UPDATE. In case people think natural disasters only happened after social media was invented here is a handy list supplied by an anonymous troll in the comments.
This from 1804. Where you see ‘f’ read ‘s’.
Roger Pielke Jr. Disasters and Climate Change, 2014, revised 2018.
This slim volume has become very relevant reading since the demands for zero emissions have spread like the bushfires that prompted them. The craven and scientifically illiterate capitulation by business leaders and captains of industry adds an alarming amount of weight to the alarmist scrum. The strident contribution from the insurance industry is especially unhelpful because Pielke had demonstrated that they have no reason to be concerned about increasing risks, apart from the risks that arise from human stupidity and irresponsibility – the failure to take precautions to protect lives and property.
The book is fairly cheap overseas but it does not appear to be available locally. Please advise if it is.
Pielke has two equally important stories, one about the science and the other about the politics. We are lucky that he mastered one and has the backbone to survive the other to tell the tale.
The central message is that there is no substance to the claim that climate change has caused the cost of damage from weather events to increase.
On the science, he starts with the IPCC where he was on the inside when the relevant group wrote a background paper for the 2007 Assessment Report that dismissed the proposition that the costs of extreme weather events were increasing because of climate change. Scientists associated with the IPCC can produce credible science when they are not being manipulated and misrepresented by the insiders to maintain alarm among politicians and journalists.
He was shocked to find that the summary report stated that weather-related costs were increasing, flatly contradicting the central message from the background paper. It also contained a very strange graph to support that conclusion. That fake summary is possibly one of the roots of the alarm in the insurance community that has been bubbling ever since and is erupting at present.
Partly due to Pielke’s efforts to expose the “mistake” in the 2007 Report the IPCC got back on track with a series of reports in 2012, 2013 and 2014. These surveyed the best available literature and stated clearly and repeatedly that there was no causal relationship between rising temperatures and disaster losses. Hardly surprising because we are talking fractions of a degree. Again, not surprisingly they identified the obvious factors – population growth, more people and wealth in vulnerable areas, rising insurance penetration.
Given the strength of these findings one might think that the issue of climate change and disasters would have become less politicized. However political battles aften prove impervious to information…It is a lesson I have well understood.
His story about the politics will come in another post. In a nutshell he was hounded out of his branch of the profession by political pressure from the highest office in the US.
One of the core chapters of the book is his account of the methods used by scientists including those in the IPCC when they are operating in the proper critical mode for detection and attribution of the factors that make a difference. Of course the attribution problem is ubiquitous, from the contribution of fertilizers to crop yields, the influence of nature and nurture on IQ and every other human attribute, the economic attribution problem and the evaluation of policies of all kinds.
The strict criteria for attributing increased losses to human induced climate change demand (1) a detectable increase in the frequency or intensity of weather events that are associated with the disasters and (2) the increase must be associated with human causes, especially greenhouse gas emissions. According to the most robust IPCC studies the claim that warming has caused more weather-related damage does not meet the two criteria. That substantially applies to projections for the future as well.
More precisely, climate model projections for changes in extreme weather events do not produce identifiable increases in disaster losses for many decades, and often much longer.
He took great care to describe the process of normalization (adjustment) of losses to take account of changing circumstances over time, especially the amount of property in vulnerable locations. It should be noted that this is all about monetary costs. The process of normalization is similar to the attribution problem because it considers the factors that contribute to the size of the loss. The other core chapter examines five major projects by different groups that worked through all the literature available on the worldwide cost of disasters in relation to climate change. Each exhaustive project came to the same conclusion. Rising costs have no relation to climate change.
The dollar value of losses will increases in rough proportion to the value of the assets involved and that keeps growing all the time regardless of the weather. The picture of losses as a proportion of the assets would be a different story – a coastal village of grass huts or a suburb of weatherboard and tin shelters would be worth next to nothing compared with a modern waterside resort but when they are blown or washed away the loss is near 100% while substantial damage to the new complex could be a fraction of the value. The loss of capital value as a % of the stock has probably declined considerable since 1900 though not as steeply as the loss of human life.
In conclusion there is no reason to assert that insurance risks are increasing due to climate change. There will be more risks as more people build more expensive properties in places that are susceptible to storms, fires floods, especially if the bleeding obvious precautions and warning systems are neglected.
Lately Roger Pielke has moved on from climate studies to address a range of different topics including the governance of sport.
The book is in a series titled The Rightful Place of Science produced by the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University.