The Crushing Costs of Freak Weather Episodes: It’s Time to Take Notice (Part 1)
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have finally reached the middle of March (yet again!). The second wave of coronavirus is threatening a comeback and things are far away from being normal. And when I say things, I mean the weather, too. In India and elsewhere in the world, people are celebrating the arrival of Spring. Leaving behind the dark memories and bleakness which is often associated with the winter season, we are headed towards a cheerful Spring. You must be wondering why I am talking about the pandemic and Spring all of a sudden.
Coming to the point directly, even all the anxieties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic could not overshadow the fact that with 35° C temperature in Delhi, we are, in fact, bracing ourselves for the harsh summers ahead instead of embracing the spring season. Among other things, this not-so-normal weather is quite an indication of the impending climate change and its catastrophic consequences.
2020 — The Year of Climate Disasters
Terms like lockdowns, social distancing, contact tracing, masks, vaccines, etc., dominated the news headlines and public life in most of the year 2020. As the coronavirus robbed us of almost everything and altered our lives and lifestyles in uncountable ways, extreme weather and climate events became more visible than year. Months of stay-at-home orders and halted economic activities led to the largest annual carbon emissions declines since World War II. Still, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose by 2.6 parts per million from 2019 to 414 ppm in 2020. As countries gradually opened up, global carbon pollution nearly rebounded to pre-COVID levels.
Who could possibly forget the infamous Australian bushfire season and Californian fires? As EcoWatch puts it, the record-breaking Australian bushfires, fueled by heatwaves, burned 46 million acres and destroyed more than 3,500 homes. Similarly, 4.2 million acres burned in California in 2020 — this was more than double the previous record set in 2018. Mind you, I am not even talking about all such incidents involving destruction and despair.
In another dramatic freak weather episode, the Atlantic Hurricane Season witnessed the highest-ever number of storms which were also the earliest storms in the recorded history. To provide some credence to this fact, Jeff Masters, PhD and Dana Nuccitelli explains,”The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced an extraordinary 30 named storms (highest on record), 13 hurricanes (second-highest on record), and six major hurricanes (tied for second-highest on record): more than double the activity of an average season (12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes).”
“In September, another rare event occurred in the Atlantic Ocean when a five-storm system — hurricanes, storms and depressions — were brewing in the ocean at the same time for only the second time on record. The five active storms were Hurricane Paulette, Hurricane Sally, tropical storm Teddy, tropical storm Vicky and tropical depression Rene. The last time such an event occurred was nearly half-a-century ago, in September 1971.”
The Long List of Freak Weather Conditions
Other notable extreme weather episodes which caused overwhelming damages that occurred in 2020 include Super Typhoon Goni, the world’s strongest storm of 2020, in the Philippines (killing at least 31 people, destroying over 250,000 homes, and causing over $1 billion in damage); fires in the Amazon rainforest and Siberia; tropical storms Linfa and Nangka in Vietnam, flooding more than 136,000 homes and killing more than 100 people; floods in east Africa, also the world’s deadliest flooding in 2020, which led to the loss of at least 430 lives and displacement of over 136,000 people in Kenya alone; severe droughts across the central and western USA; locust outbreaks in parts of India and Pakistan; and dreadful heatwaves in parts of India and Bangladesh.
“The northern hemisphere summer saw repeated heatwaves, culminating in mid-August. Japan, for instance, had record-breaking temperatures with cities across the country having multiple days at 40°C. In one week, more than 12,000 people were admitted to hospital with heat-related illnesses. Even the UK’s heatwave, accompanied by tropical nights, caused 1,700 excess deaths.”
According to an analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2020 ranks as the second-hottest year on record for the planet, knocking 2019 down to third hottest. 2020 was also Earth’s 44th consecutive year with global land and ocean temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th-century average.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), on the other hand, studied that Earth’s global average surface temperature in 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record. Unarguably, our Earth and its climate is dramatically altering. Even more unquestionably, we human beings are driving such changes. And if we are the drivers of such unprecedented changes, we are indisputably the biggest sufferers, too. As per the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, between 2000 and 2019 over 475,000 people lost their lives as a direct result of more than 11,000 extreme weather events globally and losses amounted to around US$ 2.56 trillion (in
purchasing power parities).
In the next part of this article series, I will be talking about the effects of climate change and how we can better equip ourselves to tackle the loss and damage associated with such freak weather episodes. In the meanwhile, you can think over the moving, penetrating words of Filipino head negotiator Yeb Saño who spoke about denouncing the inaction in international climate negotiations while the Philippines was devastated in the wake of super Typhoon Haiyan:
“To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of your armchair. […] you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now. […] We must stop calling events like these as natural disasters. […] It is not natural when science already tells us that global warming will induce more intense storms.”
It is quite clear that the climate crisis is upon us and it is more visible than ever. But before we ACT, it is important to LEARN. And before we learn, it is imperative to OBSERVE.