Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Droughts: another canary in our universal coal mine?

The (billion-dollar) costs of droughts
By Raveena Aulakh, Toronto Star March 12, 2013
Droughts are an underestimated natural hazard, warns a Munich-based insurance company. In a paper released on Thursday, Munich RE said data indicates that droughts develop gradually, often creeping up unnoticed until they trigger a famine.
“Droughts can cause crop failures costing billions, severe bushfires as well as economic losses by restricting shipping or the generation of electricity,” said the paper.
There were around 10 loss-producing droughts in the world each year in the early 80s but the number has been twice as high in recent years.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expects “heatwaves and droughts to increase in many regions of the world over the coming decades, in the course of which droughts will become one of the most destructive natural catastrophes,” said Prof. Peter Höppe, head of Geo Risks Research at Munich Re.
In 2012, the corn-belt in the US Midwest was hit by a drought such as occurs only about once in every 40 years or so. In recent years, droughts in Texas and Russia have also drastically reduced crop yields, said the paper. A drought in Somalia in 2011 triggered a nationwide famine that led to the death of hundreds.
Munich GE said that in all, about 900 natural catastrophes occurred in 2012 and caused economic losses of US $170 billion. Of those losses, only about US $70 billion were insured.
Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh
Listening to young university-student-activists on Tom Ashbrook's On Point on NPR yesterday, I was struck by their commitment, intensity and determination to fight the Keystone pipeline, even if President Obama gives final approval. They are so committed that they claim they will put bodies in the way of construction, if the projects is approved, obstructing construction.
Even the New York Times, just yesterday, came out editorially against construction of the controversial pipeline, given the rising tide of public opinion  that speaks to the globe's need to ween itself from fossil fuels in order to stem the tide of climate change and global warming, including the dramatic rise in droughts in recent years.
While there is still some evidence that Obama will give the project the green light, there is mounting evidence and mounting public anxiety about how we are pouring gazillions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every hour and every day....and it will take decades to clean the atmosphere, even if that is a possibility.
It is these long-range, insightful little pieces like the one above, to which we all need to pay more attention, given the establishment's cultural perspective of avoidance of apocalyptic words and pictures which, this time, could prove sabotaging.

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