“Drought, Flood, Fire: How Climate Change Contributes to Catastrophes”: A Response to the Climate Crisis


Kalista Tibbels-Guerrero

Contributing Writer

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the global community. Just in the United State (U.S.), there are natural catastrophes such as wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the East and tornadoes in the Midwest. Learning how these natural processes function and how the human population affects them are two variables that can help to form the equation to combat the climate-influenced catastrophes battering the world.

In his recently published book, “Drought, Flood, Fire: How Climate Change Contributes to Catastrophes,” author and director of the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Climate Hazards Center, Chris Funk, simplifies this complex equation by explaining the relationship of greenhouse gas emissions to natural disasters and their impact on human life in a manner that everyone can understand. His goal being to inform the public before the effects of these impacts are catastrophic.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Funk describes that any disaster such as earthquakes, tornadoes, or droughts are all considered natural processes. This means they are natural occurrences bound to happen due to internal and external forces exerting energy that causes them. The difference with climate change is that the “magnitude and frequency of these disasters are growing to more severe levels,” as Funk explains.

In more economic terms, the problem becomes even clearer. Funk explains that “a common misconception about climate change is that it is not all expensive to deal with the problem. We are already spending it now for the damages left behind by these disasters.” 

The fact of the matter is that the issue will not be going away — it will continue to worsen. What separates a natural disaster from a natural catastrophe is the amount of time and money required to recover. The issue is that natural disasters are more likely to become catastrophes.

While the loWhile the loss of life per catastrophe is decreasing, the cost and amount of time for each recovery is increasing, and it affects every aspect of society. The amount of damage caused from natural catastrophes has quadrupled since 1980. Just last year in 2020, the cost was estimated to be $95 billion in the U.S. alone.

Funk debunks the theory of climate change becoming a “bathtub” of warming, a slow, gradual increase in temperatures everywhere at the same time. As a climate scientist, Funk argues that this mentality will prevent organizations and people from preparing and responding to extreme natural events to the best of their ability. The way people shouldbe looking at the climate crisis, in Funk’s opinion, is like a seesaw. A seesaw teeters back and forth from high and lows, and so does heat and moisture. 

According to Edward A. Keller and Duane E. DeVecchio’s textbook “Natural Hazards: Earth’s Processes as Hazards, Disasters, and Catastrophes,” the level of crises has everything to do with human population and activity. Heavily populated areas — such as the U.S., Europe, and Japan — experience the most costly natural disasters in terms of economic loss. Regions like Haiti and Indonesia that had spikes in birth rates and land-use trends such as deforestation experienced the most severe natural occurrences ever recorded.

Funk, who has been the director of the Climate Hazards Center at UCSB for over 12 years, hopes that his new book will reach new audiences and new generations. He describes how his “generation never took climate classes … it’s time to stop the false idea that you need a PhD in climate control in order to understand the crisis.” The mandated quarantine served as the opportune moment for Funk to sit down with his ideas and compose his research into the novel.

Funk, who is currently working for the United Nations in Ethiopia and Somalia, investigates the frequency of droughts to work on providing preposition aid for developing communities. These developing nations are the ones that are affected by catastrophes the most as they suffer colossal  amounts of loss of life and cost of damage.

DeVecchio and Keller also recount how in 2010 the Haitian Earthquake, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0, killed 230,000 people. In contrast, the Chilean earthquake in the same year had a magnitude of 8.8, yet it killed 550 people. Even though the Chilean Earthquake was nearly 1000 times stronger than the Haitian Earthquake, the death toll in Haiti was 400 times greater than the death toll in Chile. Funk states that while he lives in Santa Barbara, “his heart lives in Africa” because he feels a deep responsibility and connection to these developing nations that are the most vulnerable to large-scale natural disasters.

Working on the UCSB campus, Funk admires the mission the school strives to fulfill, being that they are an institution dedicated to providing knowledge. As the world is faced with more catastrophes and events occurring around the globe, the best thing that UCSB students, faculty, and individuals can do is to educate themselves, and be aware of the safety precautions and prevention measures put in place for protection and preparation.