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Is climate change a disaster?

One big one, or lots of little (big) ones...


Even that statement, as impactful as it is, says that climate change is one thing, and disasters are another. We recognize disaster in the storms, the fires, the earthquakes. The sudden events. We have a harder time seeing disasters in those creeping, chronic problems like climate change or the ED overcrowding discussed in an earlier blog. Back to some basic disaster management principles, a disaster is a collision of a hazard (a severe storm, for example), with vulnerability (an impoverished seaside town, not built to withstand the storm).


“Seen through a disaster medicine lens, we are approaching a “perfect storm”; we have a complex hazard that is affecting a fatigued community with lowered resilience, without agreement on a comprehensive set of measures that can be taken to mitigate the impact” (Braitberg)


Why is so much easier to see the problem during a few days of severe weather, than in years of environmental degradation related to climate change?


The World Economic Forum's annual Global Risks Report summarizes "the most severe perceived risks to economies and societies", the biggest threats to life as we know it. Here are their top four for the upcoming decade, in order:


1. Failure to mitigate climate change

2. Failure of climate change adaptation

3. Natural disasters and extreme weather events

4. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse


A little chilling, (or warming, or flooding, or whatever unseasonal response you like), no?

A focus on events is misleading. This is sleight-of-hand on a global scale. “… it lures our attention away from slowly emerging threats ... as it tends to neglect the incubation phase of crises” (Kuipers). The pandemic helped us see that.


Fruition might better than incubation to describe climate change , but either way, it's a growing problem.


And climate change isn't just about climate change. We can't forget infectious disease outbreaks and all the other crises (which is to say, most if not all crises) that impact health and health care. “It would be fair to say that our community and health care worker resilience to withstand further disasters is challenged; a consideration that is important when we consider our capacity to respond to, and recover from, climate change‐driven disasters over the next decades” (Braitberg).


References

Braitberg G. Climate change can be seen through a disaster medicine lens. The Medical Journal of Australia. 2022 Oct 10;217(9):464-5.

Kuipers S, van der Wilt A, Wolbers J. Pandemic publishing: A bibliometric review of COVID‐19 research in the crisis and disaster literature. Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy. 2022.


Photos

Djiby Sanbou, imaggeo.egu.eu ... coastal erosion in Senegal

Pok Rie, pexels.com

Samuel Elias Nadler, unsplash.com

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