The recent flood-related disaster in Uttarakhand was labelled a Himalayan tsunami, recalling the deaths, damage, and destruction that followed the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of December 2004. Yet, this is a misleading metaphor, because there is little evidence that real tsunamis are linked to human activities that impact our oceans or sea-floors. In contrast, there is compelling evidence that climate change and the occurrence of extreme meteorological events—such as the one in Uttarakhand—are also related to human activities that have altered our atmosphere through greenhouse gas emissions. In today’s world, many weather-related disasters are not merely chance occurrences.
Extreme weather and related disasters are becoming more common. In an analysis published in 2012, Munich Re, the global insurance giant, reported that disasters tied to extreme weather events have more than doubled worldwide since 1980. So far in 2013, many examples stand out—record high temperatures in Australia and the US (including the highest June temperature—54.0°C—in Earth’s recorded history at Death Valley, California), heavy rainfall and catastrophic floods in northern India, USA, Canada, Central Europe, and Argentina. Parts of the central US also experienced record snowfall as late as May. Simultaneously, other parts of the US, such as southern Texas, are in the midst of record drought.
Extreme temperature swings are also increasingly common. Having endured a “bone-chilling” cold wave in January, parts of India were in the grip of a massive heat wave in May, and the risk of such heat waves is predicted to increase. Such swings are not uncommon in the US either. For instance, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the city of Lincoln in the state of Nebraska registered a record low of -0.5°C on 12 May, rising to a record high of 37.7°C within two days!