A physical science perspective on disaster: Through the prism of global warming


Abstract
Global warming provides a useful frame of reference for examining the problem of disasters. This paper uses this frame to address three questions: What is a disaster, why do disasters matter so much, and how can we improve our capacity to avoid and respond to disasters. The concept of vulnerability to disasters has biogeophysical as well aspolitical and socioeconomic aspects. The gap between adaptive capacity on the one hand, and actual responses to disaster and the risk of disaster on the other, was evident in the cases of Hurricane Katrina and the European heat wave of 2003. One feature of climate-related disasters is that past experience provides only limited guidance on the potential frequency and intensity of future disasters because the risks are changing as greenhouse gasses increase in the atmosphere. Accordingly, the ability to successfully apply lessons learned will be increasingly challenged the faster the greenhouse gases accumulate and climate changes
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