What a Disaster (2)

By now, astute readers of the “research paper that kills off Climate Change damages” will have noticed the classic Roger Pielke Jr-ism contained within its inner sanctum rationale :-



Let’s spell it out :-

What do you get when you compare an exponentially rising trend (economic losses from Climate Change damage) with another two exponentially rising trends (human population growth and economic development), and use the last two to factor away the first ?

That’s right – no trend at all !

Also, I can’t believe that this paper passed peer-review because of the following rather questionable circumstances :-

1. Drought is apparently not included in the analysis

“Economic impacts from drought are not well recorded, and no study on drought losses is available.”

2. No possible causative link between Global Warming and earthquakes appears to have been considered.

“Losses from disasters not related to weather, such as earthquake losses, have also increased (Vranes and Pielke 2009), although at lower rates than many weather-related hazards.”

The paper does include a catch-all caveat that the future may be different from the past : “Studies that project future losses may give a better indication of the potential impact of climate change on disaster losses and needs for adaptation, than the analysis of historical losses.”

However, by now, the inaccurate summary that “Climate Change is not causing any losses” has probably circled the globe three times over and there’s little that can be done to contain it.

Colleagues will fall out over it. Family fights will ensue. Let’s face it : one of the reasons I read and write about Climate Change is to try to avoid having arguments with my uncle over Christmas lunch. Any little incorrect semi-factoid is grist to that particular mill. So any nonsense I can correct during the year is going to temper the temper over the nut roast and parsnip soup. This research paper looks like it’s going to be the vehicle for a whole mountain of denial. It’s rising in the sceptic-denier-sphere charts as a top hot piece of work, so it needs rebuttal.

Yes, it’s hard to know from history whether extreme weather events are now more extreme and more frequent. But in the recent past things have been getting a lot worse. It’s no good smoothing over statistics such as these :-

“Analyses by insurance companies of past disaster losses show that direct economic losses have increased, in particular the losses that are due to weather related hazards, such as floods, droughts, storms, and landslides (Munich Re 2010).”

What happens to people that get flooded out of their land ? They re-locate. It’s not a “location choice”, it’s a “relocation necessity”, so this is a bit specious :-

“…location choices, such as settlement in coastal zones and flood plains have influenced exposure to flooding, landslides and windstorms…”

For a piece of research that attempts to address irregular weather, it is surprising that weather event are spread out through a year, or normalised over time :-

“The general approach taken in these studies is to correct or normalize (Pielke and Landsea 1998) the original economic losses for inflation, and changes in exposure and vulnerability that are related to growth in population and wealth. This correction shows losses as if all disasters occurred in the same year, i.e. with same exposure assets.”

“If after normalization no long-term trend is found in the loss record, it is unlikely that anthropogenic climate change has made an impact.”

As the infrastructure of countries such as Pakistan, as they are progressively swept away by repeated Climate Change-related extreme weather events, there will be less assets that are insurable (because of repeated flooding) and less policyholders so clearly, less will become liable to claim, which undermines this :-

“When records of insured losses are used, the records are usually corrected for change in insurance portfolio (number of policyholders), and changes in insurance conditions (cover, deductibles).”

Countries where there is much wealth and much infrastructure usually have the largest amount of assets insured, so the data will be inevitably weighted :-

“…the trend of 2% increase per decade they found is very sensitive to the correct adjustment of these losses, which are dominated by hurricane losses in the USA in 2004 and 2005. Population and wealth increases in that country play a dominant role in the dataset (Miller et al. 2008).”

The Korean economy as a whole has gotten wealthier, but you can’t use this to offset Climate Change-related damage, can you ?

“Chang et al. (2009) found an increase in flood damage in six Korean cities since 1971, resulting from extreme precipitation in summer and deforestation, but corrected only for changes in population and not for wealth increases”

Another exponentially increasing trend of late has been income in developing nations – so plotting increasing weather damage against increasing income is not going to show anything significant – the income has to be adjusted over time to its proper purchasing power parity before you can even claim any comparison.

That’s only 13 pages out of 26 : I still can’t believe any of this was not picked up during peer review, I really can’t.

A small note on economics and the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. They are doing massive construction of their campus…and what do they need ? “Partners”. And who might those partners be ?


“De VU onderzoekt de mogelijkheden om met diverse partners te komen tot de aanleg van een VU-kwartier op de Zuidas. De uitkomst van dat onderzoek kan uiteraard van invloed zijn op het doorgaan van deze plannen.”


A university that’s strapped for cash with a large Economics department ? Hmm. I think there’s scope for a little background research, here.

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