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?
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.
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?