You’ve seen it on the news: Wildfires continue to pop up on the West Coast as drought conditions in states such as California, Oregon, and Arizona persist, and the devastating Australian bush fires are finally subsiding. Many scientists and mainstream news sources are quick to draw false conclusions that climate change is causing these wildfires or at least making them worse than they normally would be. In reality, climate change has nothing to do with these disasters.
Let’s start with California as a case study. Humans cause 95% of fires the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection responds to. In fact, the wildfires that caused California’s recent forced blackouts were caused by missed safety upgrades to their electric grid. Their severity is primarily due to the suppression of smaller fires and a decline in responsible forest management practices, not due to unusually hot or dry weather.
Many allege that the intensity and number of droughts will only increase in coming years due to climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. However, the United States as a whole has seen no discernible increase in overall extreme dry or wet conditions over the past 50 years. Overall, the lower 48 has been wetter since 1980 than it was during the first part of the 20th century.
In fact, the most widespread droughts in the mainland United States occurred during the 1930s and 1950s. This period, often referred to as the Dust Bowl, occurred prior to the significant increase in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. If climate change is indeed causing droughts, why is the country not experiencing worsening drought conditions as temperatures have risen since then?
Similarly, while some claim that climate change causes more frequent severe storms, extreme weather has not been on the rise in recent years. The number of hurricanes that have made landfall in the United States each year since the late 1800s has been quite stagnant. Since the late 1930s, the 36 costliest U.S. hurricanes clearly represent a downward trend in intensity.
There is also no evidence that storm intensity has increased over the years. The Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) Index — which measures cyclone strength, frequency, and duration — shows that tropical cyclone intensity reached during the 1950s and 1960s is almost the same as during the 1990s and 2000s. If climate change was really exacerbating the severity of natural disasters, why are we not seeing an increase in cyclone activity and strength?
Many also claim that hurricanes and other natural disasters are getting worse are calculated using the cost of damages. Although the cost to rebuild after severe storms has increased significantly over the past several decades, the magnitude of severe storms has not. As society evolves, cities develop more densely, and more people move to coastal regions (with 3.6 million new acres of coastal land developed between 1996 and 2010), it understandably becomes more expensive to repair high-end buildings and infrastructure.
What matters more in this conversation is the human cost of storms — and there’s good news to celebrate. Fewer people than ever lose their lives to climate-related natural disasters, with global deaths declining 98.9% in the last century. Contrary to the popular narrative, humanity is becoming more resilient to severe weather, not less.
Disaster resiliency and preparedness are serious concerns our elected leaders should prioritize. However, recent data does not support the assertion that greenhouse gas emissions will worsen severe weather. The destruction inflicted by disastrous storms is not manmade, but rather part of natural weather cycles. Such claims are simply another misleading tactic to spread climate alarmism and promote ineffective and expensive government mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.