Costly Natural Disasters: A Matter of Where We Live

Tornadoes ravaged the Midwest in 2011, costing nearly $27.5 billion.

I’m just going to come right out and say it. The record breaking number of costly natural disasters in 2011 is not just a coincidence.

The average number of natural disasters that cost the United States over $1 billion each annually has steadily been trending upwards since the 1980s. In fact, based on records kept by the National Climatic Data Center, the average number of annual $1 billion-plus natural disasters has tripled since then (from about two per year to six).

Now this is the part of the blogpost when I would normally fault the human race and our incessant contribution to climate change because of our big cars and wasteful habits. While I cannot deny that we need to start altering our lifestyles in ways that would leave a less harmful impact on the environment, climate change is only part of the story when discussing the radical increase in these costly natural disasters.

According to an article published in Scientific American, only one-thirds of the global cost of natural disasters can be attributed to disasters that were the result of climate change:

Passage from Scientific American (January 10th, 2012)

In the case of these two disasters, the costly damage can be attributed to population growth in areas that are known to be vulnerable to such disasters.

But wait…these examples are both international. Surely this wouldn’t happen in the United States. Wrong. In this country, we also have a tendency to build in at risk areas and this is an extremely costly decision.

In Matthew Kahn’s book, Climatopolis, he argues that one of the major issues that the United States will face as a result of climate change is that people who live in at risk urban centers will all be forced to move because of the continuous damaged caused by catastrophic weather events.

This is not something that will happen in the future. This is happening now.

Year in and year out, the same part of the United States experiences costly damage as a result of natural disasters. Of the ten $1 billion-plus natural disasters between January and August of this year, half of them were caused by severe weather in states bordering or near the Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Jeanne

Image Courtesy of Kakela
Hurricane Jeanne, 2004

This is nothing new. The top five at-risk states directly border the Gulf of Mexico and pay billions of dollars annually because of hurricane damage.

If you ask me, and many experts, it is time for us to reconsider where we are building (and re-building) our cities.

And in case you were wondering, we are currently on pace to outdo last year’s record of 14 billion dollar-plus natural disasters.




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You should follow me on Twitter: @esoser

3 thoughts on “Costly Natural Disasters: A Matter of Where We Live

  1. pakcl says:

    Thanks for bridging the oft-lost connection between the rising number of costly natural disasters and where and how we’re building our cities with the appropriate statistics. I never really connected the two before.

    I always appreciate your voice shining through your posts. It makes me want to continue reading what you have to say.

    Your last sentence frightens me actually… with Hurricane Sandy last week and yesterday’s snowstorm in the Northeast… “The Day After Tomorrow” comes to mind.

    Kudos for citing class reading! Matthew Kahn would be proud.

  2. shivansarna says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post, because your personality comes through. The first line brings the reader in immediately and gets him or her thinking. And again, with the last sentence you leave the reader hanging and like Clara mentioned, kind of frightened. Overall, very informative post!

  3. Hi Ethan,

    Great opening line – it definitely hooked me in with its provocative tone. I like your voice in the piece and the information you use. The links and photos are good, but keep an eye on formatting so that the post is visually pleasing. Nice job incorporating the readings too.


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