus ”dry”); Volcanic Activity; Earthquake; and, some unagreed-upon portion of Wildfire.  Regardless of whether these are included in the totals, the trends are down not up.

And the most expensive of all losses — human life?

deaths-from-natural-disaste

On a century time scale, deaths have been vastly reduced.

Why are Disaster Losses UP when disasters are down?  That’s an economic question and most easily answered by referral to Roger Pielke Jr. (2019):

“Since 1990 the world has seen a decrease in overall and weather-related disaster losses as a proportion of global GDP. This trend has occurred even as disaster losses have increased in absolute terms. The primary factor driving the overall increase in disaster losses is societal, mainly growth in populations and settlements at risk to the consequences of extreme events (IPCC, 2012). While some weather and climate extremes are expected to increase in frequency and/or intensity in the future, to date there is not strong evidence of such increases in tropical cyclones, floods, drought or tornadoes on climate time scales (IPCC, 2018; Pielke, 2018). Of course, any calculation of trends in catastrophe losses is sensitive to choice of start and end date, so caution is urged in their interpretation.

With such caution noted, the world has over almost thirty years experienced a decrease in disaster losses as a proportion of GDP. However, there is no guarantee that this trend continues into the future. It could reverse for multiple reasons, including a greater frequency or intensity of extreme events, the occurrence of rare major events of the sort which has been seen in the past (such as the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906), or unwise decisions related to development and characteristics of human settlements.”

[ my bolds  — kh ]

In pictures:

global_losses_GDP

So, in terms of Global GDP (gross domestic product), disaster losses have been DOWN and not up.  In dollar amount, they have been up, because of “growth in populations and settlements at risk to the consequences of extreme events”.

One way to think about this, on a personal economic level,  would be if, for macro-economic reasons,  your rent has increased by $100 a month but your salary has gone up by $200 a month — resulting in your budget item – Rent – being now 45% of your salary whereas it had been 50%.

Christopher Flavelle, our NY Times journalist knows this, especially about flooding risks.  How do I know?  He wrote about it in a piece titled  “Homes Are Being Built the Fastest in Many Flood-Prone Areas, Study Finds” just three days ago.  He might ought have mentioned it in his current natural disasters piece — but seems to have forgotten.

Bottom Line:

1.  The economic losses (dollar amount of damage) from natural disasters is up for economic and societal reasons.  We build in harm’s way and things are increasingly expensive.  We even rebuild in harm’s way.

2.  Disaster losses as a percentage of Global GDP have been downtrending.

3.  Globally, the raw numbers of all natural disasters have been downtrending, despite increased reporting ability, since the turn of the century.

4.  Deaths from natural disasters have been reduced — on a century-long comparative global scale — to almost nothing.

5.  The world is getting SAFER not more dangerous — by all scientific measures currently available.

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Author’s Comment Policy:

Love to read your comments and respond when appropriate (or when I feel like it, I guess….).  Addressing your comment to “Kip…” helps me see that you are talking to me.

The NY Times’ Climate Fwd: newsletter is often silly in its suggestions of ways to save the world from climate change — but, hey, silly is apparently in — just look at the number of governments of all kinds pledging to go “fossil fuel free” or “carbon neutral”.   Some of the things Climate Fwd: suggests are Good Ideas even if they are silly when based on climate issues.  Reducing the amount of junk mail arriving at your mailbox is a Good Idea — any way you can.  Sign up of DIGITAL everything — bank statements, utility bills, stock proxy vote notices, whatever you get in the mail box.  My health insurance company alone uses whole forests of trees keeping me informed of things I don’t want to know.

Fear is the tool of dictators and sociopaths of all stripes — actively promoted to control others.

Teach Your Children — the world is a safer, kinder, better place to grow up in today than at any time in the past.  The future is bright and hopeful.

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34 thoughts on “Climate Disaster Confusion

  1. The ‘Climate Disasters’ are clearly diminishing in reality, but in the minds of the committed Cimateers and Warmists, they are exploding as they begin to notice that normal people are not interested in their fantasy obsession.

  2. Kip

    thanks for the article, brilliant and amusing as ever.

    I could do with some help here in the UK though.

    I wrote a letter to my Member of Parliament regarding our outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May’s ‘legacy’ of saddling UK taxpayers with a £1tn bill for Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.

    I had a reply from the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth which is, at best condescending, if not downright insulting.

    I would like to reply, and will, in my own way however, I believe it would be far more effective to seek the advice of WUWT experts like you, Anthony (obviously) Charles, David, and the numerous other expert commentators here, to provide the scientific impetus, and collective research to repudiate the simplistic arguments laid out in the letter I received.

    I think a well written, comprehensive letter, covering the points I raised, and those raised in the Ministers reply to me could be useful for others to write to their own MP’s to influence them to support the retraction of a punitive and unnecessary tax raising exercise masquerading as a noble initiative.

    If you, or any bona fide contributors to WUWT are willing to help, kindly pass my contact details on to them and I’ll forward my letter, and the reply from the government to them, for their comment.

    Thanks,

    HS.

    • I’m happy to be in that, not that I am any good at this political stuff. One thing that is perhaps worth checking: Theresa May’s nasty and very unpatriotic attempt at a poison pill sounds bad, but will the government actually have to spend any of that £1tn? Can they just remove the target before it actually costs anything?

      • Mike

        I’ll keep that in mind thanks. The letter I got from them is mash up of the usual inaccuracies trotted out in the media etc. References to models, and to support from The Royal Society etc, despite 48 of their senior members writing to their president objecting to their approach to climate change, and actually citing guesswork by the IPCC on clouds.

        A lot to work on though, about three pages worth, so my intention is to try to get something definitive together that the media might get interested in or at least that others can use as a template for their own letter to the government.

    • HotScot ==> Lord Monckton is your best bet along those lines. He spoke, twice, at the Heartland Institutes 13th International Conference on Climate Change in Washington, D.C., a week ago. I don’t have an email for him, but I think you might be able to get something forwarded to him via Anthony or Heartland. Anthony can be reached through the Tips and Notes Page here at WUWT.

    • Kenji ==> Yah…couldn’t resist plugging his work here….did you watch the video? Great Stuff!

      • Yes Kip, a fabulous musician who contributed substantially to one of the greatest jazz-rock fusion lp’s of all time.

        I’d rather this NYT “Reporter” spent more time revealing gifted artists such as Perdie who are only able to practice his craft and contribute so greatly to society because of the wealth and comfort of a capitalist society built on cheap, plentiful, energy … and FREEDOM!!

  3. Kip
    “Around 4,200 people lost their lives in natural disasters. This figure is similar to that of the previous year (approximately 4,300). But at least the trend towards fewer casualties has continued, thanks to more effective protection measures: the 30-year average for the same half-year period is more than 27,000 fatalities.

    I’m a little confused. If 4,300 died in 2019, how can the 30 year “average” of “27,000 died per half” be considered “trending up” ?

    • Mark ==> I think you might have misread the quote. The sentence starts with “But at least the trend towards fewer casualties has continued“…..so though the decrease in the first half of 2019 is a small decrease, it still continues the trend towards fewer causalities.

  4. “Since May of 2019, Christopher Flavelle, has been covering “climate adaptation for The New York Times, focusing on how people, governments and businesses respond to the effects of global warming.””

    I also have been working for the New York Times diligently reporting on how everyone has been responding the the effects of global warming. Since there are no discernable effects of ‘global warming’, I have done absolutely nothing.

    Now that is honest reporting!

  5. “One has to wonder about the validity of the counting”

    Kip. My GUESS is that a reinsurance company that plans to stay in business likely has a bunch of actuaries who try hard to take an objective view of numbers and trends of disasters — at least disasters that will potentially cost the company money. I could certainly be wrong about that. I have no personal knowledge of the business. But , I wouldn’t be surprised that MunichRE is actually a pretty good source.

    • DonK ==> Oh, I think they are a good source, surely. It is the validity of counting all these disasters equally as a single quantity — see my old essay What Are They Really Counting? Perfectly valid to count number of hurricanes or number of wildfires — but probably not valid to count them combined. Valid to count “number of natural disasters resulting in insurance losses exceeding XXXX dollars” or some such — but not just one number of “natural disasters”.

      Reinsurance companies are mostly concerned with LOSSES in dollars.

    • They are trying to raise insurance rates. I would suggest you listen to Warren Buffett, who owns General Re, America’s largest reinsurance company, and the most successful investor in history.

  6. Kip: Great essay. I did notice that one of the categories in the EMDAT chart is “Extreme Temperatures”. Just wondering what the breakdown might be between extreme heat and extreme cold. Here in Wisconsin, I think we see more damage due to cold (burst frozen pipes, ice damage) that from heat.

    • Rick C PE ==> The category in Em-DAT for Extreme Temperatures looks like this:

      Extreme Temperature –> Cold wave, Heat wave, Severe winter conditions with sub-categories Snow/ice and Frost/freeze
      .

      So, they count both heat and cold.

  7. The real world can appear a strange place.

    Money is the thing so many people will work, lie, cheat, steal, murder, and die for, in order to gain more of it.
    Yet, perversely, it still provides the best metric for accurately measuring so many things. That’s because people take money seriously.

    • “Money, it’s a hit
      Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit
      I’m in the high-fidelity first class traveling set
      And I think I need a Lear jet.”
      — Roger Waters

      Nothing much has changed in 46 years.

  8. Obvious short term greed that propels energy corporations momenton that has overwhelming authority support that is what will eliminate mankind.greed . The evidence only supports this out come .Jesus is judge for sure.

  9. The insurance industry is in a strange commercial area. In order to do business insurers have to advance the idea that risk is there, and if they can suggest the risks are also increasing, then that is very good for business. Investors may not be so attracted to invest in a business, that shows it is exposed to increasing risks, though.
    You don’t become rich as an insurance agent, knocking door to door asking punters to give you some money in case the roof collapses, if you start your conversation with, “That roof looks like it will last forever, would you like to give me some money every week in case it might need fixing in 100 years time”
    The stats from the insurance businesses are also strange. They must present almost conflicting income and expenditure to justify investors wanting to invest while also wanting to attract new customers.
    “Roll up roll up, give us your hard earned to safeguard your future against risk, and we will give it all to the investors to ensure the stock price increases.” That may not be the ad that wins the prize for efficacy, but it could win the prize for honesty.

    • Rod ==> Your language suggest you are from the Empire somewhere — surely you remember the Lloyd’s fiasco?

      Insurance itself can be a risky business — thus REinsurers like MinuchRE and General RE.

      A good example of good insurance is the Windshield Rider — for one US dollar a year added to my auto insurance, my windshield is covered for replacement if it gets cracked or bullet-holed. In th elast 20 years, I have gotten four new windshields, installed at my home, at a total cost to me of $20. this can happen because the millions of insured with the company share the risk.

  10. Betz limits physics fraud supported here it is republican president scheme to enrich himself to pay his private air conditioning . Yeh

  11. Betz limits physics fraud supported here it is republican president scheme to enrich himself to pay his private air conditioning . By downplaying by 47% wind energy.

    • That’s two completely incomprehensible statements in a row. I guess “Google translate” still needs work.

  12. Three different things here.
    1) the numbers of actual disasters. According to the chart these seem to have risen and peaked, although as noted you can only count the reported ones. It would be interesting to back out the increases shown in the chart that are due to increases in a) detection (if a wildfire takes place and nobody sees it, is it still a disaster?), b) population/inhabited area, and c) communications. The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811/1812 (https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/nmsz/) did relatively little damage then but would/will be a major disaster now simply because of the larger urban areas. Likewise, if a hurricane took out an island but no ship docked there to bring out the news and nobody heard of it does it count?
    2) the numbers of deaths from natural disasters. Note the sudden drop in numbers in the 1970’s. What was coming online right then (Hint: TIROS, https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1627.html)? The space-race has saved more lives than any other single human endeavor, through space-based sensors and communications.
    3) The economic losses. On the other hand, while people can evacuate, given warning, houses generally cannot. Even allowing for the population growth and increases in urban area, So long as we insist on shirt-term planning, like building houses on flood plains, there will be damages. Unfortunately, this is a flaw with human nature for which there is not a technical solution.

    • Paul of Alexandria ==> Very good points.

      I have emailed EM_DAT to get their official position on the effect of “reporting bias” — does the run up to 1998 represent improved or increased reporting or to they think it is a real change in disasters?

      There was a marvelous example of India evacuating a million people out of the path of a cyclone just recently.

  13. I know it only Wiki, but just have a look at the History of Natural Disasters on there.
    Nothing is as bad as it has been.

  14. It was a very good article until I read this sentence near the end:

    “So, in terms of Global GDP (gross domestic product), disaster losses have been DOWN and not up.”

    I believe there are several serious problems with that claim:

    (1) Using a linear trend line to describe non-linear data.
    A different starting year coudl produce a different trend.

    (2) A short period of time is covered, 1990 through 2017 — why?
    That could also affect the linear trend line.

    (3) GDP is used, when GDP is not what gets destroyed by climate disasters.
    GDP is a measure of annual production, whose growth is generally steady, except for recession years, where the number may decline.

    GDP includes includes many services, and products that are consumed quickly, such as meals, not vulnerable to climate disasters.

    What gets destroyed are assets, specifically physical assets, such as real estate, office buildings, factories, farms, utilities, cars, trucks, farm equipment. etc.

    The stock of assets increases every year, so every years there are more homes, buildings, cars etc., that could be damaged by a climate disaster.

    What we really want to know is what percentage of the ‘capital stock’ is damaged or destroyed by climate disasters. I doubt if the Real GDP number would get the same answer.

    I think the right answer is to count the number and intensity of climate disasters.
    And not focus on the damage in dollars.

    Thanks to economic growth, every year there are more homes, cars, etc. available to be destroyed or damaged — even if the number of climate disasters is declining, the damage in Dollars could increase.

    • Richard ==> The quote is a summary of Pielke (2019), which is linked in the essay, and the two graphs just about that bit represent the data.

      You are free to count numbers of disasters if you wish — but since they are all of differing magnitudes in their effects on human populations and infrastructure, to count them all in one lump sum is a logical error.

      You are right about this bit “Thanks to economic growth, every year there are more homes, cars, etc. available to be destroyed or damaged — even if the number of climate disasters is declining, the damage in Dollars could increase.” I conclude the same — damage in dollars will almost certainly continue to increase for the reasons I state in the essay.

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