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article imageConnecting the dots between 2017's natural disasters and climate

By Karen Graham     Dec 29, 2017 in Environment
From hurricanes to wildfires, heatwaves, and droughts, 2017 was a devastating year all across the planet, and while we tend to use the term "natural disaster," in most cases, they have been climate disasters.
And in the United States, the world's second-largest polluter, 2017 was also the year that President Trump turned his back on the rest of the world, opting to pull out of the 2015 Paris Climate Deal meant to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.
And while countless studies have been done, linking our changing weather patterns and extreme weather events to anthropogenic climate change, there were very few media outlets that connected the dots between the two, missing a great opportunity to talk about the changes we are experiencing.
Monsoon rains have hit large swathes of India and neighbouring countries in recent weeks  flooding r...
Monsoon rains have hit large swathes of India and neighbouring countries in recent weeks, flooding rivers and roads
, AFP/File
Unnatural "natural" disasters across the globe
All across the planet, natural disasters struck with ferocity - Earlier this year, severe monsoon rains in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal killed more than 1,200 people and affected 40 million others, destroying homes, livestock, and crops, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
And in November, Digital Journal reported on the severe drought conditions in Spain and Portugal. The devastating drought left rivers nearly dry, sparked deadly wildfires and devastated crops, leaving 28 of Portugal's reservoirs less than 40 percent capacity. Climate scientists put out the warning that droughts are likely to become more frequent and severe, along with the wildfires.
And in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen, a prolonged and devastating drought has affected over 20 million people, leaving them starving - brought on by climate change. The growing food insecurity is driving people from their homes, leaving families with no livelihoods, agriculture or food production, creating situations where there is a loss of the ability to help themselves.
More than 20 million people are at risk of famine in Yemen  Nigeria  and Somalia  where this malnour...
More than 20 million people are at risk of famine in Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, where this malnourished child was being weighed by an aid worker
TONY KARUMBA, AFP/File
The global economic cost of natural disasters is rising
Extreme weather caused some $129 billion (111 billion euros) in economic losses last year, said a report Tuesday that warned the bill will keep climbing as climate change boosts droughts, storms, and floods. The figure roughly matches the budget of Finland.
There was a 46-percent increase in weather disasters from 2010 to 2016, with 797 "extreme" events recorded last year, according to research published in The Lancet medical journal.
On top of the risk to life, limb and property from heatwaves, floods, and storms, as well as the spread of water-borne diseases and disease-bearing insects, climate change may also pose longer-term health dangers, the report said. "Indeed, emerging evidence is suggesting links between a rising incidence of chronic kidney disease, dehydration, and climate change," the authors wrote.
The Brian Head Fire in Utah has grown to over 43 000 acres  while the Frye Fire in Arizona is now 39...
The Brian Head Fire in Utah has grown to over 43,000 acres, while the Frye Fire in Arizona is now 39 percent contained on June 26, 2017.
State of Utah Wildland Fire Hotshot Crew
The U.S. has the worst weather disaster year in its history
The U.S. experienced 15 weather events costing $1 billion or more each through early October, one short of the record 16 in 2011, according to the federal government’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina. And the tally doesn’t include the recent wildfires in southern California.
Actually, 2017 is about to become the most expensive disaster year in US history, costing nearly $400 billion in damages if you include all the wildfires.
And besides the wildfires that ripped across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado in March, and later, the horrific wildfires on the west coast, there was the "Pineapple Express" that brought in drenching rains, ending California's six-year drought, but causing devastating flooding and mudslides.
A firefighter observes the flames while trying to extinguish a fire in Cabanoes near Louzan as wildf...
A firefighter observes the flames while trying to extinguish a fire in Cabanoes near Louzan as wildfires rage in Portugal in October 2017
Francisco LEONG, AFP/File
Then, there came the tropical storms and hurricanes. They deserve a page all to themselves, they caused so much damage. First came Hurricane Harvey that camped over Houston with record rainfall over five days. Then Irma swept across the Caribbean and the southeastern U.S., decimating some islands and inundating parts of Florida where sea level rise threatens to worsen floods in the future.
But after Irma went offshore, Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving the U.S. territory without power, and even today, some 100 days after the hurricane in September, a large portion of the island is still without power. Some investigations have put the death toll there at over 1,000.
People are transported down a road flooded by Hurricane Maria in Catano  Puerto Rico  on September 2...
People are transported down a road flooded by Hurricane Maria in Catano, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017
HECTOR RETAMAL, AFP
These three storms caused over $210 billion in the U.S. and across the Caribbean, and about $100 billion in insured damages, according to Mark Bove, a senior research scientist with Munich Reinsurance America in Princeton, New Jersey. We really need to wake up to the long-term effects of a warming climate. And call it what you will, folks - climate change or just a change toward more severe weather patterns, - we can't ignore this any longer.
“When you see an extreme event that is breaking all records, it is more likely to have the fingerprints of human-induced climate change,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
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