“Climate change is often seen as the culprit of increasing economic losses from weather disasters. The scientific literature, however, shows that there are other causes up to now.”
So reads the capsule summary of a peer-reviewed study that will soon be published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The study, by Laurens M. Bouwer of the Institute for Environmental Studies at Vrije Universiteit in The Netherlands, wondered why insurance claims from extreme weather events had been increasing. To find out, Bouwer looked at 22 studies and found that none justified the claim that global warming was the culprit. Instead, the answer lies in the habits of people: We have more valuable possessions than we had in the past, there are more of us than in the past, and we love living in vulnerable places, such as flood plains and the coastal regions that experience the most weather damage.
Why did scientists get this wrong? One reason, according to Bouwer, a former IPCC lead author, was that they were too quick to come to conclusions based on flimsy evidence. For example, while weather-related damages have increased, damages from earthquakes and other non-weather causes have stayed fairly stable, leading some to conclude that global warming was the culprit.
Had these scientists dug deeper or thought longer about this, as Laurens did, they would have realized that lands susceptible to earthquakes are distributed widely around the globe, occurring without favor in high and low population areas alike. In contrast, many weather related events such as hurricanes and floods tend to occur along the shorelines where humans tend to congregate. After Laurens corrected for such demographic factors, and for other wrongly held assumptions in previously published studies, the evidence implicating global warming in insurance damage withered away.
Laurens quite accessible study, in pre-publication form, is available here.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers.
Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post, August 24, 2010