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Climate History: Exploring Climate Events and Human Development
The Past 10 Years
Image of ice stormThe 1990s seemed to have a little of everything in terms of weather and climate. Between severe storms- including the "Perfect Storm" on which a book (Junger, 1997) and movie have been based- flooding, fires, blizzards, a warm El Niño event in 1997-1998, a cool La Niña, and record-breaking high temperatures in many areas, the "roaring 90s" caused many billions of dollars of damage to property and commerce, while hundreds of thousands lost their lives in such events.

Some experts have suggested that global warming and climate change is the cause of these Image showing damage of hurricane Andrewhigher rates of damage. However, Roger Pielke, Jr. of the CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research suggests human complacency and population growth is more the cause for higher rates of damage rather than an increase in natural disasters or climate change.

"The period 1991-1994 was the LEAST active four year period for hurricane activity in at least a century (Landsea et al. 1995). It was also the MOST costly in terms of economic impacts (due primarily to Andrew). A significant amount of Andrew's damages has been attributed to complacency about hurricanes in the US due to relatively depressed frequencies over the past several decades. Thus it would seem that fewer extreme events is not always "better" from an impacts standpoint."

In his 1999 book Disasters by Design: A ReassessImage of trees after wildfirement of Natural Hazards in the United States, Dennis Mileti of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado notes that in the United States, (where the cost of natural hazards has averaged as much as $1 billion a week in the 1990s,) when steps were taken to reduce the impact of natural hazards, it can actually make situations worse.

"The really big catastrophes are getting larger and will continue to get larger, partly because of things we've done in the past to reduce risk," states Mileti. "For example, building a dam or levee may protect a community from the small- and medium sized floods the structures were designed to handle. But additional development that occurs because of this protection wilImage of aftermath of blizzard from FEMAl mean even greater losses during a big flood that causes the dam or levee to fail. Many of the accepted methods for coping with hazards have been based on the idea that people can use technology to control nature to make them safe," he adds.

Mileti led a study team of 132 experts to evaluate what is known about natural hazards and come up with ways to reduce their social and economic costs. The study was funded through the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Engineering Directorate, with assistance from The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the US Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report calls on community leaders to "design future disasters" for Image of Mississippi flood in 1993their communities, actually setting the number of deaths, injuries and dollar losses that they are willing to accept - and take responsibility for in predicting the possibility for extreme disasters to their community during the next 100 to 200 years.

Mileti said, "We need to change the culture to think about designing communities for our great grandchildren's children's children."


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