In a blow to the sky-is-falling crowd, a new United Nations study released Wednesday undercuts the notion of humanity being doomed by the ravages of climate change.
In fact, the World Meteorological Organization’s “Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019)” shows a slight decrease in the number of weather disasters over the last decade and a major decrease in weather-related deaths over a half-century time period.
The planet shook with 711 weather disasters between 1970 and 1979, growing to 3,536 from 2000 to 2009, per the report, before dropping marginally to 3,165 in the decade beginning in 2010.
This overall uptick in the number of weather disasters has not translated into more deaths; quite the opposite, it turns out.
Advances in early warning systems and disaster management have resulted in a dramatic decline in fatalities caused by inclement weather.
According to WMO data, deaths fell over that same 50-year timespan from 50,000 in the 1970s to 20,000 in the 2010s.
During the 1970s and 1980s, there were approximately 170 reported related deaths per day, a figure that continued to fall in the 2010s to 40 related deaths a day.
The vast majority of those deaths occurred — and continue to occur — in the developing world, the report found.
“The good news is that we have been able to minimize the amount of casualties once we have started having [a] growing amount of disasters: heat waves, flooding events, drought and especially …intense tropical storms like Ida, which has been hitting recently Louisiana and Mississippi in the United States,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said at a Wednesday news conference.
His comments were echoed by another U.N. official.
“More lives are being saved thanks to early warning systems, but it is also true that the number of people exposed to disaster risk is increasing due to population growth in hazard-exposed areas and the growing intensity and frequency of weather events,” Mami Mizutori, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said in a statement.
The remarks made by Taalas and Mizutori highlight the tension between two contradictory ideas: the conventional wisdom that climate change threatens the whole of mankind unless drastic governmental action is taken that threatens Western economies and living standards; and also the fact that climate-related deaths are at historic lows.
A little more than a month ago, “The Skeptical Environmentalist” author Bjørn Lomborg noted the steep downhill trend of deaths attributed to climate change over the last century.
Ever-fewer people die from climate-related disasters — also in 2021
Climate-related deaths have dropped 96-98% over the past century
Breathless climate reporting misleads us
— Bjorn Lomborg (@BjornLomborg) July 25, 2021
To be sure, climate change is a serious, complex issue with many variables contributing to weather systems that are evolving over longer time scales of decades to centuries.
To think the issue is settled and so-called solutions should be imposed by the state in top-down fashion flies in the face of human adaptability and ingenuity. It also contradicts the provisional nature of science, in which all conclusions are viewed with skepticism to one degree or another.
“When you integrate the data from all these constituents, you find interesting ways of thinking about climate change. It changes our perception of what’s actually going on,” Natalie Mahowald, professor of engineering at Cornell University, said in an interview with Cornell Research.
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