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Treacherous Times
Eight graphs show us how climate change is making the world more dangerous.

This post originally appeared at The Guardian. OnEarth is part of the Guardian Environment Network.

Forget the future. The world is already nearly five times as dangerous and disaster prone as it was in the 1970s, because of the increasing risks brought by climate change, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization.

The first decade of the 21st century saw 3,496 natural disasters from floods, storms, droughts, and heat waves. That was nearly five times as many disasters as the 743 catastrophes reported during the 1970s—and all of those weather events are influenced by climate change.

The bottom line: natural disasters are occurring nearly five times as often as they were in the 1970s. But some disasters—such as floods and storms—pose a bigger threat than others. Flooding and storms are also taking a bigger bite out of the economy. And heat waves are an emerging killer.

1. We're going to need a bigger boat (or flood defenses…).
Flooding and megastorms were by far the leading cause of disaster between 2000 and 2010. About 80 percent of the 3,496 disasters of that decade were due to flooding and storms. Seas are rising because of climate change. So are extreme rainstorms, and there is growing evidence that warming temperatures are increasing the destructive force of hurricanes.


Dark blue: floods. Light blue: mass movement wet. Green: storms.
Yellow: drought. Magenta: extreme temperature. Orange: wildfires.


2. Heat waves are the new killer.
Heat waves didn't even register as a threat in the 1970s. But by 2010, they were one of the leading causes of deaths in natural disasters, along with storms. In Russia alone, more than 55,000 people died during a heat wave in 2010.


Dark blue: floods. Light blue: mass movement wet. Green: storms.
Yellow: drought. Magenta: extreme temperature. Orange: wildfires.

3. Floods are getting more costly.
Disasters were about 5.5 times more expensive by 2010 than they were in the 1970s, and most of that increase was due to severe floods. The cost of disasters has risen to $864 billion in the last decade.


Dark blue: floods. Light blue: mass movement wet. Green: storms.
Yellow: drought. Magenta: extreme temperature. Orange: wildfires.

4. Between 1970 and 2012, nearly all of the 8,835 disasters (about 89 percent) worldwide were due to flooding and storms.



5. But during that same period, storms were by far the bigger threat to life, accounting for about 1.45 million of the 1.94 million global disaster deaths. Drought was the next big killer, mainly because of the horrific toll of the famine in Africa during the 1980s.

6. About half of the $2,390.7 billion cost of disasters over the last 40 years was due to storms, with Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy accounting for $196.9 billion of those damages.



7. Droughts in East Africa during the 1970s and 1980s were the deadliest disasters of modern times, killing 600,000 people in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somalia, and Sudan. (Storms, however, were deadlier for Bangladesh.)

8. Hurricanes and other severe storms are taking an increasing toll on the U.S. economy. Five of the costliest global disasters between 1970 and 2012 occurred in the United States. Storms were responsible for all five, causing a total of $294 billion in damage.

This post originally appeared at The Guardian. OnEarth is part of the Guardian Environment Network.

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image of Suzanne Goldenberg
Suzanne Goldenberg is the U.S. environment correspondent of the Guardian newspaper and is based in Washington, D.C. She has won several awards for her work in the Middle East and in 2003 covered the U.S. invasion of Iraq from Baghdad. She is the author of Madam President about Hillary Clinton's historic run for the White House. MORE STORIES ➔