A typhoon that devastated the Philippines. A brutal 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Turkey and Greece. Flash floods in Indonesia and Afghanistan that displaced hundreds of thousands of people. A hurricane that ripped through the U.S., Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. These are merely a handful of the catastrophic natural disasters the world has faced throughout 2020.
What do they all have in common? Insurmountable damage, numerous casualties, and, to various extents, climate change.
Between 2000 and 2020, we have seen a massive increase in climate disasters (7,348 total) compared to what was reported between 1980 and 2000 (4,212 natural disasters). “This is clear evidence that in a world where the global average temperature in 2019 was 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period, the impacts are being felt in the increased frequency of extreme weather events including heatwaves, droughts, flooding, winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires,” the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction reported.
Of course, not all natural disasters can be attributed to human interference in the environment. The burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, for instance, are merely two factors that can alter the climate. Which is why extreme-weather attribution studies, and the rapidly advancing technology that goes with these studies, are so important to us right now.
Climate Change Attribution
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which gathers data from numerous published studies to form an objective viewpoint, released their fourth assessment report in 2007 and noted, ““Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns.”” In their previous report, they had mentioned that “most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities”.
While scientists have been researching, collecting evidence, and warning us about climate change for decades, very little has been done to stem the speed of it. In fact, the last couple of years seem to be the first time that politicians have actually taken the issue seriously.
Proof is necessary in demonstrating which natural disasters would have occurred without human intervention; otherwise, the issue won’t be taken seriously enough or it’ll be taken too seriously. But what makes scientists so certain that climate change is attributable to humans?
One of the major technological breakthroughs in climate change attribution is the detailed satellite data that is able to determine natural weather systems. The longer we receive reports, the more accurate a conclusion can be drawn on what’s affecting the climate.
The other major breakthrough is the increased computing power that continues to progress annually. With the first quantum computers finally here, “scientists are able to create higher-resolution simulations and conduct many more virtual experiments”. These virtual experiments mean that scientists will be able to test how slight changes in climate affect the environment, except without the worries of repercussions to our actual world.
Thanks to these technological improvements, as well as the ability to “distinguish between CO2 molecules that are emitted naturally by plants and animals and those that result from the burning of fossil fuels”, have given scientists increasing statistical certainty about the role global warming plays in natural disasters.
Because scientists are able to discern the difference between natural or manufactured climate change, the studies they conduct allow us to predict future hazards to the environment and how best to prepare for them. These ongoing studies can “help us understand how to rebuild our cities and infrastructure for a climate-changed world”.
By now, much of the damage caused by climate change is irreversible. However, we can still mitigate some of the damage from natural disasters and prevent less severe repercussions.
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