Thursday, October 12, 2017

Welcome to Disasterland

I was talking to Colin, my next-door neighbor, yesterday about the impact of Hurricane Irma on the Everglades. As a U.S. Park Service biologist, Colin has spent many hours in the Everglades. He  unequivocally stated that the wildlife in the Everglades was seriously harmed by Irma. Yet, the Everglades took the hit for much of the human habitation on Florida's west coast. In a few decades, that won't be the situation since the Everglades will be swamped by rising seas.

Irma was a big hurricane that could have caused a lot more damage, especially if it had tracked up the eastern side of the state. As it turns out, the cost is estimated at $60 billion, yet we haven't figured in the cost of ecosystem damage that, due to threshold effects like loss of the entire Everglades, will precipitate from this and subsequent storms and temperature rise.

Ecosystem services aside, the cost of natural disasters is increasing. Driven in large part by overpopulation and also by global warming, the cost trend has been swooping upward over the past several decades. The relevant graph in the preceding link is the one above the caption: "Overall losses and insured losses 1980-2016 (in USD bn)." It shows trend lines for uninsured and insured losses superimposed over the loss figures for each year. 2017 looks like it will be consistent with that trend.

A dramatic graphic that shows how 2017 is shaping up in the U.S. came out after Hurricane Harvey. Since then, we've had Irma, Maria, and wildfires in California. Note that the yellow semi-circles on this reticulated timeline, denoting wildfires, are the second biggest in terms of average cost per occurrence. My guess is that one yellow semi-circle this year will exceed any on this chart.

Figures that put Harvey and Irma together at $150 billion are enough to nearly exceed the global total of losses for 2016. Maria, the Mexico earthquake, California's fires, and who knows what else will send 2017 way over that mark. Markets may falter as the effects compound. My prediction made three years ago of a major financial seizure in 2017 could well turn out to be accurate.

Richard Heinberg sees, in Puerto Rico, a teachable moment about how the limits to growth will eventually treat all places in much the same way as Maria did P.R., forcing us all to adjust our thinking about what is achievable and sustainable. We may not all be made homeless by wildfires, hurricanes, or earthquakes, but we will still suffer from collapse of financial and infrastructural systems we have come to rely upon. Take heed and prepare for a simpler way of living.

Photoshopped photo by Elliot Margolies

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