La Niña Roars, Unleashing Fire, Drought and Floods Worldwide

Climate Change Contributed to More Than 70 Natural Disasters Since 2015

One of President Joe Biden’s first actions after his inauguration Wednesday was signing an executive order to rejoin the Paris climate agreement.

There’s no time to waste in the fight against global warming, and here’s one number that drives it home: 76. That’s how many disasters and temperature anomalies scientists have demonstrated were made more likely or intensified by climate change from 2015 to 2020, from Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented flooding in Texas to extreme heat that played a role in the catastrophic Australian bushfires.

When we wrote about the stress and trauma of living in areas with repeated hurricanes, flooding and wildfires, we heard from people who want the country to reflect on that deeper question. 

The sobering statistic was in a recent report from the medical journal The Lancet that focuses on the warming climate’s impact on our health and wellbeing. Researchers also pointed to rising deaths from extreme heat and an increasing caseload of diseases that flourish in warmer conditions.

Our “Hidden Epidemics” series with Columbia Journalism Investigations has looked at those very dangers. We wanted to know how the government prepared for and responded to them, and what we found was inexcusably weak.

Though the federal government was discussing the health risks of a warming planet at least as far back as the 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t begin to focus on the problem until 2009. That’s when it launched a climate program to help state and local health departments safeguard their residents…

La Niña Roars, Unleashing Fire, Drought and Floods Worldwide

A man rides his bicycle past flood waters during heavy rain showers in Hai Lang district in central Vietnam’s Quang Tri province on October 16, 2020. (Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP) (Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images)

La Nina has peaked as the world is already reeling from a deluge of extreme weather, including a record number of Atlantic storms, an all-time high acreage burn in California and one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded. Weather-related disasters cost the world about $210 billion in 2020, according to insurer Munich Re.

Many of those violent storms were fueled, at least in part, by global warming. Yet so far there isn’t any evidence climate change has changed La Nina, Michelle L’Heureux, a forecaster at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said. Studies suggest it could have an impact by the end of the century…

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