UNEP: Is This Their Dumbest Claim Yet?

Take a look at the following graphic from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP):

(looks like a hockey stick standing on its end, doesn’t it?)

It shows a huge rise in natural disasters since 1900, from zero to around 450 per year, and asks us to consider what percentage of these are caused by global warming.

Trends in natural disasters. With growing population and infrastructures the world’s exposure to natural hazards is inevitably increasing. This is particularly true as the strongest population growth is located in coastal areas (with greater exposure to floods, cyclones and tidal waves). To make matters worse any land remaining available for urban growth is generally risk-prone, for instance flood plains or steep slopes subject to landslides. The statistics in this graphic reveal an exponential increase in disasters. This raises several questions. Is the increase due to a significant improvement in access to information? What part does population growth and infrastructure development play? Finally, is climate change behind the increasing frequency of natural hazards?

UNEP: Trends in Natural Disasters

But hang on just a minute – according to the graph, there were no natural disasters in 1900. None. And just hundreds in the late 20th century.

Does that sound plausible to you? The link UNEP gives as a source for their claims (“environmenttimes.net”) just goes to one of those websites which hosts advertising links, which is hardly confidence-inspiring.

The data actually seems to come from CRED – the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters,  part of WHO, the World Health Organization. Various news agencies and websites have carried articles quoting their findings. Here’s one from Helium.com which CRED obviously endorses, as they link to it from their website:

You can’t open a newspaper these days without noticing a new headline, screaming of yet another natural atrocity. From the devastation caused by the Haiti earthquake, to the Tsunami that claimed the lives of 229,000 people in Indonesia, natural disasters seem to have increased ten-fold since the turn of the century.

In January 2010, the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters delivered the results of a study conducted between 2000-2009, cataloging the number of natural disasters which had occurred around the globe. Between 2000 and 2009, 385 natural disasters were recorded, ranging from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes, and varying largely in scale. The findings showed a 67 per cent increase in the number recorded, in comparison to 1990-1999, and a 233 per cent since 1980-1989. Over 60% of these natural disasters were caused by earthquakes and tremors, with the remainder including droughts and floods.

CRED Director, Debarati Guha-Sapir agreed that there had been a significant increase in climate-related natural disasters, however Sapir was quick to add that, “CRED lacked sufficient research to determine the role of global warming in the increase in climate-related natural disasters”. While this may be the case, it cannot be denied that natural disasters have seen an alarming and unprecedented increase since records began in 1950.

These so-called natural disasters include earthquakes including the one that caused the devastating 2004 Asian Tsunami:

In December 2004, the second largest earthquake ever recorded, occurred beneath the Indian Ocean. Measuring between 9.1 and 9.3 at it’s epicentre, the earthquake caused a tsunami so large in scale that it hit over fourteen different countries. The worst hit was Indonesia, followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. Fatalities exceeded 230,000, and the disaster has become known as one of the deadliest in history. In May 2010, Indonesia was once again put on high alert when a seismic shift caused an earthquake measuring over 7.4 on the Richter scale occurred off Aceh, prompting fears of a repeat performance, comparable to 2004.

Helium.com. A Decade of Natural Disasters: Why Nature is Biting Back.

But earthquakes are nothing to do with global warming, surely?

Earthquakes were once thought to be primarily caused by natural seismic activity beneath the Earth’s surface, however scientific research suggests that climate change is playing a huge part in the increase, and power behind the seismic shifts.

In 2006, geo-scientist Allen Glazner, from the University of North Carolina spoke to Sharon Begley of the Wall Street Journal, regarding research which looked at seismic and volcanic activity stretching back over 800,000 years. Glazner’s analysis found that “the peaks of volcanic activity occurred when ice was retreating globally”. His research suggests that recent reports of melting glaciers in the North Pole have a significant contribution to the increase in volcanic and seismic events around the globe. The process is known as isostatic rebound, whereby the ice weight fluctuations have a direct impact on the rocks beneath them. Fluctuations in the weight of ice, as well as the increase in water from melting ice-caps can put considerable strain on weaker areas, where seismic shifts are already common.

Hang on a minute, are they really suggesting, what it sounds like they’re suggesting? Judge for yourself:

So could it be that the ten fold increase in natural disasters since records began in 1950 are the result of man’s influence on the environment?

Studies carried out worldwide on natural phenomena would suggest so. From the melting of glaciers, to the destruction of the ozone layer, the planet is struggling to maintain it’s natural equilibrium, thus we see increased levels of powerful activity as it attempts to deal with the strains of pollution and global warming. If changes do not occur soon, the level of destruction caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis may begin to wipe out man-kind, continent by continent, until we ourselves become as extinct as the glaciers we affect.

Yep. Game, Set, and Match. Global warming is probably behind volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. We are, apparently, responsible for every disaster going. Somehow.

I think we can all agree that the article above is a bit alarmist, to say the least. But the question that needs to be answered is why are CRED endorsing it by linking to it from their website?

And what responsibility do organisations like CRED, WHO and UNEP have for – at the very least – allowing what appears to be unjustifiable claims to be made over the data and research they provide? Should they not issue a release disassociating themselves from the conclusions reached in such articles, rather than seemingly endorsing them?


25 responses to “UNEP: Is This Their Dumbest Claim Yet?

  1. On the face of it the graph looks preposterous. Perhaps scaremongering ninnies have devalued the word ‘disaster’ too much.

    All but the last sentence of the paragraph under the chart seems to me to be quite reasonable but they just couldn’t resist mentioning climate change.

    The source once was correct. Web Archive has some examples of what the website used to look at. Amazingly that actual issue is archived, including the relevant article in PDF format.

  2. Hmm, nothing in 1900? I’d swear I read about a storm down Galveston way in 1900. I guess it went away with the medieval warm period. Sigh. It’s just so hard to keep up with history.



  3. I don’t have anything to say!

    “While the number of major natural disasters has been dropping over the last twenty-seven years, the number of disasters covering large areas has been increasing during the same time period.”

    Has There Been An Increase In the Number of Natural Disasters?
    “So have there been more natural disasters in recent years? In a word, NO.
    What we have, rather, is an increase in our ability to detect hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.”
    Ten worst floods in history

    Five worst forest fires

    Ten worst hurricanes in history

    Ten worst tornadoes in history

    Ten worst avalanches in history

    Ten worst landslides in history

    Worst natural disasters in history

    Ten worst droughts in history with China’s 1928 drought which left 3,000,000 dead

  4. At the start of the twentieth century Mankind was mostly immortal. The rot set in when the charabang was introduced and shoes and public sanitation and farming and all those bad things.
    Luckily, now we’re well into the 21st Century, all these things will be consigned to the trash-bin of History and all will be good again.
    What could be safer than living in a Hurricane-impervious cave, free from the dangers of obesity, overheating, medical interference, electrocution, traffic-accidents, playground-injury, education and all the other, myriad, anti-utopian life-style dangers?
    Three cheers for common-sense and old-time Puritanism!
    You guys are *ocks.

  5. The UN Graph merely reflects redefinitions, over time, in the meaning of the word “disaster”. It’s like what the meaning of “is” is. Get it? In 1900 the meaning of “disaster” was so extreme that nothing qualified. As time went by, due to the need for Bigger and Better Sales Statistics the media gradually modified the word “disaster” to incorporate more and more things that hitherto were not considered disasters so that the word could be used on a regular basis as a headline or whatnot. Language does evolve. English evolves more and faster than any language on the planet. (There also seems to be a connection with the increased level of confusion experienced by native English speakers over time but further study is needed before anything conclusive can be made of this phenom.)

    • Pascvaks: “modified the word “disaster” to incorporate more and more things that hitherto were not considered disasters”.

      I couldn’t agree more. Yesterday, my wife broke a fingernail. Now, THAT was described as a disaster, and the whole day was over. I must email these folks to include such occurences in their assessments.

  6. Indeed the number of disasters RECORDED in the CRED database has gone up tremendously through the decades , but this is mainly due to an increase in reporting because more people = more observers, wider and faster news coverage, and socio-political factors. As noted in the paper, Deaths and Death Rates from Extreme Weather Events: 1900-2008 :

    one should expect that even if there were no change in climate or climate variability, the proportion of events recorded in EM-DAT would increase over the decades with (a) the advance of telecommunications, (b) broader news coverage, (c) globalization of international aid, and (d) an increased tendency by authorities to declare natural disaster emergencies for a variety of reasons.

    “First, as nations become wealthier—and almost all did during the 20 century —political leaders have more resources to afford emergency declarations. Second, the number of democracies has also increased during this period, and in democracies political leaders tend to declare emergencies early and often. Politicians apparently like to be photographed emerging from a helicopter at a disaster scene. Additionally, one should expect that since global population has quadrupled since 1900, the number of recorded events should increase at least proportionately. Not only are there four times as many people potentially exposed, but there are also four times as many observers.

    Thus, the number of events—and associated mortality—is likely to have been systematically under-reported in the early decades of the 20th century in the EM-DAT database; the earlier, the greater the degree of under-reporting.”

    More importantly, even if the number of weather related disasters has actually gone up, deaths and death rates from them havegone down by 93-98% since the 1920s (as noted in the above paper), while there don’t seem to be any trends in economic losses beyond the amount of capital at risk (see Pielke, Jr’s website).

    Fossil fuel fired economic development has a lot to do with why these deaths and death rates have gone down.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for posting that info. Very much appreciated.

      I’ve been a fan of yours since reading your “Clearing the Air” book. Great stuff.

      • Wow, you really must haunt the library! It used to be one of my favorite activities, but now I haunt the Internet. Thanks very much in any case.

        I very much enjoy the posts of yours that I have come across. Keep ’em coming.

        Best regards,

  7. Here’s a natural disaster for 1900 which happened in a town I where used to live in Yorkshire. Nothing like it before or since. Perhaps you could get it onto the database. We only need a few hundred more to show a downward trend.

  8. My grandfather told me the internet wasn’t as reliable in 1900 as it is today. Neither were satellites and ground radar. High altitude observation aircraft had problems too.

    Anything else?

    • Mine told me that horses were still popular and there were a lot more than there are now. And folks liked to travel by ship and train too. Has anyone, I mean anyone, that you know traveled by ship or train since, well, ah.. ever? I tell ya’ when ol’folks lose their minds they go all the way! He even said Cell Phones were NEW!!!! That they just didn’t exist!!! And people used to take a bath on Saturday night, and they didn’t have refrigerators but ‘iceboxes’, and school teachers hit kids with sticks and razor straps. (Anyone know what a razor strap is?)

      PS: (SarcOff)

  9. Some may find it significant that certain historical periods gave rise to reduced levels of natural catastrophe.
    WW1, WW2, Vietnam, Iran v Iraq and Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the Gulf Wars for example.
    Perhaps Gaia was content with the level of human sacrifice at these times so didn’t get too angry?
    Or, just possibly, this graph is yet another meaningless piece of hysterical propaganda?

  10. I would like to note that in communist countries disasters were not reported or downplayed (because it might have made the various Dear Leaders look bad. I wonder if the graph correlates at least partially with the spread of democracy?.

  11. …or WERE downplayed…

  12. Does anyone else find the wording “another natural atrocity” to be somewhat bizarre?

    Is this another anthropomorphisation of nature, some brooding god ready to inflict atrocities on humans?

    • Wow, I hadn’t picked up on that, but now you mention it, it is truly bizarre. Shows you how we’re becoming inured to the BS way these things are worded these days.

      It might be a ‘natural atrocity’ though – I’m going to start a campaign to bring Mother Nature to justice for crimes against humanity! 😉


  13. It is disturbing that so many people would refer to this graph, which makes Mann’s hockey-stick look rational. At least that fits with the basic idea that people have.

    However, this nonsense is so ridiculous that anyone who believes it has to be willfully ignorant. It appears that the 1900 data includes ONLY landfalling US hurricanes and earthquakes in America and western Europe. The 2010 data includes every natural disaster on the planet that the media can find.

  14. FTA >>His research suggests that recent reports of melting glaciers in the North Pole have a significant contribution to the increase in volcanic and seismic events around the globe. The process is known as isostatic rebound, whereby the ice weight fluctuations have a direct impact on the rocks beneath them..

    Maybe on his planet. The glaciers at the North pole on this one are floating on water not sitting on rocks.

    Is there nothing Mann-made global warming can’t do??

  15. The 2004 Asian Tsunami was *obviously* the result of isostatic rebound due to the effect of global warming on the melting glaciers of Sumatra.

  16. Thanks to CRED, WHO and UNEP, the word “stupid” is now a collective noun.

  17. The common sense handling and rebuttal of extremist’s news releases and blogs has me haunting hauntingthe libreary. Well done.
    Mike Patrick

  18. A recent research proved that Global Warming™ is responsible for the acceleration of the universe expension. The 55 millions CND (78 trillions USD) research of the climatologist church demonstrated that laws of physic have nolonger a significant impact on universe since the warming effect of CO2 have a far greater influence on universe.

    “Earthquakes were once thought to be primarily caused by natural seismic activity beneath the Earth’s surface, however scientific research suggests that climate change is playing a huge part in the increase, and power behind the seismic shifts.”
    Global warming pseudo-science have notting to envy to economic, politic, feminist and so called social pseudo-sciences! Circular thinking, dogma and the result of the researchs are first established and then the “only truth” is demonstrated. The unconveniant facts are irelevant and the “defective” reality suppressed. And some people are wondering why this civilisation is falling apart!

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