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Climate crisis: UCSB climatologist’s new book looks at escalating disasters, reasons for hope

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - UC Santa Barbara climatologist and researcher Chris Funk is sharing a sobering look at climate change's impact on the world in his new book, titled Drought, Flood, Fire: How Climate Change Contributes to Catastrophes.

The book, set to be released next month, focuses on worsening natural hazards and disasters that are driven by climate change, as well as its interaction with growing economies and urban footprints around the world. People increasingly moving to less-developed wilderness areas, Funk says, is one example of a contributing factor.

But he also contends that the world's rapidly evolving view of the climate crisis could lead to solutions.

Drought, Flood, Fire attempts to look at the complex issue of climate change in a way that is easy to digest. Funk explains how the warming air naturally causes molecules to separate, thereby taking more moisture out of plants (leading to droughts, and fires that spread more easily) and also dumping more of that moisture in increasingly frequent intense rain events (leading to floods).

The book was completed even before a historically busy hurricane season in the Atlantic and a record-breaking year for California wildfires in 2020.

Funk has found that reinsurance companies, which provide insurance for insurance companies, are preparing for even more natural disasters to come.

“The number of events has almost doubled since the 1990s, and the cost of those has risen to hundreds of billions of dollars a year,” Funk said on Friday.

Funk argues that, ironically, these disasters becoming more costly could be a good thing, making the push to respond to climate change even stronger.

"We're already spending hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars coping with the impacts [of these disasters]," Funk said. "And the magnitude of costs associated with responding to climate change is kind of of similar magnitude.”

Funk also believes that the more visible impact of climate change is leading more people to recognize its dangers and discuss ways to respond.

“Political will, I think, is really rapidly increasingly precisely because people see climate change changing things in the world around them,” he said. “So it’s not really a matter of belief. It’s a matter of perception.”

In Funk's mind, the same human productivity that has led to the warming of the planet could eventually spark a solution. He points to increased energy conservation in California and Germany as well as global technology advancements as potential harbingers of more progress.

“We’re producing more, we’re communicating more, we’re thinking more, we’re learning more, we’re inventing more than we have ever before,” he said. “We just need to divert some of that energy and activity to solve the problem. I think that we can do that.”

More information about the book is available here.

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Ryan Fish

Ryan Fish is a reporter, sports anchor and forecaster for NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Ryan, click here.

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