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Hot to Jump to Conclusions

Stirred by political turmoil in Egypt and by a recent spike in food prices, Paul Krugman writes in today’s New York Times

But the evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we’re getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we’ll face in a warming world.

The “evidence” that he refers to is extreme weather events, such as last year’s Russian heat wave, happening at the same time that food prices have turned upward and some citizens are in revolt against their governments.

Weather patterns might or might not be evidence of global warming, but today’s political turmoil and spike in food prices are emphatically not reliable evidence of a world being “disrupted” by humankind’s continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Even granting that global warming is caused by industrialization, temperature increases caused by human activity date back at least to 1880.  But for nearly a century now, human suffering from extreme weather events has declined dramatically.  Here’s science analyst Indur Goklany:

Long term (1900–2008) data show that average annual deaths and death rates from all such [extreme weather] events declined by 93% and 98%, respectively, since cresting in the 1920s.  These declines occurred despite a vast increase in the populations at risk and more complete coverage of extreme weather events.

It’s irresponsible for Krugman to ominously predict increasing “disruptions” based only on a recent food-price spike and a few instances of political unrest – especially given that the long-term trend is for extreme weather events to cause less and less human suffering.