Changnon, S. A., R. Pielke Jr., D. Changnon, R. T. Sylves, and R. S. Pulwarty, 2000: Human factors explain the increased losses from weather and climate extremes. Bull. Amer. Met. Soc., 81, 437-442.


Societal impacts from weather and climate extremes, and trends in those impacts, are a function of both climate and society. United States losses resulting from weather extremes have grown steadily with time. Insured property losses have trebled since 1960, but deaths from extremes have not grown except for those due to floods and heat waves. Data on losses are difficult to find and must be carefully adjusted before meaningful assessments can be made. Adjustments to historical loss data assembled since the late 1940s shows that most of the upward trends found in financial losses are due to societal shifts leading to ever-growing vulnerability to weather and climate extremes. Geographical locations of the large loss trends establish that population growth and demographic shifts are the major factors behind the increasing losses from weather-climate extremes. Most weather and climate extremes in the United States do not exhibit steady, multidecadal increases found in their loss values. Without major changes in societal responses to weather and climate extremes, it is reasonable to predict ever-increasing losses even without any detrimental climate changes. Recognition of these trends in societal vulnerability to weather-climate extremes suggests that the present focus on mitigating the greenhouse effect should be complemented by a greater emphasis on adaptation. Identifying and understanding this societal vulnerability has great importance for understanding the nation's economy, in guiding governmental policies, and for planning for future mitigative activities including ways for society to adapt to possible effects of a changing climate.