U.S. politicians frequently insist that climate change is too remote of a threat to deal with today. If they even acknowledge its existence, they often argue its effects are abstract and that it is a distraction from more pressing concerns in the here and now.
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was pilloried by conservative politicians and pundits for insisting in the first two Democratic debates that anthropogenic climate change is the greatest threat to national security.
A new comprehensive U.N. report, however, suggests that Sanders is indeed correct.
90 percent of major disasters in the last 20 years have been weather-related, according to "The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters," a study released today by the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
And the U.S. has been hit with more weather-related disasters than any other country. In these two decades, the report documented 6,457 recorded floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts, and other natural disasters. The U.S. endured the most (472), followed by China (441), India (288), the Philippines (274), and Indonesia (163). As a continent, Asia has been the hardest hit.
606,000 people have been killed in these weather-related disasters. 4.1 billion more people have been injured, made homeless, or left in need of emergency assistance.
Moreover, because of the accelerating deleterious effects of climate change, the number of weather-related disasters is increasing. There were 335 per year throughout the last decade, 14 percent more than from 1995-2004, and close to twice the number of disasters from 1985-1995.
The economic costs of weather-related disasters are also astronomical. The commonly cited figure is less than $2 trillion in economic losses. But the U.N. report estimates that, since 1995, the real costs of weather-related disasters were between U.S. $5 trillion and U.S. $6 trillion -- or between U.S. $250 billion and U.S. $300 billion every single year.
The report and its authors warn that these are the undeniable human and economic costs of anthropogenic climate change, and that, if climate change is not substantively addressed, these disasters will only increase in frequency, leading to even more death and destruction.
"Weather and climate are major drivers of disaster risk and this report demonstrates that the world is paying a high price in lives lost," remarked Margareta Wahlström, head of UNISDR. "Economic losses are a major development challenge for many least developed countries battling climate change and poverty."
The report draws on data collected since the first U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP1) in 1995. COP21, the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference, will be held this December.
Wahlström stressed that, "In the long term, an agreement in Paris at COP21 on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be a significant contribution to reducing damage and loss from disasters which are partly driven by a warming globe and rising sea levels."
In other words, the more politicians ignore the very real and ever-growing threat of climate change, the larger of a threat it will become.