Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Warming Wednesdays: once upon a time it got cold in November


The global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880. The finding sustains a trend that has seen the 21st century experience nine of the 10 warmest years in the modern meteorological record. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York released an analysis of how temperatures around the globe in 2011 compared to the average global temperature from the mid-20th century. The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience higher temperatures than several decades ago. The average temperature around the globe in 2011 was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 C) higher than the mid-20th century baseline.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek points out:

... Sandy demonstrated once again that those who will suffer the most from increasingly common extreme weather events are poor people. Even though the storm’s tail only clipped the island of Haiti, Hurricane Sandy killed 52 people there, left 200,000 people homeless, and destroyed 70 percent of the crops in the south of the country. There is flooding across the country, making the lives of the 370,000 people still living in temporary shelters after the 2010 earthquake even more precarious. Haiti’s population is about half that of New York City’s metro area, yet even a glancing blow from Sandy carried a higher death toll in the Caribbean nation than did the direct hit on the Big Apple.

Current rates of global mortality from natural disasters amply demonstrate that being poor makes people far more vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Just in the past year, flooding killed 140 in the Niger Delta and left hundreds homeless, 66 dead in Manila and 440,000 in evacuation centers across the Philippines, 100 dead in northeastern India with 2 million people forced from their homes—and that’s a partial list. More broadly, around 90 percent of the 60,000 people who die in natural disasters each year die in the developing world.

That’s because surviving natural disasters is expensive. The best disaster resilience strategies involve paying for infrastructure—from sea walls to all-weather roads to irrigation systems—and solidly constructed buildings, alongside quality public services such as fire fighting, police, and ambulances. And withstanding a catastrophe requires being able to afford food and medicine even if prices for such goods rise in times of scarcity. ...

In rich countries, insurance companies have an interest in resilience strategies. Their business model requires an acceptible balance between risk and massive loss. Will they force our political systems to act in response to climate change? This seems like a more likely bet than counting on our political systems. That's not a good sign for democratic societies.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- unpleasant reminders of an inconvenient truth.

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