“Costliest Disaster Year Ever 2017″ — Living on Earth (PRI)

by Duane Nichols on January 15, 2018

Fires ravaged parts of Southern California in December 2017, unusually late for fire season

2017 — The Costliest Disaster Year Ever

HOST: Steve Curwood, Public Radio International, Living on Earth.

DATE: January 12, 2018, WEB-SITE: www.loe.org

CURWOOD: From PRI, and the Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – tells us America suffered a record amount of damage in 2017 from natural disasters, with a tab of more than 306 billion dollars. And to put that 306 billion in perspective, consider that it’s more than the interest on the US national debt, and twice the federal budget for health, Medicare, and education. Extreme weather hit almost every state this year: wildfires out west, Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey in the South, and disasters that got less press coverage but still cost of over a billion dollars — events like the Minnesota hailstorm and drought in the mid-west. Here to discuss these steep costs and how they relate to climate disruptions is Kendra Pierre-Louis from the New York Times Climate Desk. Welcome to Living on Earth Kendra!

PIERRE-LOUIS: Thanks, Steve. I’m so glad to be here.

CURWOOD: So, 2017 was only the third hottest year on record in the US, but at 306 billion dollars, disaster damage broke all records.
PIERRE-LOUIS: When you go back to 1980 when they first started keeping records, there were only 3 natural disasters that topped a billion dollars. This year it was 16. The only other year where there are 16 events that topped a billion dollars was in 2011. So what we’re seeing is it’s not just that we’re having severe weather events, we’re having more of them.

CURWOOD: So, $306 billion dollars. Just how unprecedented is this figure record-wise compared to previous years?
PIERRE-LOUIS: Yes, it’s record-breaking. The next closest disaster year was in 2005, and that was the year of Hurricane Katrina and that was $91 billion dollars less.

CURWOOD: Now, of course, we’re not saying that climate caused all of this, but climate amplifies these disasters.
PIERRE-LOUIS: Right. We can definitely say that climate change amplified these disasters, and that we can see especially when it comes to, like, the western fires or the hurricanes that happen this year, we can definitely see the fingerprints of climate change. Researchers found that when it came to Hurricane Harvey that 38 percent of the rain can be attributed to climate change. That means in some places where as much as 50 percent of the rain fell, almost 20 of those inches you can blame on climate change.

The Tubes Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California’s history, destroyed parts of Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties in the Northern part of the state.

CURWOOD: Now, what kinds of natural disasters account for the largest portion of these costs?
PIERRE-LOUIS: Hurricanes account for the largest portion of these costs, but it was also the most costly fire year on record as well. And then when you start digging into the data it’s just the sheer number of incidences. When you go back to 1980 when they first started keeping records, there were only three natural disasters that topped a billion dollars. This year it was 16. The only other year where there were 16 events that topped a billion dollars was in 2011. So, what we’re saying is it’s not just that we’re having severe weather events. We’re having more of them.

CURWOOD: It seems that there are many disasters that cost a billion dollars or more that didn’t surface in the national consciousness in a big way this year, but nonetheless had a fairly staggering impact collectively. Talk to me about some of those.
PIERRE-LOUIS: Sure, you have the Missouri and Arkansas floods and severe weather. That was $1.7 billion dollars. You have hail storms and high winds in Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee…that was $2.6 billion dollars. One of the ones that I think did not get a ton of attention was the drought, for example, in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana. And droughts are really tricky because there are so slow moving that we don’t notice them. But for the farmers who it impacted, a lot of them like cattle ranchers, it caused them a tremendous lot of financial loss.

CURWOOD: Talk to me a bit more about how climate change may have aggravated all this damage.
PIERRE-LOUIS: Yes, so it was unusually warm across the country. NOAA came out with that release the same day they came out with the disaster data, and so it’s a threat multiplier. A really good example is the hurricanes. The oceans were warmer than usual, so that warm water fed the hurricanes. The wildfires out west, California was wetter in the winter and then it was really really dry, so all of that moisture created a ton of grass that grew really quickly, then the grass died off because it was so dry and then when the fire started it fed on all of that dry grass, and so that was all amplified by climate change.

A hailstorm in Minnesota racked up $2.4 billion in damage for the state.

CURWOOD: And how does 2017 figure on warming … on the warming record?
PIERRE-LOUIS: It’s the third warmest year in the United States on record. The global data isn’t out yet, but it should be out next week.

CURWOOD: So, things are really heating up.
PIERRE-LOUIS: Yeah, the Earth has a fever.

CURWOOD: How are insurance companies dealing with this? How much of the damage are they paying for?
PIERRE-LOUIS: A lot. This was a very expensive insurance year. It was the most expensive disaster year on record for insurers according to Munich RE, one of the world’s largest reinsurers. They’re recently the insurers of insurance companies. A lot of it was fueled by the disasters in United States, but there was also significant flooding in Asia. Obviously, what they’re going to do is they’re going to start passing those costs on to people. So, if you’re living in places that are at high risk for flooding or high risk for fires, you’re going to end up seeing increased costs because that’s the only way that they’re doing it. The one exception is in Florida because a lot of Florida flooding insurance and hurricane insurance is backed by the federal government. So, actually taxpayers are on the hook for those costs, and so there’s going to be sort of a reckoning when it comes to Florida about how they handle the insurance.

CURWOOD: Beyond the bottom line, what kind of toll is this taking on people’s psychological well-being?
PIERRE-LOUIS: There was a study that basically suggested that when these kinds of disasters happens, it’s actually really psychologically traumatic because not only do you lose your home in many cases, but you also lose your social connections, you don’t have your neighbors, you don’t have this breadth of support system. How you’ll deal with it really depends on whether it’s the first time you’ve gone through this or if it’s multiple occurrences. But basically it’s really traumatic and that’s ignoring, for example, the death toll rate. Like, if you’ve lost a loved one in one of these disasters that’s obviously going to be even permeate even further.

CURWOOD: So, does it get worse the more times you go through it or do you become more resilient…you say, ‘Oh all right, here it is again.’
PIERRE-LOUIS: It seems like people get worse. The one researcher that I talked to that looked at the flooding in Lafayette, I believe in 2016, said that after the rains happened in Lafayette the children whenever it rained a little bit too hard, the children would freak out. They really thought they were going to lose their homes again, they thought the floods were coming back. They really didn’t know how to deal with it.

CURWOOD: Kendra, what’s the lesson that we should be taking from this?
PIERRE-LOUIS: The lesson is two-fold. The first is that we should be taking steps to reduce the amount of carbon emissions that we’re releasing into the atmosphere so we can stave off the worst effects of these natural hazards. The other thing is we need to go deep into planning for the future, which is to accept that these kinds of occurrences are more likely to happen. When you look at Harvey in particular, we have people who are moving into flood zones, moving into places that were designed to flood and so it’s hard to say that that’s natural, right? We need to think really through in terms of where we are putting our communities and how we’re planning our communities, so that we are more resilient when these kinds of weather events happen.

CURWOOD: Kendra Pierre-Louis is a Climate Desk reporter for The New York Times. Thanks so much for taking the time with us today.
PIERRE-LOUIS: Thanks so much for having me.

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Stephen Hawking January 21, 2018 at 1:23 pm

Stephen Hawking to Climate Deniers: Take a Trip to Venus

Stephen Hawking warns Earth could become as hot as Venus if we do not cut greenhouse gas emissions, a significant driver of climate change.

Venus is by far the hottest planet in the solar system with a searing average surface temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Venus is like Earth in so many ways, a sort of kissing cousin,” the famed theoretical physicist said in the second episode of his new series, Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places. “She’s almost the same size as Earth, a touch closer to the sun. She has an atmosphere.”

NASA explains that for up to 2 billion years of its early history, Venus may have had a shallow liquid-water ocean and habitable surface temperatures. However, due to its position to the sun, the planet’s water eventually evaporated. With no water left on its surface, carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere and led to a runaway greenhouse effect that created Venus’ present hellish conditions.

“This is what happens when greenhouse gases are out of control,” Hawking said, implying that our own planet could also meet the same fiery fate.

He then quipped, “Next time you meet a climate-change denier, tell them to take a trip to Venus; I will pay the fare.”

Hawking has spoken against climate deniers before and has criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement.

“Trump’s action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of two hundred and fifty degrees, and raining sulphuric acid,” he said in July.

Hawking has frequently warned of doomsday scenarios and said that humanity needs to leave Earth and colonize the moon, Mars or other planets in order for our species to survive the impending doom of climate change.

He believes humans will only last another 600 years before Earth becomes a “sizzling ball of fire” that marks the end of humanity.

Source: https://www.ecowatch.com/stephen-hawking-venus-2524820127.html/


Jessica Corbett January 27, 2018 at 3:10 am


World’s Oceans Last Year Hit Hottest Temperatures Ever Recorded… ‘By Far’

Experts say the data indicates that humans must urgently “reduce the heating of our planet by using energy more wisely and increasing the use of clean and renewable energy.”

From Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, January 26, 2018

A new analysis conducted by Chinese researchers and published in a peer-reviewed journal on Friday found that 2017 was the hottest year on record for the world’s oceans, renewing concerns among those in the scientific community about the man-made climate crisis.

“The long-term warming trend driven by human activities continued unabated,” the researchers, Lijing Cheng and Jiang Zhu, wrote (pdf) in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. “The high ocean temperatures in recent years have occurred as greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere have also risen, reaching record highs in 2017.”

While measuring atmospheric temperature changes provides insight into humankind’s impact on the planet—and recent reports show 2017 was the second-hottest year on record—”in terms of understanding how fast the Earth is warming, the key is the oceans,” because almost all the planet’s heat is stored in the seas, as John Abraham, a professor of thermal sciences, explains in a piece for the Guardian.

Abraham says last year’s dramatic increase made 2017 “by far” the hottest year on record for the world’s oceans.

Breaking down the significance of a graph presented in the new report, Abraham writes: “This graph shows ocean heat as an ‘anomaly,’ which means a change from their baseline of 1981–2010. Columns in blue are cooler than the 1981-2010 period, while columns in red are warmer than that period. The best way to interpret this graph is to notice the steady rise in ocean heat over this long time period.”

“The fact that 2017 was the oceans’ hottest year doesn’t prove humans are warming the planet,” he continues, acknowledging that small temperature fluctuations from year to year are normal, due to natural events like the Pacific Ocean’s El Niño/La Niña cycle. “But, the long-term upward trend that extends back many decades does prove global warming.”

“The consequences of this year-after-year-after-year warming have real impacts on humans. Fortunately, we know why the oceans are warming (because of human greenhouse gases), and we can do something about it.”

—John Abraham, thermal sciences professor

“The human greenhouse gas footprint continues to impact the Earth system,” the Chinese researchers note, and the consequences include not only sea level rise, but also “declining ocean oxygen, bleaching of coral reefs, and melting sea ice and ice shelves.”

“The consequences of this year-after-year-after-year warming have real impacts on humans,” Abraham writes.

“Fortunately, we know why the oceans are warming (because of human greenhouse gases), and we can do something about it,” he concludes. “We can take action to reduce the heating of our planet by using energy more wisely and increasing the use of clean and renewable energy (like wind and solar power).”


Wm. Pitt Union February 8, 2018 at 5:33 pm

Mitigating Climate Change by Transitioning to a Renewable Resource-Based Economy

Dr. Steven Cohen, Executive Director,
The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Monday, February 26th at 2:00 PM
William Pitt Union, Assembly Room
University of Pittsburgh, Oakland Campus

Climate change is the first widely recognized global crisis of environmental sustainability. Its solution requires the implementation of a transition from a fossil-fuel based energy economy to one built on renewable resources. This transition requires the development and diffusion of new technologies. The technological challenges of this transition will require significant political, organizational and financial resources and capacities. This talk will discuss the challenges of this transition and outline a path for meeting these challenges by the middle of the 21st century.

This lecture is free and open to the public but space is limited.


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