From the September 2012 issue of Claims Magazine • Subscribe!

Linking Drought, Extreme Weather to Global Warming

The factors driving the drought conditions that cause crops—and insurer profits—to wither are the subject of heated debate these days. For years, the P&C industry and scientific community have discussed the possibility of global warming as a major culprit behind severe weather events, and by extension, significant catastrophe losses. Well, new findings from government scientists and a Nobel laureate known for his environmental advocacy are strengthening that connection.

In a July, 2012 report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientists concluded that “recent extreme weather events are likely connected to man-made climate change.” Based on 50 years of weather data, the analysis specifically linked last year’s southwestern drought to temperature fluctuations.

“The drought in Texas in 2011 was made roughly 20 times more likely because of manmade climate change, specifically warming that comes from greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide,” the NOAA explained. 

Addressing members of the world’s largest scientific society at a Philadelphia, Penn. conference held in late August, Nobel Laureate Mario J. Molina, Ph.D., echoed the NOAA’s assertion. When presenting his research at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Molina noted that although it was impossible to say with “absolute certainty” that global warming is causing extreme weather, new evidence from “the last year or so definitely strengthens the link.”

“People may not be aware that important changes have occurred in the scientific understanding of the extreme weather events that are in the headlines,” Molina said. “They are now more clearly connected to human activities, such as the release of carbon dioxide­­­­—the main greenhouse gas—rom burning coal and other fossil fuels.”

Prior to being assigned by President Obama to form part of the transition team on environmental issues, Molina was a co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his role in illuminating the threat of chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFCs) to the Earth’s ozone layer. 

Molina added that even if the scientific evidence continues to fall short of the “absolute certainty measure,” that heat, drought, severe storms and other weather events may prove beneficial in enhancing public awareness.

Pegging climate change as a much more “pervasive” and “polarizing” issue compared to the ozone depletion problem, Molina urged scientists to not only communicate the facts underlying climate change more clearly but to also continue working with engineers to develop cheap alternative energy sources that would ostensibly reduce the current dependence on fossil fuels.

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