Millions of people around the world are experiencing a ‘climate boost’ as extreme drought gives way to flooding

Not even counting the raging warsthe flight Cost of lifeand new outbreaks of contagious diseases, this summer has seen a cascade of disasters. Heat waves have regularly broken temperature records and droughts on a previously invisible on the scale of crops killed, freight shipments halted and power plants idle across multiple continents.

Now, in a stark example of what scholars callclimate boostdroughts give way to floods, throwing millions of lives into disarray from Kentucky to Karachi.

Months of unusually heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers have flooded huge swaths of Pakistan this week, killing at least 1,000 people, including hundreds of children, and wreaking havoc on the country with the sixth largest nuclear arsenal in the world.

“A third of Pakistan is under water – 33 million are affected. Please tell me how it’s not catastrophic,” said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Climate Change. British television interview Monday. “It’s the size of a small country.”

Just across the border in western China, flash floods last week killed more than a dozen and forced 100,000 clear out. In its center and east, meanwhile, the world’s No. 2 superpower was reeling from what weather historians call the worst heat wave on record, which idled hydroelectric plants and sent shock waves through the economy.

Displaced people are seen in a flooded area following the deadly weather disaster in Dadu, Pakistan on August 29.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The extreme swing of the climatic pendulum has hit Asia particularly hard. But Europe’s second longest river, the Danube, has dried up so much that dozens of sunken Nazi ships have surfaced. Freight shipments stagnated, throwing the continent’s trade into disarray. And nuclear and coal-fired power plants working overtime to make up for Russia’s gas shortage in Europe have shut down without enough water for cooling.

Just as quickly, torrential rains across Western Europe caused further upheaval.

In the United States, the Kentucky River has grown and left Appalachian towns in ruins while the Colorado River was low and forced water cuts on millions of Americans living in the West.

Disasters are part of a growing trend. As the world fails to adapt to rising global temperatures and new rainfall patterns, the cost of water-related disasters is skyrocketing.

Floods, droughts and other water-related disasters could cost the world $5.6 trillion in gross domestic product between 2022 and 2050, a new study by the professional services firm GHD found.

Between 1970 and 2021, total damage from all-natural disasters, not just water-related ones, topped $3.64 trillion, according to the World Meteorological Organization Data bitten by Fortune, which first reported on GHD research. Over the next 30 years, the United States alone could lose more than that — $3.7 trillion — from disasters like floods and droughts alone, the study found.

Only a fraction of these events can be definitively linked to climate change, said Patrick Brown, an atmospheric scientist at the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank.

“It is undeniable that climate change means that it can rain more and it rains more because there are more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” he said. “But that can’t be something like nine times more than normal. Most of this is random variability in the time you get no matter what.

Attribution science, which dissects meteorological and atmospheric details to determine the extent to which global warming is responsible for various storms or heat waves, is a nascent field. And there are other variables as well. Shortages on the Colorado River stem in part from growing demand for a population growth in cities like Denver and Phoenix.

“There’s a cautious scientific perspective where you can look at the data and it’s clearly warming up and we’re seeing an increase in extreme events and economic costs, but you can’t link an event to climate change in a scientifically rigorous way. said Rich Sorkin, managing director of Jupiter Intelligence, a climate risk modeling consultancy with a team of researchers. “There is also tremendous support for global warming to be the driving event for the increased intensity and frequency of severe events and the prospect of those who say the world is burning and yesterday was too late to do anything about it.”

He pointed to a map that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains on its website, showing average temperatures from 1884 to 2021. Set the map to 2004, and a dark red spot begins to appear over the Arctic. By that year, gout had grown significantly and started to encompass northern China.

The world has warmed by an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial norms. But Sorkin said the map shows how misleading that average can be. In some regions, such as the Arctic, the warming has been much higher.

A NOAA map shows an increasing mass of warm temperatures.
A NOAA map shows an increasing mass of warm temperatures.

“In 20 years, a significant portion of the planet is now 4 degrees above average, and in recent years the range where this occurs has shifted towards the population and industrial heartland of the planet. “Sorkin said. “It’s a huge deal.”

August brought at least some reason for optimism. After more than a decade of failing to pass a national climate law, the United States signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping federal program that included about $370 billion in climate spending. and energy. The funding is roughly in line with what China and European Union member states have planned for similar infrastructure, but could ripple around the world as the laws of the most powerful country on the planet finally begin reflect the need to reduce emissions.

But the legislation is just the start, and achieving its maximum emissions reductions would require a level of support at national and local levels that few expect to see materialize.

“Right now, the world is not doing anything to materially change its trajectory,” Sorkin said. “Without a major change in the political environment, the situation will simply continue to worsen.”


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