In the Wake of Nepal: Is Climate Change Spurring the World’s Natural Disasters?

The following article utilizes information from various online sources. To view these sources please see the imbedded hyperlinks or “Works Cited” section at the bottom of the page. All information is intended for non-profit, educational use.

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Image originally posted by CNN.

On Saturday, April 25, a massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake rocked the small country of Nepal. As of the time of writing this post the BBC has reported that the disaster’s death toll had climbed above 3,600, at least 17 of which laid victim to a massive avalanche on Mt. Everest. In a tiny country that is the 19th poorest in the world the tragedy of this event has no bounds.

Unfortunately this heartbreaking event in Nepal does not feel out of the ordinary. Global metrological reports over the past few years have been stamped with news of heat waves, droughts, floods, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. It seems like there are more and more extreme weather patterns and an ever-increasing amount of tragic events. Data has shown that since the 1980s natural disasters as well as the cost of recovery are on the rise. In the aftermath of Saturday’s tragic earthquake the question begs to be asked: Are these increasing natural disasters a result of climate change?

The short answer to this dilemma is “yes and no.” Every natural disaster has a different set of causes and influences; therefore it would be inaccurate to generalize a single response. According to a 2014 report by the American Metrological Society (that was conveniently broken down by Climate Central), out of a list of 16 separate weather events in 2013 about 8 of them were agreed to be influenced by climate change. The rest were either uncertain or decided to have been uninfluenced. From cyclones to blizzards and heat waves the consensus was that there is no clear consensus. Sometimes the influence of global warming can be clearly linked to extreme weather and other times the data just isn’t there.

In an article by The Guardian, Bill McGuire, University College London’s geophysical and climate hazards professor, gives a poignant quote to sum up the fragility of the earth: Evidence reveals, however, that our planet is an almost unimaginably complicated beast, which reacts to a dramatically changing climate in all manner of different ways.” McGuire believes that if global warming continues at such a rapid rate the globe may see a climate shift similar to the post-glacial warming that occurred 5,000-20,000 years ago. This is more of a warning than a current certainty, but the idea that the earth is complex in unseen ways is crucial. It may be impossible to see minute underground changes that could lead to disastrous effects in glaciers or shifting tectonic plates. Global warming is not picking and choosing weather events but existing as a growing force that is likely to have both noticeable and unseen effects. It goes without saying that trusting scientific consensus is necessary to accurately viewing the world. However there should also be the understanding that there are some impacts science can’t immediately detect.

Another quote comes from an article by The Smithsonian’s Colin Schultz. Shultz says, “There’s never an all-or-nothing relationship between climate change and a particular extreme event. But what event attribution allows us to say is how much more likely a particular weather event was or how much stronger it ended up being because of shifts caused by climate change.”  This is an important thought to consider; even when scientists can pin climate change to a weather event it is not a sole cause, but a stimulus. Together McGuire and Shultz’ viewpoints spell out the idea that while climate change cannot be attributed to every natural disaster, the earth has indeed found itself in a time where global warming is significantly adding to the equation.

The fact that scientists have agreed on climate change influencing even a single weather event should be enough of a wake up call to bring about more widespread environmental efforts. This is not just evidence in regards to weather. It is a scientifically proven confirmation that global warming is contributing to events that are taking human lives, shaking up fragile ecosystems and putting populated areas at risk. It is just as human as it is meteorological.

As more data arrives in regards to the Nepal earthquake, perhaps there will be findings for or against the influence of climate change. Regardless, as the impoverished country struggles in the wake of disaster the first thing to do is focus on humanitarian aid. To donate to international relief efforts, please see NBC News’ list of organizations that are on the front lines of helping those in need.

 

FURTHER READING & WORKS CITED

THE GUARDIAN’S NEPAL EARTHQUAKE COVERAGE

http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/apr/26/nepal-earthquake-death-toll-exceeds-1500-rolling-report

THE GUARDIAN’S EVEREST AVALANCHE COVERAGE

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/25/deadly-everest-avalanche-triggered-by-nepal-earthquake

THE SMITHSONIAN’S ARTICLE ON BLAMING CLIMATE CHANGE FOR NATURAL DISASTERS

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/dont-blame-the-awful-us-drought-on-climate-change-21786960/

THE AMERICAN METEOROLOGICAL SOCIETY’S 2014 REPORT

http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/1520-0477-95.9.S1.1

CLIMATE CENTRAL’S RECAP OF THE ABOVE REPORT

http://www.climatecentral.org/news/timeline-extreme-weather-2013-18099

THE GUARDIAN’S ARTICLE ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND POST-GLACIAL WARMING

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/feb/26/why-climate-change-shake-earth

CNN’S NEPAL EARTHQUAKE COVERAGE

http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/25/opinions/stark-nepal-earthquake-geology/index.html

ACCUWEATHER’S BLOG ON A STEADY INCREASE IN CLIMATE RELATED NATURAL DISASTERS

http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-blogs/climatechange/steady-increase-in-climate-rel/19974069

INTERNATIONAL DISASTER DATABASE NATURAL DISASTERS TRENDS

http://www.emdat.be/natural-disasters-trends

GLOBAL FINANCE’S LIST OF POOREST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD

https://www.gfmag.com/global-data/economic-data/the-poorest-countries-in-the-world

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