7 Climate Disasters That Cost More Than $10 Billion in 2019
The report, published Friday, identified seven disasters that cost $10 billion or more, and 15 disasters that cost more than $1 billion, according to a press summary. That's up from last year, when the group highlighted 10 disasters that cost more than $1 billion and four that cost more than $7 billion.
"If anything 2019 saw even more profound extreme weather events around the world than last year, including wildfires from the Amazon through to the Arctic, devastating out-of-season, simultaneous wildfires in California and Australia, winter heat waves and devastating superstorms," Pennsylvania State University climate scientist professor Michael Mann said in the press release. "With each day now we are seemingly reminded of the cost of climate inaction in the form of ever-threatening climate change-spiked weather extremes."
The group wrote that they likely underestimated the true cost of the disasters they studied because in some cases they could only account for insured losses, not uninsured losses or lost productivity. The report was also published before the cost of Australia's devastating wildfire season could be calculated, The Guardian pointed out.
Here are the seven climate-related disasters that cost $10 billion or more in 2019, according to the report.
- California Wildfires, $25 Billion: The costliest extreme weather events of 2019 included in the report were the wildfires that burned through California in October and November. The area burned in California each year has quintupled since 1972, mostly because higher temperatures have dried forests, creating more fuel for the flames.
- Typhoon Hagibis in Japan, $15 Billion: Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan in October with winds of up to 225 kilometers (approximately 140 miles) per hour. It was one of the strongest storms to pummel the country in decades and killed 98 people. The storm also intensified at the fastest rate in 23 years, and warmer oceans have been linked to more intense storms.
- Midwest and Southern Flooding, $12.5 Billion: The flooding that devastated the Midwestern and Southern U.S. between March and June has been linked to climate change. Warmer air can hold more moisture, increasing the likelihood of extreme rain and snow falls.
- Flooding in China, $12 Billion: Heavy rain from June to August led to massive flooding in southern and eastern China, killing at least 300 people. More rain in China is expected to fall in heavy downpours because of the climate crisis, and parts of the country saw their highest rainfall tallies in almost 60 years.
- Hurricane Dorian, $11.4 Billion: The September hurricane was the second strongest storm on record in the Atlantic and it devastated the Bahamas, costing the country the equivalent of more than a quarter of its gross domestic product. Warmer ocean temperatures made it both more intense and wetter than it would have been otherwise, and led it to intensify more quickly.
- Typhoon Lekima in China, $10 Billion: The typhoon that hit China in August was the fifth most intense to hit the country since 1949. It killed 101 people and was the second most expensive storm in China's history. Like Hagibis and Dorian, it also intensified quickly, a phenomenon linked to warmer temperatures.
- Flooding in North India, $10 Billion: Flooding caused by the heaviest monsoon rains in 25 years swamped Northern India, Bangladesh and Nepal between June and October. The rains killed almost 1,900 people in India alone and displaced more than three million. Climate change makes more extreme rainfall more likely generally, and, in Northern India, rainstorms have increased 50 percent in frequency and 80 percent in duration.
The costliest events weren't necessarily the most devastating or the deadliest. While the floods in Northern India claimed the most lives, Cyclone Idai, which slammed Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Madagascar in March, had the next highest death toll. It killed 1,300 people and cost $2 billion. In general, poorer countries suffered higher death tolls while wealthier countries suffered costlier disasters. Three of the four most expensive hit the U.S. and Japan.
Christian Aid said the report showed the importance of acting now to mitigate the climate crisis.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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