Roger Pielke, Jr. is a professor in the Environmental Studies Program and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado. At CIRES, Dr. Pielke directed the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research from 2001-2007. From 1993-2001 he was a scientist at the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, where he studied societal responses to extreme weather events, policy responses to climate change, and U.S. science policy. Dr. Pielke’s research focuses on the relation of scientific information and public and private sector decision-making. His current areas of interest include the politicization of science, decision making under uncertainty, and policy education for scientists. Dr. Pielke chaired the American Meteorological Society’s Committee on Societal Impacts 1999-2002, and has served on the Science Steering Committee of the World Meteorological Organization’s World Weather Research Programme and the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate of the National Research Council, among other advisory committees. Dr. Pielke received his B.A. in mathematics, M.A. in public policy and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Colorado.
The recent devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami, and South Asian earthquake has kept natural disasters at the focus of our attention. The past decades have seen a spectacular series of catastrophes around the world with ever increasing economic losses and horrific loss of life. The recent spate of disasters has created two common perceptions among decision makers and the general public. First, there is a sense that the economic impacts associated with extreme events have increased in recent years. Second, given that a human influence on the climate system has been well established, a perception exists that the recent increase in weather-related disasters like floods and hurricanes is in some way related to changes in climate. These perceptions beg two questions:
- Have loss of life and damages associated with extreme weather events actually increased in recent years?
- What factors account for observed trends in the impacts of weather on society?
The answers to these questions are more than simply idle speculations–they underlie policy decisions with important social, economic, and political ramifications, such as disaster preparations, insurance, international climate change negotiations, and policies for scientific research. Because policy is based in part on the perceptions that policy makers hold about weather and climate, it is worth determining the answers to the two questions in a scientifically rigorous manner. This lecture discussed trends in loss of life and damages associated with disasters with a focus on extreme weather events. It also discussed factors which account for the observed trends and the state of our knowledge in this area. It concluded with a discussion of implications for policy and research related natural hazards and global climate change.
Click here to view the 2006 Program.