Many people have already seen a version of this graph from Munich Re, one of the giants of the re-insurance industry:
It’s their accounting of the number of natural catastrophes due to weather-related phenomena each year from 1980 through 2011. They even account separately the meteorological (storms), hydrological (flood and mass movement), and climatological (heat waves, drought, forest fire) events.
The most obvious thing — visually obvious, and yes it’s statistically significant — is that the number of weather-related catastrophes has increased. A lot.
One might wonder, “By how much?”
The clearest indicator — again, visually obvious — is that in just 30 years the number of catastrophes has more than doubled.
To get a better handle on the numbers, I digitized this graph, then analyzed the data. First: for all three categories, the increase in the number of catastrophes is statistically significant. These are very real trends. Of course from one year to the next the numbers fluctuate, but year after year, decade after decade, the trends have risen inexorably. More storms. More floods. More heat waves/drought/forest fires.
More damage, more cost — it’s hard to count the billions of dollars. What do you think this is doing to our economy? To the economies of other nations?
The trends show that catastrophic storms have increased by about 7 per year. Catastrophic floods/mass movement by about 8 per year. Heat/drought/fire catastrophes about 3 per year. That’s an extra 18 catastrophes per year.
18 more catastrophes per year, per year.
What if these trends continue? Then by mid-century, the number of weather-related catastrophes will have nearly doubled again. By century’s end, we’ll have increased from about 300 catastrophes per year in 1980, to over 2400.
I’ve warned against the uncertainty in extrapolating trends far into the future. There’s no guarantee (thank goodness) the future trends will be as fast. But there’s no guarantee they won’t be even faster. It could be even worse than this dire outlook. A lot worse. Uncertainty is not our friend.
This is the future we’re headed for. Many of us have children who we hope will still be alive then. That’s the world we’ll be leaving our children — one in which nature’s wrath is no longer a rare disaster, but an all-too-common occurrence. A world in which nature is less the beautiful home of life in its infinity variety, but has become something to be feared.
Our children, and our grandchildren, will lose more than a hospitable planet. Catastrophes affect more than just human beings. So many other forms of life, so many species, will be lost to the ravages of destruction, and that too will be an irreversible loss to our posterity.
This is not some distant, future threat. This is already happening.
We know the reason. It’s global warming, stupid.
We can do something about it. We can stem the tide — at least partly. There’s no way to avoid that what’s in store is dreadful, but we can avoid the worst. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our kids. We owe it to life itself.