Climate Crises Worldwide

Bolivia is, as we’ve seen, both particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and one of the ‘preview’ countries already experiencing significant and widespread impacts as we speak. But extreme weather events caused by climactic changes are making increasingly regular headlines all over the globe. We highlight a few of these below, followed by links to further reading on recent climate crises worldwide.

Drought in the USA

In April 2014 the NOAA was reporting that 39% of the USA was experiencing some level of drought, with some parts of the American West experiencing their driest 15-year period in 1,200 years. In 2011/12 a prolonged intense drought in Texas was incredibly destructive, both economically and environmentally. Agricultural losses alone cost upward of $5.2 billion, with a particularly grave outlook for cotton production (of which Texas is responsible for two-thirds of American export). The state experienced its largest decline in cattle population in recorded history (1.4 million heads). According to the Texas forest service approximately 5.6 million trees in cities and towns across the state were killed due to the severity of the droughts. In early 2014 it was California’s turn to hit the headlines because of drought, although technically the state was in its third year of the crisis by then, with 2013 the driest since formal records began. California normally receives its highest rainfall in December and January, but with virtually no rain or snow during that period farmers and ranchers in the part of the USA that provides nearly 50% of the country’s fruit and vegetables were not even sure whether they should plant seed, given the lack of water. By April 2014 the entire state was in drought conditions and, with fears rising over the provision of drinking water, there were many warnings that this would be “the worst drought for 500 years”.

Extreme Heat and Wildfires in Russia and Australia

In May 2010 Russia entered into what was to become the hottest summer on record, leading to an outbreak of drought and wildfires across the country. Both the human and economic costs were unprecedented. 55,736 Russians were killed by the heat wave and the wildfires it produced. The droughts and wildfires collectively destroyed over a quarter of the country’s crops, forcing the government to ban all grain exports in an attempt to stem steep price rises domestically. This policy measure rippled through the global economy, leading to inflation on basic food commodities and highlighting the potential impacts of climate change on future food sustainability. Once again in 2012 record high temperatures in Siberia also led to out-of-control fires and a poor harvest. Meanwhile Australia has experienced two consecutive ‘angry summers’ in 2013 – 2014, with temperatures reaching record highs and causing raging bushfires across many states. The number of ‘heatwave’ days in Australia has doubled since the 1950s, according to the Bureau of Meteorology there, with 28 of the hottest days on record falling in the last 20 years. Residents of the city of Adelaide endured five consecutive days of 42ºC heat in January 2014. At the same time parts of the country are experiencing up to 25% less rainfall than in the mid-1990s. The state of Victoria experienced 150 bushfires in early February 2014, burning 200,000 hectares and destroying property on the edge of Melbourne. According to a January 2014 report from the Climate Council in Australia, “Many of our largest population centres stand out as being at increased risk from extreme weather events, including heatwaves, drought and bushfires.”

Floods in Pakistan

About the same time that the Russian wildfires were burning out of control in 2010, thousands of miles away in Pakistan floods of historic proportions deluged the country. The heavy monsoon rains eventually covered one-fifth of Pakistan’s landmass, destroying the homes and livelihoods of millions of Pakistanis. Beyond the immediate devastation caused by the overflowing of the Indus River and its tributaries, water-borne diseases such as cholera and dengue began to spread in flood-stricken regions. While this has been described as the largest natural disaster in Pakistani history in terms of human and economic cost, the 2011 flooding in the Sindh region compounded the already precarious situation in which many residents already found themselves. The UN children’s agency spokesman in Pakistan told the BBC that “this is another huge flood that has hit Pakistan in less than a year so it’s really a double disaster.” In early 2014 the head of the Pakistan environmental agency assessed the country as having suffered $15bn of damage from flooding in the previous three years. With the rate of warming over Pakistan since the 1950s thought to be double that of the global average, nearly half the population is at risk from climate change impacts, and environmental degradation is costing this resource-poor nation 6% of its GDP.

Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines

Credit mansunidas

Credit mansunidas

Known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, where it caused the most devastation, Haiyan was the strongest storm ever recorded at landfall when it struck on November 8th 2013 – right on the eve of the United Nations annual climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland. Over 6,000 people were killed and 27,000 reported injured as wind speeds topped 140 miles per hour and powerful storm surges caused devastation. 3.9 million people were forced from their homes and huge damage caused to road, energy and water infrastructure. The impact was particularly severe in the city of Tacloban and the surrounding province of Leyte, with Tacloban’s administrator stating that around 90% of the city had been destroyed. Naderev Saño, the chief representative of the Philippines at the climate talks, went on hunger strike in solidarity with the storm’s victims. Climate scientists agree that as global warming continues to exacerbate the difference between sea and air temperatures, we are set to see an increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical hurricanes like Haiyan.

The Polar Vortex in North America

In January 2014 much of the United States and Canada was exposed to the ‘polar vortex’, bringing plunging sub-zero temperatures, snow, ice, ‘thundersnow’ and ‘frost quakes’ to many parts. Going outside was difficult and dangerous for many, and the unusually severe cold weather brought disruption to schools, businesses and infrastructure. This climatic phenomenon is formed of winds which normally circulate above the North Pole, but which were forced southwards in early 2014, bringing Arctic conditions to many US cities. To understand more about the polar vortex and the link to climate change, watch the video below. It is also worth noting that while many North Americans were freezing in January 2014, overall the globe experienced its warmest January since 2007 (see the paragraph on Australia above), and the fourth warmest on record.

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As manmade climate change continues to ravage countries around the world, how will people respond? Share your ideas in the Climate Classroom.

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Further reading on extreme climate events

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All of California is in Drought and Climate Change May be to BlameThe Tree, 25th April 2014

Bolivia and Britain: A Tale of Two FloodsThe Ecologist, 11th March 2014

Climate Council Report Says ‘Angry Summers’ Will Get Worse - Sydney Morning Herald, 10th March 2014

British Floods, California Drought: A Connection?National Geographic, 20th February 2014

Drought-stricken California, other states prepare for landmark year in firesWashington Post, 14th February 2014

Why Global Water Shortages Pose Threat of Terror and War - Guardian, 9th February 2014

Leading Scientists Explain How Climate Change is Worsening California’s Epic Drought - Climate Progress, 31st January 2014

Heed the Warnings in Extreme Weather – or Risk Losing Earth - The Guardian, 31st January 2014

El Niño Patterns Could become Twice as Likely in a Warming World - Huffington Post, 20th January 2014

Climate report warns extreme weather events are now the norm - ABC News, 7th August 2013 

Coping with Climate Change: 2 Texas Towns Struggle for Water - PBS Newshour, March 2012

There are more articles in the Resources area.