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The Dartmouth
April 16, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Moore: An Inconvenient Truth

Instead of focusing on gaps in the evidence for climate change, we must focus our attention on combating natural disasters.

The steady rise in global temperatures significantly impacts the number, frequency and duration of natural disasters. In Haiti, the official death toll has risen to over 2,000 after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the western part of the island last week, with rescue efforts stalled by a tropical storm that lashed the fragile island just days later. Although the evidence supporting the association of natural disasters with climate change has only increased in recent years, some still argue that the data doesn’t reflect the whole story. 

In a Wall Street Journal article from August 5, prominent climate skeptic Bjørn Lomborg takes issue with how policymakers base climate policy on sensationalized accounts of natural disasters. Lomborg posits that the significance of natural disasters is only based on what is scientifically known, and that more ‘scare stories’ don’t necessarily mean more global warming. But does it matter how many scare stories result from global warming when a single natural disaster has such immense consequences? Are over 2,000 deaths and 12,000 injuries, as in the case of Haiti, such an inconsequential amount that we shouldn’t take any action to prevent further destruction and loss? Why are we focusing on the chance that Haiti’s earthquake and storm were not connected to climate change-induced temperature increases when, regardless of its relationship to natural disasters, climate change is unequivocally and irrevocably destroying the planet we call home?

Lomborg’s criticism is reflective of a remarkable skepticism surrounding the relationship between the increasing severity of natural disasters and rising global temperatures. This increasing skepticism has called into question whether radical environmental policies are an appropriate response to these natural disasters. However, after seeing the destruction in Haiti and around the world, it seems absurd to require there to be a perfect correlation between natural disasters and climate change for us to implement legislation against climate change. Even if there's a small chance that the two are related, the U.S. should nonetheless implement legislation to combat climate change because of the immense loss of life and suffering brought about by life-threatening catastrophes.

Yes, it is undoubtedly difficult to disentangle the effects of global warming from natural weather variation. Though meteorologists and climate scientists have fully concluded that prolonged periods of heat or cold are attributable to global warming, weather systems present a complicated, multi-faceted modeling challenge for scientists. 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, new climate model simulations and methods combining multiple lines of evidence have led to an improved understanding of human influence on weather and disasters. 

The 2021 IPCC report states that under higher greenhouse gas emissions, which humans have unequivocally produced, storms will intensify, monsoon precipitation will increase and the earth’s general water cycle will become more extreme and unpredictable. 

In the past 30 years, climate disasters have tripled in number, and more than 20 million people are being forced from their homes by climate change each year, the Oxfam charity estimates. Rising land surface temperatures have a proven connection to both the severity and likelihood of droughts and wildfires. Rising temperatures and warmer seas lead to more humid skies and thus more intense storms and hurricanes. Moreover, as was demonstrated in Haiti, as global warming increases the violence of storms and hot air pressure, there may even be more intense seismic activity — leading to more frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. 

This data should be enough for everyone, not just left-wingers, to spring into action. Human influence has warmed the climate at an unprecedented rate over the last 2000 years. Even if we keep our promises made in the Paris Agreement, the global temperature is projected to rise by as much as 3 degrees Celsius, making natural disasters much more prevalent and putting the lives of billions in danger. When it’s a matter of many lives lost, as seen in Haiti, we don’t have time to ponder the precise relationship of climate change to natural disasters. For climate change disbelievers, life-threatening natural disasters should be, at minimum, a wake-up call.