Is the climate getting “worse”?

December 13, 2017 0 Comments

Subjective experience is so…subjective.

What is great for one person or group can be horrible for another. I asked a subjective question in a blog entry last year “What is a good climate?“. Related to this is the question “Is the climate getting worse”?

This is very difficult to answer, because “worse” and “better” are subjective terms. Most people would say “worse” because there is a constant barrage of apocalyptic climate news online and on TV. From record warm months and years to melting glaciers and rising seas, everything that is happening is portrayed as awful – going from terrible to worse. It is a known psychological bias that we pay much more attention to negative news than positive news. Some people claim we pay 10 times more attention to negative news.

I don’t know about you, but when I woke up this morning everything was pretty good – at my house, in my neighborhood, in the state, and in the country. In fact, this year might rank up near the top, as far as weather goes. For the second year in a row, I did not need to water my garden. Last winter was not too cold. This past Summer was not very hot. There is no shortage of food. I have all the basic necessities for a comfortable life. If the climate is getting worse, it hasn’t affected me or most of human society very much, as of yet.

Deaths from natural disasters are going down

Now some of you will want to remind me about all of the devastating hurricanes and other bad weather this year, maybe making the case that there is a lot of horrible weather, just that it did not occur right here or nearby. Yes, there were some record-breaking hurricanes this year, but overall, it was much less deadly than decades in the past…by a large margin. The annual death rate from natural disasters has gone down precipitously since the early 20th century. Weather disasters are causing a bit more financial loss, but they are much less deadly than in the past, thanks to improved technology, forecasting, and warning systems.

Undernourishment is in steady decline

What about food? Don’t we hear a lot about food shortages and how the climate is changing so fast that we can’t, or soon won’t be able to, grow food in many places. In contrast to what you might have heard, there is no shortage of food in the world (yet). Considering the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and many industrialized nations, one could argue there is too much food! But what about poor regions of the world? World-wide undernourishment has been in steady decline for several decades now. Most famines in the present day are due to political problems and war, not because the climate is “bad”. We can see this trend in U.S. agricultural output as well. Year after year, in spite of periodic droughts, serious flooding, or harsh winters, agricultural efficiency and output continue to climb.

Even the financial condition of the world continues to get better. The poorest people on earth are getting richer faster than almost everyone else.

According to data from humanprogress.org, this year will likely be the best year ever for the “average” human on the planet.

So for human society, anthropogenic climate changes thus far have not been “bad”, or if the changes are “bad”, they are just not affecting society (on average) in a negative way. Up until this point, most measures of human well-being have gotten much better.

Will this continue? There are well-known potentially serious problems that could develop from a continued warming of the planet. Many natural ecosystems are under pressure from human activity and expansion. We should not let our guard down. Lessening our impact on the environment and adopting cleaner energy is imperative.

How soon might we see increasingly negative effects from a warmer climate? That will be the subject of a future blog post.

Meteorologist Justin Loew

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