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Environment

The Disaster Storyline

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 29, 2009 7:27 PM

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Would climate change have greater urgency in the public mind if we started talking more about adaptation? I realize many climate advocates fear that such a discussion is a slippery slope to non-action. But it needn't be. In fact, I believe that more stories and chatter about the growing humanitarian concerns of near-term climate change fallout would help make climate change less abstract to people. That said, it seems the lines of debate are already forming somewhere between this story from Reuters:

Climate change kills about 315,000 people a year through hunger, sickness and weather disasters, and the annual death toll is expected to rise to half a million by 2030, a report said on Friday.

And this UN dispatch from Mozambique:

A detailed study of the effects of climate change on Mozambique has confirmed what many experts feared: unless immediate action is taken, the country will be overwhelmed by the impacts of cyclones, floods, droughts and disease outbreaks.

There are obvious problems with both storylines. The former is based on a new report by the Global Humanitarian Forum, which in today's NYT, Roger Pielke Jr. calls a "methodological embarrasment." At Prometheus, Pielke expands on why he believes the report will end up being counterproductive. In short, he asserts:

The report will harm the cause for action on both climate change and disasters because it is so deeply flawed.

As for the Mozambique story, I wonder how it will be possible to distinguish between natural weather disasters and those caused by climate change. When is a cyclone or drought triggered by climate change and when is it a naturally ocurring event? As for global warming-induced disease outbreaks, that is a totally legitimate concern. As a recent lancet editorial pointed out,

there is a massive gap in information, an astonishing lack of knowledge about how we should respond to the negative health effects of climate change.

Somehow, I doubt the new report from the Global Humanitarian Forum is what Lancet had in mind. In the absence of solid data and better assessment, it seems the simplistic disaster storyline will prevail for some time.

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