Have Disaster Costs Increased Due to Climate Change?
Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and was twice as costly as any previous hurricane — in addition to more than 1,000 deaths, it caused over $80 billion in damages in the United States. Three years later Hurricane Ike inflicted nearly $30 billion in damages in the U.S. The frequency and size of such storms has raised questions about a possible connection between climate change and economic losses from weather disasters.
A 2011 metastudy by the Institute for Environmental Studies at Vrije Universiteit in the Netherlands, “Have Disaster Losses Increased Due to Anthropogenic Climate Change?” analyzes the results of 22 peer-reviewed studies on economic losses from weather disasters and the potential connection to human-caused global warming.
The findings include:
- Economic losses from various weather-related natural hazards, such as storms, tropical cyclones, floods and small-scale weather events such as wildfires and hailstorms, have increased around the globe.
- Corrected for population and capital increases, the studies show no trends in losses that could be attributed directly to anthropogenic climate change.
- All 22 studies show that increased exposure of costly assets to weather events is by far the most important driver for growing disaster losses.
The author states that considerable uncertainties remain, as factors such as vulnerability can only be roughly accounted for over time. He suggests that research projecting losses in the future may be more accurate than analyzing historical costs.
A related study from the University of Colorado and Macquarie University, Australia, “Emergence Time Scales for Detection of Anthropogenic Climate Change in U.S. Tropical Cyclone Loss Data” (PDF), suggests that detecting a pattern of increased storm losses could be possible, but would require several decades or longer.
Tags: disasters, global warming, metastudy
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the study titled "Have Disaster Losses Increased Due to Anthropogenic Climate Change?"
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "Finding the Fingerprints of Climate Change in Storm Damage -- a Very Long Detective Story."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.