In this Very Short Introduction, Bill McGuire takes a fresh look at our sometimes perilous planet and evaluates the causes and consequences of what used to be thought of as 'natural' hazards through the prism of planetary heating and the continuing destabilising of our climate.
Our world has always been a dangerous and deadly place, and storms, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic blasts have taken an enormous toll on lives and livelihoods throughout recorded history and before. In the past, such events were regarded first as acts of God, or gods, and later as simply a consequence of hazardous natural phenomena that are a normal part of how our planet works. In recent decades, however, this picture has changed. Relentless global heating, arising from the 2.4 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere as a result of human activities, has completely altered the 'natural' hazard landscape. There has long been a debate about whether – due to the influence of societal and economic factors – there is such a thing as a truly natural disaster. Now, the debate has moved on to whether or not the hazards that cause them can any longer be described as entirely natural. Our damaged climate has driven an explosion of extreme weather, which has become ever more apparent in recent years via the super-charging of storms, floods, heatwaves and wildfires. The fingerprints of global heating can be detected even in individual events that would have been extremely unlikely to have happened, or even been impossible, in its absence. Meanwhile, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions continue to plague communities and take lives, while even here there are links with a changing climate that have the potential to magnify their occurrence and impacts.
1. Hazardous Earth
2. Earthquakes and tsunamis
3. The volcanic menace
4. Storm force
5. Fire and flood
6. Existential threats and systemic shocks
Bill McGuire is a volcanologist, climate scientist, activist, and writer. He is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at UCL, a co-director of the New Weather Institute and a patron of Scientists for Global Responsibility. In 1996, he was a Senior Scientist at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and in 2010 a member of SAGE during the Icelandic volcanic ash crisis. In 2005, he was a co-author of the UK Government report: The Role of Science in Natural Hazard Assessment. He was a contributor to the 2012 IPCC report on climate change and extreme events.