I could, perhaps, simply have made reference to this story by way of a comment on “Making The News”i. After all, it is about a fairly classic example of the news being reported by those – like the BBC – who have an agenda to push. They use reports which summarise, in a partial way, recent events, and package them up as “news” even though it tells us nothing new. In this case, though, I think the report in question is worth a critical look in its own right.

To start with the BBC articleii, it was a fairly predictable look back at the weather in 2021, and it carried the eye-catching headline: “Climate change: Huge toll of extreme weather disasters in 2021”. The tried and tested method of reporting on a study served as the introduction to the article:

Weather events, linked to a changing climate, brought misery to millions around the world in 2021 according to a new report.

The study, from the charity Christian Aid, identified 10 extreme events that each caused more than $1.5bn of damage.

I want here to look at the Christian Aid reportiii itself. Dated December 2021, it is headed “Counting the cost 2021: A year of climate breakdown”.Its authors are Dr Kat Kramer and Joe Ware. Dr Katherine Kramer is Christian Aid’s “Global Lead” on Climate Change, and she also sits on the People and Nature Steering Committee, whose campaign is co-ordinated by Seahorse International. Their websiteiv describes Seahorse as:

An award-winning fully integrated sustainability consultancy that designs and executes sustainability strategies, reputational audits, political campaigns and communications programmes to enhance both the commercial success of our clients and the natural environment.

They proudly tell us that in the Business Green Leaders Awards 2020 they won the prize for Communications Agency of the Year. Richard Burrell, CEO of AMP Clean Energy is quoted as saying:

In just a few short months, Seahorse has delivered a step change in our approach to working in Whitehall and Westminster, opening doors for us to make valuable connections and have important discussions that we would not have otherwise secured. They have significantly improved our media coverage over several recent press releases through their best practice advice and built trust with our in-house Group Marketing function acting as an extension to the team.”

All of which is by the by, save to the extent that it helps us to understand that so much of what goes on in this area nowadays is about PR, opening doors and gaining access to people. Needless to say, I’m fairly confident that the BBC’s door is always open. The other author, Joe Ware, is Senior Climate Journalist at Christian Aid. In explaining the background regarding the authors of the report, I do not intend to “play the man rather than the ball”, but I do think it’s reasonable to understand that the report’s authors are people whose job is to gain publicity for their cause. The question is not whether they are right to do so, and I certainly do not intend to question their sincerity in writing as they do. However, I do intend to look in a little detail at the claims they make in the Report, with a view to exploring whether the publicity is justified.

The Chosen Measure of Harm

As Richard Drake pointed out in The Hedgehog and the Elephantv climate (or weather)-related deaths have dropped dramatically during the last century or so. Depending on who you believe, the drop is anything between 90% and 99% over the last hundred years. Given that over the same timescale the world’s population has approximately quadrupled, with the result that presumably many people now live in riskier locations than was the case a century ago, those are truly staggering numbers, and remarkably good news.

Which, no doubt, is why climate worriers don’t focus on those statistics, but choose to look at other numbers instead. The Executive Summary of the Christian Aid report makes it clear that its focus is elsewhere:

This report highlights the ten most financially devastating climate events of 2021, from hurricanes in the US, China and India to floods in Australia, Europe and Canada…

The top ten most expensive events financially all cost over 1.5 billion dollars of damage with Hurricane Ida in the US topping the list at $65 billion. The floods in Europe came second at $43 billion. Unless the world acts rapidly to cut emissions these kinds of disasters are likely to worsen. Steve Bowen, Meteorologist & Head of Catastrophe Insight at insurers Aon has noted that 2021 is expected to be the sixth time global natural catastrophes have crossed the $100 billion insured loss threshold. All six have happened since 2011 and 2021 will be the fourth in five years.

All of which sounds pretty devastating. And I concede that it isn’t great news. But is it such bad news as the report suggests? Context, of course, is everything, and that is what is lacking here. The first piece of important information that isn’t supplied is the level of insurance premiums paid by the world’s citizens over the relevant timescales. If they are growing at a higher rate than the value of the damage caused and the insurance payouts handed over by the insurance companies, then “in real terms” the situation isn’t deteriorating at all.

How can that be so? Well, as I indicated earlier, the number of humans on the planet has quadrupled during the last century.vi During the last 70 years or so, the proportion of that much greater number of humans living in an urban environment has roughly doubled. Happily (with a possible exception over the last two years due to covid-related problems) broadly speaking, humanity has become richer as it has urbanised. The denser nature of its habitations also means that any single weather event causing damage in a particular area is likely to wreak much more financial harm without necessarily being more serious than earlier such events. And a simple $ for $ comparison between year X and year Y can also be misleading, if inflation between year X and year Y isn’t taken into account when comparing the financial value attributed to the damage caused by weather events in the years in question.

And so we see that the Executive Summary to the Christian Aid report (which runs to a mere six paragraphs), offers up a scary scenario, based on financial numbers baldly stated and offered up without any hint of qualifying context.

What, then, of the weather events in 2021 chosen by the authors? Regardless of the lack of context regarding the financial claims made, if the weather events are indeed unusual, and if – collectively – they appear significant, then presumably we should take notice?

Texas Winter Storm

Unfortunately, the report contains a great deal of uncertainty and speculation. We are told that officially it resulted in 215 deaths (though the number of 210 is included in the summary table offered up on page 6), but it is claimed that the real number could be three times higher. A footnote (number 5) offered up a website link (to Buzzfeed) to support that latter claim, but it didn’t work when I tried to follow it up.

We are told that insured losses total $23 billion (the link offered to substantiate this claim, at footnote 6, didn’t work either), but the total economic impact could be as high as $200 billion (according to some estimates). Regarding the latter claim, at last the link offered up by a footnote in support, worked and took me to a CBS news report, which in turn cited a report by the Perryman Group, a Texas-based economic research firm. Reading a little further, I find that “Perryman cautioned that the estimates, based on conversations with insurance companies and economic models, were preliminary.” So far, so sensationalist, so unimpressive.

While concluding by blaming the event on global warming, the report does admit that “cold spells such as this one are still within what is expected from natural climate variability” and that “[s]cientists do not fully understand how these cold spells occur within the overall pattern of global warming…”.

Yes, but is this unusual? A visit to the website of the Office of the Texas State Climatologist, College of Geosciencesvii is worth a look:

Feb. 1895: Freeze/Snow. Coastal Texas. What is probably the greatest heavy-snow anomaly in the climatic history of the U.S. resulted from a snowstorm along the Texas coast on the 14th–15th. Houston; Orange; Stafford, Fort Bend County; and Columbus, Colorado County, each reported a snowfall of 20 inches. Galveston had a snowfall of 15.4 inches. Snow fell as far south as the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where Brownsville received 5 inches. The Lower Valley had lows of 22°F the 14th through the 17th, destroying the vegetable crops.

Feb. 11–13, 1899: Freeze. A disastrous cold wave throughout the state. Newspapers described it as the worst freeze ever known in the state. Brownsville’s temperature reach[ed] 16°F on the 12th and remained below freezing through the 13th. Much destruction of vegetable crops.

Jan. 10–12, 1918: Blizzard.This was the most severe since that of February, 1899; it was accompanied by zero degree temperature in North Texas and temperatures from 7° to 12° below freezing along the lower coast.

Australia – floods

Regarding these events, we are told:

In March, many parts of the Eastern Australian coast experienced massive rains and extensive flooding, causing two deaths. In coastal New South Wales, where the city of Sydney is located, the week of the floods became the wettest ever recorded. Around 18,000 people had to be evacuated from the region, with damages totalling $2.1 billion.

Two of the three website links offered up (in footnotes 14 and 16) in support of these claims didn’t work when I tried to access them; the third (footnote 15) was to a BBC website report on the floods. The links I couldn’t verify were in support of the claims that the week of the floods was the wettest ever recorded (NB only in coastal New South Wales) and that the total cost was $2.1 billion.

The remaining two paragraphs are first this:

According to a peer-reviewed study published in November, atmospheric conditions like the ones that led to these floods will become up to 80% more likely by the end of the century if carbon emissions are not reduced to keep global temperature within the goals of the Paris agreement.

Then there is a criticism of Australia’s inadequate climate targets.

I don’t deny the severity of the flooding, but a little history always helps to provide context. For instance, Wikipediaviii tells us:

Gundagai is a small rural town located on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River in the SouthWest Slopes region. The town was subject to flooding through a series of events during the 19th century. The Murrumbidgee has risen above 7 metres (23ft) at Gundagai nine times between 1852 and 2010, an average of just under once every eleven years. Since 1925, flooding has been minor with the exception of floods in 1974 and in December 2010, when the river rose to 10.2 metres (33ft) at Gundagai.

The Gundagai floods of 25 June 1852 were some of the worst to ever hit Australia. By 24 June the township was isolated and incredibly wet, with almost three weeks of heavy rain. It is believed that at least 89 people perished as a result of the flooding of the Murrumbidgee, the most Australia has ever seen from flooding. The number of residents living in Gundagai at that time was estimated to have been 250; accounting for at least 35 per cent of the population to be taken as a result of the floods. Following the 1852 floods, the town was rebuilt on higher ground.

In 1925, four people died and the flooding of the Murrumbidgee at Gundagai lasted for eight days. Major flooding occurred during March 2012 along the Murrumbidgee River including downriver of Gundagai at Wagga Wagga, where the river peaked at 10.56 metres (34.6ft) on 6 March 2012. This peak was 0.18 metres (0.59ft) below the 1974 flood level of 10.74 metres (35.2ft).

Heavy rain had fallen over much of eastern Australia from October 1954 when, on 23 February 1955, an intensifying monsoon depression moved south from Queensland. Torrential rain developed, particularly over the area of New South Wales from Warren to Cassilis. Rainfall totals exceeded 250 millimetres (9.8in) in 24 hours between Nevertire and Dunedoo, a phenomenal amount for this area. Heavy rains then moved east across the Liverpool Range and down the Hunter Valley. With intense rain falling on already saturated ground, the Hunter River, along with several westward-flowing rivers, soon reached unprecedented levels.

The Hunter Valley flood occurred on 23 February and resulted in 24 deaths, predominately in Singleton and Maitland. Five people lost their lives due to electrocution during rescue operations. A total of 7,000 buildings and homes were damaged. The total cost of the flood was approximately A$1.3 billion. The cleanup from the flood took months and as time passed homes were restored and businesses reopened.

Or you could watch the British Pathé Newsix to see footage of the 1949 New South Wales floods. The point is, tragic though the 2021 floods were in New South Wales, they are not unusual.

France: Warm winter and cold Spring wave

I won’t say too much about this, since I have already written on the subject in “Grapes of Wrathx”. Suffice to say that it follows the format that is used throughout the report, namely claim that a weather event is unusual and that it is damagingly expensive, blame it on climate change, then point out the level of greenhouse gas emissions in the country in question, and claim that it is not doing enough to reduce them. I did, however, love this paragraph (my emphasis):

A study conducted by the World Weather Attribution found that climate change increased the likelihood of this type of damaging cold waves by about 60%. The analysis showed that while global warming actually made the cold wave less likely, the high temperatures in the previous months made bud burst happen earlier in the year. During the bud burst stage, vineyards are especially susceptible to frosts.

I thought I would take a look at the study in question (“Human-caused climate change increased the likelihood of early growing period frost in France”xi), and was amazed to find this statement:

Overall, we conclude that human-caused climate change made the 2021 event 20% to 120% more likely.

Am I alone in thinking that such a range renders the findings meaningless?

India & Sri Lanka: Cyclone Tauktae

This section deals with another dreadful weather event, but as with much contained in this report, it is not an isolated or unusual event. We are told:

In May, tropical cyclone Tauktae formed in the Arabian Sea and moved towards the west coast of India, affecting also the Maldives and Sri Lanka. It was the strongest cyclone to make landfall in the state of Gujarat since 1999 [or 1998 if you get your information from Wikipediaxii].

The facts are awful:

At least 198 people died, including 71 from a barge owned by India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation that sank off the coast of Mumbai. In the state of Gujarat, more than 200,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes.

Sadly, however, there is nothing unusual going on here. The 1998/9 event was worse, as Wikipedia and Christian Aid both acknowledge. And this area has a long and tragic history in this regard:

According to a local newspaper websitexiii:

26 of the 35 deadliest tropical cyclones in world history have been Bay of Bengal storms, according to Jeff Masters, a meteorologist….

…The shape of the landmass of our eastern coast and the flat coastal plains make the coasts of AP and Odisha very susceptible to cyclone crossings…

…In the 19th century, three Very Severe cyclones struck Vizag, out of which the deadliest cyclone was in 1839. It caused over 300,000 fatalities and destroyed 20,000 ships.

In the 20th century, nine other cyclones of varying magnitudes hit the coast of Vizag till 1977.

In 1977, the severe cyclonic storm which hit Diviseema caused a major overhaul in the disaster management machinery of the state.

Nine other Very Severe to Super cyclones affected Vizag. In 1999, a very severe cyclonic storm and a super cyclone impacted Visakhapatnam. The first one only skirted the coast, moving northwards while the latter crossed the coast at Gopalpur on the AP-Odisha border. This was the most intense tropical cyclone ever to make landfall in the state of Odisha.

Interestingly, at this point, the Christian Aid report, although noting that India is currently the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, rushes to make the point that:

India’s historical contribution to carbon emissions is relatively small, especially considering the size of the country and its large population.

Do emissions matter or don’t they?

India & Bangladesh: Cyclone Yaas

In May, tropical cyclone Yaas formed in the Bay of Bengal and moved towards Bangladesh and India, forcing thousands of people to leave their homes and killing 19….. Economic losses were estimated at $3 billion and more than 1.2 million people living in low-lying areas had to leave their homes. In Odisha, more than 10,000 villages were damaged.

Horrendous, undoubtedly, especially when the report goes on to claim that “[t]he intensity of cyclones hitting the countries around the North Indian Ocean has been increasing over the last decades.”

However, a quick search of the internet brings us to our friend Wikipedia again, and its page on “Pre-1890 North Indian Ocean cyclone seasons”xiv.

If you’re interested, the page is worth a read to see the scale of the problems this area has faced since recorded time. It is a catalogue of immense damage and huge numbers of deaths. In order to put the Christian Aid report in context, I will quote some of the terrible events from the past:

1484 – A Cyclone struck Chittagong Coast of Bangladesh with Hurricane force winds, killing 200000 people

1582 – A tropical cyclone impacted the Sundarbans and West Bengal which killed 200,000 people. According to Banglapedia, a five-hour hurricane and thunderstorm destroyed houses and boats in the coast near Bakerganj

1584 – A tropical cyclone impacted Bangladesh and killed 200,000 people.

1699 – A tropical cyclone impacted Kolkata and killed 60,000 people.

The 1737 Calcutta cyclone, also known as the Hooghly River cyclone of 1737 or the Great Bengal cyclone of 1737, was the first super cyclone on record in North Indian Ocean regarded one of the worst natural disaster in India. It hit the coast near Kolkata on the morning of 11 October 1737 and presumably killed over 300,000 people inland and sea, and caused widespread catastrophic damage. The cyclone hit land over the Ganges River Delta, just southwest of Calcutta. Most deaths resulted from the storm surge and happened on the sea: many ships sank in the Bay of Bengal and an unknown number of livestock and wild animals were killed from the effects of the cyclone.

December 1789 – A tropical cyclone impacted Coringa, India and killed 20,000

1807 – A tropical cyclone impacted West Bengal and killed 90,000 people.

1833 – A tropical cyclone impacted West Bengal and killed around 50,000 people, with a record low of 891 milibar in North Indian Ocean, lowest over Indian Ocean

1839 India cyclone – A tropical cyclone impacted Andhra Pradesh, India on November 25, 1839 and killed around 300,000 people.

1847 – A tropical cyclone impacted Bengal where it caused 75,000 deaths and 6000 cattle

On October 5, a powerful cyclone hit near Calcutta, India, killing around 300,100 people. The anemometer in the city was blown away during the cyclone. Over 100 brick homes and tens of thousands of tiled and straw huts were leveled. Most ships in the harbor (172 out of 195) were either damaged or destroyed.

October 1874 Bengal cyclone – This severe cyclone killed 80,000 people and caused significant damage.

October 1876 Backergunge cyclone – On October 31, a cyclone hit the Meghna River Delta area of India. The storm surge killed 100,000, and the disease after the storm killed another 100,000.

Inevitably some of the numbers of deaths and estimates of damage in respect of cyclones in the distant past will be exaggerated estimates, but it is clear that this is an area of the world that has for centuries suffered devastation from cyclones. What particularly strikes me is the staggering number of deaths (even if they are exaggerated) in the past, at a time when the population of the area was significantly smaller than it is today. Whilst every one of the 19 lives lost in May 2021 is to be mourned, the astonishing thing (which the Christian Aid report never mentions) is the relatively small loss of life from weather/climate related events today compared to in the past.

Western & Central Europe: Floods

Extreme rainfall hit parts of Western Europe from 12-15 July, with some regions around the Ahr and Erft rivers in Germany experiencing more than 90mm of rainfall over a single day. The resulting floods killed at least 240 people and caused widespread damage, with economic losses estimated at more than $43 billion.

Again we are treated to the World Weather Attribution take on this event:

A study by World Weather Attribution concluded that climate change made extreme rainfall events similar to those that led to the floods in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg between 1.2 and 9 times more likely to happen, and that such downpours in the region are now 3-19% heavier because of human-caused warming.

First, and most obviously, the cost of the damage caused was bound to be immense, given the densely populated and extremely wealthy area of the world in which this event occurred.

Geoff Chambers has written about this event in “Up to Your Graun in Flood and Bullet Points”xv, so I won’t say much about it, other than to note some comments from The Limited Times website. Yet again, knowing something about history, this time the history of the Ahr Valley, helps to provide some useful context that is missing from the Christian Aid report and from the BBC article manufactured around it (apologies for the slightly clumsy English, resulting I think from it being translated from German – nevertheless it’s much better English than my German):

It is not the first time that the people in the region have been hit by a flood disaster…

…As early as the 14th century there were safeguard clauses against loss of land in the case of the Ahr flood…

…On July 21, 1804, one of the largest and most momentous floods occurred in Ahrweiler, which is described in detail in the chronicles. On this day, a strong thunderstorm after long-lasting rain in the days before, in the Hoch- and Ahreifel, caused the Ahr and its tributaries to swell within a very short time. A water level of 2.50 meters was measured in Antweiler. The tidal wave carried away everything that got in its way. 63 people lost their lives that day. 129 residential buildings and almost all 30 bridges in the affected area were torn away.

The night of June 12th to 13th, 1910, will always remain a sad memory in the history of the region. Continuous rainfall was followed by another violent storm, which turned the Ahr into a torrential river. The flood and its effect were reinforced by material from a railway line that was currently under construction. 52 people died, including many railroad workers who were swept away with their barracks and drowned.xvi

Of course, despite reductions in European greenhouse gas emissions, unlike the case of India, the third largest emitter in the world, not enough is being done – or so we are told.

China: Henan floods

In July, torrential rains in the Chinese province of Henan caused massive floods and the death of 302 people. More than 1 million people had to be relocated and hundreds of thousands lost their houses.

How, I wondered, will Christian Aid deal with the question of China’s massive greenhouse gas emissions and the lack of serious interest on the part of its leadership in reducing them. I should have known:

China is the world’s most populous country and currently the world’s largest emitter. It’s [sic] climate targets are classified as “highly insufficient” to meet the Paris Agreement by Climate Action Tracker. However, in cumulative terms and considering the country’s large size and population, China’s historical contribution to climate change is smaller than that of many rich countries. Last year, President Xi Jinping announced that the country’s emissions will peak by 2030 and it will become carbon neutral by 2060.

Barely a mild slap on the wrist. I repeat, is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions important or isn’t it? Furthermore, is it urgent or isn’t it? It seems remarkable to me that there’s only any urgency when it comes to developed nations, who are responsible for reducing and generally small amounts of global emissions, while the sense of urgency and guilt-loading evaporates when Christian Aid looks at the “developing” countries responsible for huge and growing amounts of emissions.

But what of the floods? Are they unusual? Is this a new phenomenon in China? Hardly. This report is one of many regarding the 1931 flood, possibly the worst of all time in China:

In 1931 Central China experienced a devastating flood that inundated an area equivalent in size of England and half of Scotland, affected the lives of an estimated 52 million people, and killed as many as 2 million. In Chinese this event is usually described as the Yangzi-Huai Flood (Jiang-Huai shuizai), yet the disaster was not limited to these two rivers. The Yellow River and Grand Canal also experienced major flooding, whilst there were lessor inundations from as far south as the Pearl River (Zhu Jiang), which flows through the city of Guangzhou (Canton), to as far north as the Songhua and Yalu Rivers, which flow to the north of Korea.xvii

Although the 1931 flood represented a tragedy on an awesome scale, China had a long history of floods before that. The Guangdong flood of 1885 is said to have killed more than 9,000 people. The Yellow River flood of 1898 is said to have drowned 2,000 people, left 100,000 homeless, and resulted in a famine that affected 2 million people.

The Jiangsu-Anhui flood of 1911 was a calamitous event that inundated a series of provinces in central and eastern China…Reports from Wuhu, Anhui, estimated 100,000 drowned and detailed water as deep as six feet in the town…Overall, an estimated 30,000 square miles of land was submerged.

The Zhejiang flood involved the flooding of the Wenzhou River in August 1912, devastating the surrounding area for a number of months. The main effects of the flood were felt in the south of Zhejiang, in Wenzhou and the surrounding areas, including Qingtian and Yunhe. With an estimated total death toll of around 220,000 the flood was described at the time by a newspaper based in nearby Shanghai as “one of the most devastating ever experienced.”

A little historical context always helps, I think.

Typhoon In-fa

This was a wide-reaching typhoon affecting several countries, including Japan, China and the Philippines. As for poor old Philippines:

While the country bears little responsibility for global warming, it is highly at risk from tropical cyclones, a situation that will worsen over the next few years due to climate change.

As for context, there is, as ever, a helpful Wikipedia page, entitled “List of Pacific typhoons before 1850”.xviii This article is already long enough without reciting them all, or even the most damaging and deadly ones to affect the Philippines and the wider Pacific region before 1850 (and that’s without examining those between, say, 1850 and 1950, which are much better documented). Suffice it to say, as Wikipedia tells us:

The list is very incomplete; information on early typhoon seasons is patchy and relies heavily on individual observations of travellers and ships. There were no comprehensive records kept by a central organisation at this early time.

This is a very important point. In today’s inter-connected world of smartphones, 24/7 news channels and the internet, we know instantly all about any 21st century weather event. How many in the past can only be guessed at or inferred as a result of the work of archaeologists? Nevertheless, despite the patchy nature of the historic records, we know of many dozens, if not hundreds of earlier typhoons and of hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by them.

US: Hurricane Ida

The report runs to just three paragraphs here, two of which are dedicated to telling us that “there has been an increase in the number of named storms since 1980” (my emphasis) and that the USA is the world’s largest historic contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and that its plans to reduce them are insufficient.

Paul Homewood has written an articlexix relevant to this section, so rather than re-invent the wheel, I direct the attention of the interested reader (if any of you are still with me this far in) to it.

Canada: British Columbia floods

This incident, occurring in November, is one of the few weather/climate events in the report that might be remarked on as truly unusual, with the history of known floods in British Columbia over the relatively brief period of “western” occupation being largely limited to summer incidents.

The Wikipedia pagexx on the “History of Flooding in Canada” makes an interesting comment on the 1948 Fraser River Flood, which was the second largest Fraser River flood on record (the largest was in 1894):

By this time, the Lower Fraser Valley was a highly developed agricultural area, with commercial and industrial development and the beginnings of residential development. As well, two transcontinental rail lines and the Trans-Canada Highway had been built through the valley, and the province’s major airport had been established in Richmond. Personal and financial impact was much greater than in 1894. Thousands of people were displaced and infrastructure, including bridges and roads, was significantly damaged.

Which is a rather neat way of returning to my original point – as the population of humans increases, as we become wealthier, as agriculture, commerce and industry develops, inevitably any weather-related event is going to cause damage with a higher value than events in the same location when it was less-developed. Which is why the new metric of choice by climate worriers is inappropriate (but, I suspect, deliberate).

Conclusion

The Christian Aid report is no doubt well-intentioned. However, it tells us nothing new, being simply a re-packaging of events that occurred through the year – a repeat of previous reports. In turn, it allows the mainstream media, notably the BBC, to repeat, ad nauseam, its propaganda about the “climate crisis”. There is little serious analysis, and a lot of quotes from a few favoured sources, such as Aon Insurance (with footnote links which don’t seem to work), World Weather Attribution, Carbon Brief and Climate Action Tracker. By and large, of course, they are all saying the same thing. Repeat after me…

Endnotes

i https://cliscep.com/2021/11/18/making-the-news/

ii https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-59761839

iii https://www.christianaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-12/Counting%20the%20cost%202021%20-%20A%20year%20of%20climate%20breakdown.pdf

iv https://seahorseenvironmental.co.uk/

v https://cliscep.com/2021/12/31/the-hedgehog-and-the-elephant/

vi https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/

vii https://climatexas.tamu.edu/products/severe-weather-summaries/1890s-texas-severe-weather.html

viii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floods_in_New_South_Wales

ix https://www.britishpathe.com/video/flood-disaster-in-new-south-wales

x https://cliscep.com/2021/11/07/grapes-of-wrath/

xi https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/human-caused-climate-change-increased-the-likelihood-of-early-growing-period-frost-in-france/

xii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Tauktae

xiii https://www.yovizag.com/history-of-cyclones-in-visakhapatnam/

xiv https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-1890_North_Indian_Ocean_cyclone_seasons

xv https://cliscep.com/2021/07/17/up-to-your-graun-in-flood-and-bullet-points/

xvi https://newsrnd.com/news/2021-07-20-ahrweiler-again-and-again—the-region-has-already-been-hit-by-flood-disasters-several-times.r1BmilVA_.html

xvii https://disasterhistory.org/central-china-flood-1931

xviii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Pacific_typhoons_before_1850

xix https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2022/01/04/bbcs-hurricane-misinformation/

xx https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_flooding_in_Canada

14 Comments

  1. Paul,

    Charitable donations are increasingly a minefield. I dare say Christian Aid still does a lot of good, and I wouldn’t seek to deter anyone from donating to them – charitable donations inevitably should be a matter of personal choice. We seek out smaller charities without top-heavy director and executive salaries, without a political agenda, and which we hope are doing good. This year our Christmas donation in lieu of cards went to the Fishermen’s Mission.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mark,

    As your article points out, in the absence of context, the analysis offered by Christian Aid must be thrown onto the tottering heap of climate change PR. What is really needed is an analysis that enables a risk reduction decision to be taken and this requires a serious cost benefit analysis. To that end, one has to quantify the expected value and costs of preventing the anticipated increase in damage caused by global warming. Attribution science helps in this regard but, whilst the findings of attribution studies are mentioned in the CA analysis, there seems to be no recognition that it is not the full value of damage caused by an extreme event that matters, rather only the percentage of the value that can be attributed. For example, a 50% increase in the likelihood of a particular weather event means that only 50% of the damage can be attributed. Expected value calculations are being made by insurance companies (based upon probability of sufficiency) and, no doubt, are being taken into account when determining future insurance premiums.

    When it comes to the acceptable costs of risk reduction, it is natural for established communities to concentrate upon impact mitigation measures. However, when deciding upon the locations for future development, risk avoidance remains an option at the community level (the same is true for established communities in those circumstances where relocation remains an economically viable alternative). However, global approaches to risk avoidance are massively expensive since that requires the removal of the threat in terms of the emission of greenhouse gases. Constructing a plausible cost benefit analysis based upon that approach is hugely problematic, but that doesn’t appear to trouble the likes of Christian Aid and others who think that all you need to manage a risk is PR.

    Also, let’s talk about uncertainty and what that does to the credibility of cost benefit analyses…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mark, thanks for reading this report so that I don’t have to. Am I saying this because I don’t want to be exposed to evidence of climate breakdown, or whatever we’re calling it this week? I don’t think so.

    It’s more that if something is obviously wrong, whether through stupidity, ignorance, or plain bias, I’ll lose patience with it straight away.

    Which brings me to the authors. As you have pointed out, they have made a series of omissions which, if included, would have undermined the entire report. First that deaths from extreme weather are now much lower than in decades past. Second that if you switch to a new metric (money), everything needs to be transformed so that like is compared with like. In the historical examples you give, people had nothing of value but were mown down in their thousands by these weather events. We are now all richer even in the absence of inflation. And as you point out, our footprints are much larger. A railway line washed away today was not there to be washed away in 1699. And yet the enormous numbers of victims have steadily dwindled.

    What is the point of commissioning a report that says “everything is terrible” when in fact “everything is better than it has ever been”? From Christian Aid’s view, they should surely want to devote their effort to where it is most needed rather than pursuing climate phantoms. This report only advances their cause if their audience is ignorant/foolish. The authors should have the integrity to place the present in the context of the past and not to place a generous thumb on the scales.

    Extreme poverty is terrible. It is not inevitable. Trying to “fix” the climate is no answer to it at all.

    Final point. It is either stupid, ignorant or a lie to draw a line between these disasters and the climate policies of the countries that were their victims. Everyone swims in the same deep water. For some reason (to jump to a different metaphor) the authors of this document love to kick the runt.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jit,

    I think there are two questions to be addressed here:

    1) Given that deaths related to extreme weather events are at an unprecedented low, why are we claiming there to be a modern-day crisis?

    2) Given that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are said to be responsible for a higher likelihood of extreme weather events, how much should we be doing to address the increased risk that this higher likelihood represents?

    To answer these questions I think there are a number of factors that should be born in mind. Firstly, particularly with regard to the first question, we need to recognise that risk tolerance changes over time. As standards of health and welfare increase, so do expectations. Consequently, risk aversion kicks in. Just because higher mortality was tolerated in the past, that does not necessarily establish the threshold by which current risk should be judged. Secondly, the focus tends to be upon the future rather than the past (as I glibly remarked under Richard’s recent article, it is the future deaths that tend to be the scary ones). Consequently, the question being asked is how much increase in risk are we prepared to tolerate for a given benefit. The established narrative now seems to be that the increase in risk now outweighs the benefits, i.e. even though current levels of risk are low, they are destined to increase and we prefer the risk levels to stay where they are (so-called status quo bias). Those that make such arguments are also keen to point out that damage functions are likely to be non-linear as the impact of greenhouse emissions unfolds.

    So to add to my previous comment, I should emphasise that, in addition to focusing upon calculations of cost and benefit, one should recognise that risk perception, perspective, issues of stakeholder justice and societal appetite for risk all play a role in risk management decision-making. That said, I’m sure we are agreed that the Christian Aid analysis is typical of the context-free PR that is currently driving the debate.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. JIT: “What is the point of commissioning a report that says “everything is terrible” when in fact “everything is better than it has ever been”? From Christian Aid’s view, they should surely want to devote their effort to where it is most needed rather than pursuing climate phantoms. This report only advances their cause if their audience is ignorant/foolish. The authors should have the integrity to place the present in the context of the past and not to place a generous thumb on the scales.”

    I understand (and share) the frustration. But I suspect that if the report is commissioned by believers, enacted by believers, for an audience that is largely believers, then in that context not only is everyone happy, but likely it’ll optimise their grants / offsets / co-operative partnerships and overall funding, plus they’ll even go home with a clean conscience because that thumb on the scale is likely to have been due largely to enormous bias from belief in climate doom, and not deliberately dishonest intent. Whether their belief also causes them to spend their optimal funds on fixing the climate rather than actually helping the poor, requires a look at their books. But I presume one of the issues of all that big partying of belief with all and sundry, is that some of the funding may have climate strings.

    Seconded on Mark’s efforts, a marathon this time. I get the feeling with much of this stuff that the vast and swiftly growing pile of reports has a circular aspect; they each increasingly reference similar reports, so encouraging more and more drift from reality. I guess some fancy software may be able to track the connections.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. John Ridgway says:

    “Mark,

    As your article points out, in the absence of context, the analysis offered by Christian Aid must be thrown onto the tottering heap of climate change PR. What is really needed is an analysis that enables a risk reduction decision to be taken and this requires a serious cost-benefit analysis.”

    Sorry, but no. If you play that tit-for-tat game all you will get is your own square on Willard’s bingo sheet:

    …but Risk Assessment.

    A much more profitable approach might be to address the more philosophical bedrocks of the Green movements, such as:

    ‘The world would be a much better place with less technology’

    Or more fundamentally, but darker:

    ‘The world would be a much better place without humans’

    Like

  7. Bill,

    Actually, I’m not interested in playing anyone’s game, tit-for-tat or otherwise. I’m simply pointing out the rationality that accompanies risk management, and since formulating climate change policy is undeniably a question of making risk-based decisions under uncertainty, then that is the rationality that should apply. If individuals such as Willard are prepared to object to this by proclaiming But Rationality, then I would end up struggling to be less bothered. Having said that, I am well aware that rationality plays a minor role in many people’s thinking on this subject. More specifically, I fully accept your suggestion that a kickback against the Enlightenment lies behind a lot of environmentalist ideology.

    Like

  8. Thank you for the comments, interesting all.

    My take is that I have no doubt that the people at Christian Aid are sincere and well-meaning. Speaking personally, however, I think they are dead wrong. I find it bitterly disappointing that the amount of money spent in a year on the salaries (plus employers’ NI, pension contributions, IT equipment etc) of the two people who prepared their report (and all the expenses associated with employing them and the work they carry out), the additional costs of their association with Aon Insurance, etc etc (which collectively I assume amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds) is not going to help the poor of the world. There is so much money sloshing around climate change propaganda these days that this effort by Christian Aid should be regarded as surplus to “requirements”. If I donated to Christian Aid I would be upset to see so much money being diverted from the poorest in the world into middle class western pockets. Especially when the report adds nothing new to the sum of humanity’s knowledge and can safely be regarded as propaganda.

    As I said in an earlier comment, charitable giving is a very personal matter. My personal view is that I object to this sort of stuff, which I regard as a waste of resources. There are many small charities struggling to do good work who would give their eye teeth for an annual income at the level of the money thrown at the Christian Aid report and its authors last year. Speaking personally, I would rather donate to such small charities without large overheads, and the likes of Oxfam and Christian Aid haven’t seen any of my money for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Andy West – “I get the feeling with much of this stuff that the vast and swiftly growing pile of reports has a circular aspect; they each increasingly reference similar reports, so encouraging more and more drift from reality. I guess some fancy software may be able to track the connections.”

    I share that feeling. If only we had the fancy software!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. thanks for a great post Mark which sums up my feelings exactly.
    ps- reply box is now useless – can’t see what I type – have to move to Edge I suppode !!!

    Like

  11. Dougie, thanks for your kind words.

    Sorry to hear about your difficulties with the reply box. I don’t have a problem with it whether on a laptop or a smartphone, but perhaps someone else here, more IT aware than me, might be able to comment and help.

    Like

  12. It appears that this (financial cost of weather events) is the reporting metric du jour:

    “US hit by 20 separate billion-dollar climate disasters in 2021, NOAA report says
    Year was third-costliest extreme weather year on record with affected communities spread from coast to coast”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jan/11/us-hit-by-20-separate-billion-dollar-climate-disasters-in-2021-noaa-report-says

    “The US was battered by 20 separate billion-dollar climate and weather disasters in 2021, one of the most catastrophic climate years on record which led to at least 688 deaths, according to the annual report of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    Damage from the year’s 20 most costly disasters, which included thousands of wildfires burning across western states, frigid temperatures and hail storms in Texas, tornadoes in the south-east, and tropical storms saturating the east coast, totaled around $145bn.

    This makes 2021 the third costliest extreme weather year on record, with four tropical storms – Elsa, Fred, Ida and Nicholas – accounting for just over half the total price tag.”

    And:

    “Disaster tracking by NOAA shows that the average number of annual billion-dollar events over the past five years was 17.2 compared with just 5.3 during the 1990s. The staggering costs from the mega-disasters between 2017 and 2021 totaled almost $750bn.”

    The same of lack of context appears in the reporting, of course. No doubt they go down this route because they can’t say that 2021 was the hottest anything anywhere. Not in Europe, certainly, and not in the USA either:

    “Overall, the US saw its fourth-hottest year on record fueled by historic highs in December (beating 2015) that produced spring-like temperatures on parts of the east coast.”

    Like

  13. Notice the alternation between disasters attributed to weather and to climate. It’s almost as if Guardian environment writers cannot distinguish between these words. It’s all grist for the climate change mill. Bet those with an interest in history don’t get hired.

    Like

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