U.N.: No 'Natural' Disasters?

Friday , January 21, 2005

By Steven Milloy


The United Nations is trying to blame natural disasters on, of all things, people. President Bush, however, is standing in its way.

The U.N. is holding its second-ever "World Conference on Disaster Reduction" (search) this week in Kobe, Japan. Scheduled for the 10th anniversary of the deadly January 1995 earthquake in Kobe and following in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami (search), you might think that the conference’s focus would be “natural disasters.”

But the first indication that this isn’t necessarily the case comes when you compare the titles of the current and previous U.N. disaster conferences.

The title of the U.N.’s first disaster conference, held in 1994, was the “World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction,” which, incidentally, occurred during the U.N.-proclaimed "International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction" (1990-1999).

Natural disasters, as far as the U.N. is concerned anyway, apparently are no longer “natural.”

Behind the "1984"-like de-natural-ization of the disaster conference is, of course, the ongoing effort by the U.N. — a leading promoter of the unproven notion that humans are significantly altering global climate for the worse — to be able to blame people, as opposed to Nature, for deadly and costly occurrences such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves and the like.

And the particular people that the U.N. would most like to pin the blame for global warming (search) on would be deep-pocket Americans, American businesses and the American government. As the global warming alarmist community likes to point out, the U.S. is the largest single contributor to the alleged global warming, emitting 25 percent of all greenhouse gases (search) while possessing only 4 percent of the world’s population.

Toward the goal of blaming the U.S. for what used to be considered “natural disasters” in order to eventually extract financial compensation, the U.N. conference’s draft action plan is riddled with references to climate change [read, “U.S.-made climate change”] as causing or contributing to “disasters.”

The Bush administration rightly opposes the U.N.’s effort to de-naturalize disasters and has requested that the document’s references to climate change be removed. But U.N. officials oppose such changes.

“I hope there will be a global recognition of climate change causing more natural disasters,” said Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

Weather disasters like hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves, cold snaps, ice storms always have, and always will plague man. As far as we know, they are entirely natural occurrences. There is absolutely no credible evidence that humans — much less Americans in particular — have had have any discernible impact on the frequency and severity of — dare I say it? — natural disasters.

Given the media’s new habit of linking virtually any extreme or unusual weather with global warming, some scientists now even feel compelled to go out of their way to reaffirm that global warming isn’t causing natural disasters, as in the case of the string of hurricanes that hit south Florida last summer.

The U.N. dramatizes the need for its “action plan” by claiming that: economic damages resulting from “disasters” have increased from about 1,500 disasters costing $200 billion during the 1970s to 6,000 disasters costing $700 billion during the 1990s; and the number of people “threatened” by “disasters” has increased from about 750 million people in the 1970s to about 2.5 billion people in the 1990s.

I don’t know how accurate those estimates may be, but to the extent that natural disasters do wreak more economic havoc and threaten more people now than 30 years ago, that is most likely due to all the upscale development that has spread during that time to coastal regions and other areas more vulnerable to the whims of Mother Nature.

Participating in the U.N. conference is the German insurance company Munich Re (search), which issued a report “Megacities — Megarisks: Trends and challenges for insurance and risk management,” bemoaning the alleged impacts of global warming and other “disasters” on insurers.

Munich Re claims, for example, that the urban heat island effect — the modern-day phenomenon where cities are warmer than surrounding rural areas due to increased heat trapping by concrete and asphalt — amplifies the effect of global warming to increase the number of deaths caused by heatwaves.

Despite any intuitive appeal, this assertion is unfounded since there is no scientific evidence that global warming — which involves a hypothesized few-degree rise in global temperatures over the course of a century — has anything to do with summer heatwaves — which involve sudden dramatic, short-term shifts in local temperature.

Weather, after all, is not climate.

The end-game of the insurance industry, like that of the U.N. , is to be able to blame natural disasters on global warming so that it also can eventually seek compensation for its losses from U.S. businesses and taxpayers.

Insurers, apparently, are more than happy to accept premiums for writing risky policies, but not too happy when Mother Nature and policyholders force them to make good on claims.

Steven Milloy publishes and, is adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and is the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

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