Scary Myths Laid to Rest (Again)

We have had several deadly tornadoes recently, so the short memory set is talking again about killer weather. The fact is that weather related deaths have been dropping for a generation. But it is like other news of improvements, such as the drop in crime, drop in traffic fatalities or the drop in cancer deaths . It goes unnoticed and reports of the facts are greeted with disbelief or even hostility.

descriptionFor the 30-year span of 1980-2009, the average annual number of Americans killed by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes was 194—fully one-third fewer deaths each year than during the 1940-1979 period. link. This is even more remarkable, since the American population in 2009 is more than double what is was in 1940, so your individual chances of dying in a weather related event is even lower.

The weather has not become more benign since 1940. The weather is … the weather. It varies a lot. It gets very cold sometimes and hot other times. Sometimes it rains a lot; other times it rains hardly at all. The difference is human adaption. We are better at predicting weather and better at saving lives. People are adaptive.

My posting is based on an article by Professor Donald Boudreaux of George Mason University. He believes that the number of weather related deaths will continue to decline and has offered to bet $10,000. He challenge pessimists like Al Gore or Paul Krugman. I doubt they will take the bet. They will recall the Simon-Ehrilich wager.

What the dooms sayers always underestimate is human ability to adapt and triumph. They see what is today and cannot conceive of anything that doesn’t follow in direct projection. They assume that in the face of a rising tide, human beings will sit like King Canute instead of moving.

The bottom line is that my life is significantly better than my father’s. My sons and daughter will live better than I do. When I was 18 I didn’t believe this. We were told that the American dream was over and that we would face bleak futures. I think they tell us that every year, but people seem to forget the earlier predictions. It is like that clown that predicted the rapture ... and then it didn't happen. We have secular versions of that too.

It seems we all like to think our times are uniquely difficult. It provides an excuse for our personal failures.

Progress will end. Everything ends, but probably not today, not tomorrow and not soon. The new hi-tech, such as biotech and nanotech, will revolutionize the way we live, creating greater wealth and engendering new anxiety among the weak minded and the credulous. Twenty years from today, people will look back on our times and claim that our challenges were nothing compared to theirs, just as we do with earlier times. They too will be wrong.

Posted by Christine & John at May 31, 2011 9:48 PM
Comments
Comment #323754

Cheap rhetorical tricks left aside, this is a matter of whether you think most scientists who are informed on this matter are full of you know what, and then whether you’re willing to do more than just wait in resignation.

The models that say the globe is warming say, basically, that part of that warming is going to come from what we do in the future. At least part of it we can prevent.

But if our attitude towards something that has become known to be a definite, likely risk, is to just ignore it, to fail to deal with it, well then, guess what, we’re going to get kicked in the seat of the pants hard.

I don’t doubt human beings will find a way to adapt to the new world. The problem is not all adaptations will be peaceful. The problem is, not all adaptations will have a positive economice effect. The problem is, with all kinds of programs, systems, infrastructure and other items affected by climate conditions, is that we’ll pay a heavy price for recovery, or God help us, Survival.

My position isn’t really all that courageous. I just want us to keep as much of our economic activity, as much of our prosperity, as much of our old world as we can.

Rather than fling platitudes about what people are capable of, let’s solve the problems that need to be solve, and do so diligently as we can. I’ve read of the new science, the new technology. I don’t think we have to wait to adapt to our new reality. We can start right now, and start pushing the policies that we need to change our situation for the better.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 31, 2011 11:31 PM
Comment #323757

C&J, Lets ask ourselves what has changed since 1980n that would decrease the number of deaths due to weather related events. The obvious answer is advanced knowledge due to the weather service and better construction of buildings.

Doesn’t your boy Cantor want to get rid of the advanced knowledge despite the fact that it appears to be successful in saving lives?

Posted by: j2t2 at June 1, 2011 12:18 AM
Comment #323771

J2,

The policy statement of the NWS is that they will not compete against the private sector and will instead partner with them to “fill in the gaps” for timely and accurate forecasts and alerts. Since 1980 there have been significant gains in the private sector: 3D Doppler, sky cams, staff meteorologists, The Weather Channel, etc. And the utilities fund a lot of that advance knowledge technology as they gain the most from accurate forecasting.

So if Cantor or any rep votes against an increase in funding to NOAA or the NWS (do they ever really cut anything) is he/she voting to get rid of advance knowledge?

Posted by: George at June 1, 2011 9:18 AM
Comment #323773

George-
And a lot of them still depend upon the NWS and NOAA. Really, you need somebody who can do research that it’s not cost-effective for the private sector to do.

The Republicans are trying to cut programs that could be of economic benefit, that could save American lives, simply because they want to show what awesome budgeters and opponents of big government they are.

But their budget decisions aren’t being made wisely. There isn’t any cost-benefit analysis going on. They’re shedding cost without any notion of the benefit they’re losing, for the sake of that.

How long can Republicans come out with that bit of rhetoric about needing to improve the enforcement of the rules and laws we got when they’re constantly cutting funding to the very programs they’re asking to fulfill their function more fully?

By the way, The Republicans would end up saving a little over a hundred billion dollars out of a budget of 850 million. That’s a rounding error on the pentagon’s Budget, not even an appreciable fraction of what you gave up in revenue to make sure the rich job creators who didn’t create jobs in a better economy get more money to not create jobs.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 1, 2011 10:54 AM
Comment #323775
so your individual chances of dying in a weather related event is even lower.

Unless of course you are traveling overseas. With 230,210 deaths in the 2004 Tsunami and 25,000 in the Tsunami in Japan in 2011 the average per year of death by Tsunami would be over 31,000 a year.

The nonsensical conclusions from this WSJ piece seems to indicate the lack of critical thinking skills of the far right conservatives in this Country,IMHO C&J. The WSJ has certainly slipped since changing ownership. I wonder if Bordeaux, who according to you is a professor,(which should put another myth to rest) would include the rest of the world in his foolish bet? Really a professor!

“Approximately 600,000 deaths occurred world-wide as a result of weather-related natural disasters in the 1990s; and some 95% of these were in poor countries.”
http://www.who.int/globalchange/news/fsclimandhealth/en/index.html


“At least 35,000 people died as a result of the record heatwave that scorched Europe in August 2003, says an environmental think tank.”
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn4259-european-heatwave-caused-35000-deaths.html

“It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-link-between-climate-change-and-joplin-tornadoes-never/2011/05/23/AFrVC49G_story.html

Posted by: j2t2 at June 1, 2011 11:44 AM
Comment #323779

j2, Those tsunamis you are talking about were NOT weather related but were caused by an earthquake. Since when is an earthquake weather related?

Posted by: KAP at June 1, 2011 1:11 PM
Comment #323783

KAP
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There’s a funny little rhythym to the way the Right works. See, Americans have been living under the protective umbrella of many of these programs. These problems handle, many people get a sense of security. But Republicans get a false sense of security that tells them that if they shear away that much of the protective reforms progressives and liberals put in place, that things will take care of themselves.

Then crap happens that demonstrates exactly why we didn’t simply let things take care of themselves.

Then Republicans make every effort to resist the restoration of that government, either saying we can’t afford it, or that it’s somehow unconstitutional or socialist.

But still, crap happens, and we’re faced with the monumental costs and tasks of putting things back together after the fact, and dealing with what can’t be put back together after the fact.

I am sick of this short-sightedness. I am sick of having to watch well known risks endanger the good fortunes of this country, while Republicans and right-wingers pontificate on what good government is.

I don’t need a government take care of me. What I need is government to take care of this nation’s problems, so that the fate of our country isn’t a long slide or a short, terrifying drop into decay and decline.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 1, 2011 2:55 PM
Comment #323785

Stephen what has all that got to do with an eartquake not being weather related. Was the NOAA able to predict those earthquakes and resulting tsunamis? I ask you Stephen, in all your infinite wisdom How is an earthquake weather related? Then after you answer you can go ahead and spew your NONSENCE.

Posted by: KAP at June 1, 2011 3:24 PM
Comment #323789

KAP these people didn’t die from the earthquake they died from the flooding. Floods were included in C&J’s article.

Posted by: j2t2 at June 1, 2011 4:26 PM
Comment #323793

J2, Those floods were NOT weather related which I think C&J article was about weather related disasters. So j2 tell me how a Eartquake and related tsunami is weather related.

Posted by: KAP at June 1, 2011 5:05 PM
Comment #323794

KAP-
The Earthquakes, no, the Tsunamis yes.

And before you accuse me of spouting nonsense, read the agencies name again. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It does what it says on the tin.

Just”>http://ptwc.weather.gov/”>Just look at this site, if you think I’m spewing nonsense.

And really, I don’t care. There are a ****-ton of important and useful programs that the GOP are planning to cut to look good to their far-right base.

And to no avail! They can’t even dig themselves out of the budget hole they created by renewing the Bush Tax Cuts for the rich, much less truly reduce spending below Obama’s baseline budgets.

The Medicare BS would just shift costs onto seniors not equipped to make it under their burden. And without it? Long term, the Republican budget doesn’t balance.

The path to balancing the budget runs through restoring the economy. We cannot rescue either by beating up the middle class and poor further in a vain attempt to fix the deficit.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 1, 2011 5:39 PM
Comment #323796

KAP Although I do agree that a Tsunami is more a geological event than a weather event KAP, floods are floods. The NWS monitors and forecasts both Tsunami’s and flooding. So point taken on you comment the Tsunami that flooded Indonesia was started from an earthquake, a geological event, not from the banks of a river overflowing due to rain as was the case in Australia and along the Mississippi recently.


Kinda like the fires in Texas a few months back, not an actual weather event but the drought that was a main factor in the fires was a weather event.

Posted by: j2t2 at June 1, 2011 6:19 PM
Comment #323799

Stephen, I googled tsunamis and all the info I read tsunamis are geological events after an earthquake underwater, even the site you linked states that. I agree the the NWS and NOAA can warn and predict tsunamis after the earthquake. This is about weather events Stephen not budget or republicans making spending cuts so you are spewing NONSENCE.
I agree j2 floods are floods but weather related predictions of flooding are much easier to predict then earthquake related flooding from a tsunami.

Posted by: KAP at June 1, 2011 7:16 PM
Comment #323800

“The path to balancing the budget runs through restoring the economy.”

Stephen,

It is not just that. Health cost containment is also required. The Republican plan (Ryan) on Medicare is no solution other than for the federal deficit. The rest of the economy tanks due to high health cost inflation and seniors are financially ruined while receiving vastly reduced benefits.

C&J’s theme on this article is that disasters predictable on current data are not inevitable due to our capacity to adjust to the danger through new technology or policy change.

Lets apply C&J’s approach to the deficit problem. The danger of the deficit driven by the Medicare problem is clear. The factors leading to that disaster are clear. Proven solutions to much of that problem are also clear. What is maddening, is the lack of political will to honestly discuss the alternatives. Other nations do not have this problem. Take a little time to review the interactive chart on the following link. It allows you to contrast alternative health care systems as applied to the US deficit going forward. When all your competitors are beating you to death on the issue, perhaps we should take a look some alternatives. http://www.cepr.net/calculators/hc/hc-calculator.html

Posted by: Rich at June 1, 2011 7:22 PM
Comment #323801

Stephen

I am not saying anything about scientists’ views on warming.

I am merely pointing out the absurdity of always claiming things are getting worse. Humans are doing okay. Cancer rates are dropping, traffic fatalities are dropping, weather related deaths are dropping, crime rates are dropping. Yet we constantly get the impression that the everything we have done for the last fifty or 100 years has been a disaster. Whatever we are doing, it is working okay.

J2t2

I agree (and said) that the reason we are doing better is because of better adaptations.

In your answer, you actually deployed two kinds of assumptions that are misleading. First, you brought up part of a proposal with the assumption that it would have disastrous effects. This is the method employed by the fear merchants, past and present. It extrapolates from a possible event, makes it seem like a probable one and then jumps to the worst case scenario. This is why if you read prediction from the last 50 years, you would think we would all be dead or starving by now. Most things we fear do not really happen.

The second assumption implicit in your statement is that if government doesn’t do it, it won’t get done. Government has a key role in many things and participates in virtually every economic activity, but lots of stuff do not require direct government management.

As others have pointed out, you are mixing geological and weather events. And earthquake and tsunami are geological events but they actually better illustrate the point that we have fewer deaths and injuries as we adapt better. Earthquakes in the past and in other places kill many more people than one does today usually. We have learned. Earthquakes have always been happening. In the past, they were more deadly.

I knew you guys would be mad about repeating good news. Is there something about being a liberal that requires pessimism? It is not even like looking at the cup being half empty. The cup is now three-quarters full and you all still see it almost empty.

And you guys jump on the climate change. I believe climate change is real and influenced by human activities. I also know that there is nothing we will do to stop it, so we will need to adapt. The horse is out of the barn. Closing the barn door behind it will not change the outcome.

Posted by: C&J at June 1, 2011 8:25 PM
Comment #323803

“I also know that there is nothing we will do to stop it, so we will need to adapt.”

C&J, you are correct. Certainly we must adapt. However, we also must address the human factors that will increasingly strain our ability to adapt to climate change. They are not inconsistent goals.

I also take exception to your characterization of liberals as pessimists. Indeed, it is liberals and progressives that believe that we can meet the challenges presented by climate change and a host of other social-economic problems. Who is championing alternative energy? Who is demanding reform of our health care system? In all areas, it is progressives fighting for change. That is not pessimism. That is a belief that problems can be solved but only if we adapt our technology and policies to deal with the problems. On the other hand, conservatives are habitually in denial of the existence of problems. They system is fine, let it alone. The market will sort it all out, etc., etc.

In order to adapt and advance, you need to perceive the problem and be willing to make the necessary changes. In my opinion, liberals and progressives have been dragging conservatives, kicking and screaming, through the past century of adaptive necessary changes. If liberals and progressives appear, at times sour, it just might be out of frustration not pessimism.

Posted by: Rich at June 1, 2011 9:26 PM
Comment #323805

Rich

There really is nothing like “alternative” energy. As soon as something starts actually working, it becomes regular.

What liberals seems to champion is what doesn’t work. When it actually takes off, they run off. Think of natural gas. It is a fossil fuel but much cleaner than coal or oil that it replaces.

I generally do trust the market. Why? Because the market has proven a very adaptive and effective way to make progress. I do not rule out government incentives and action, but they need to be in the context of the market, i.e. what works.

The government record on picking energy winners is poor. We had all the talk in the 1970s, for example. And it is not only our government. The Germans invested massively in solar. So did the Spanish. If this was enough to make it so, we would have VIABLE alternatives. Or are they just too stupid, not smart like us Americans?

What government CAN do is tax carbon. None of this fancy pants crap about picking winners. Just tax it and there will be progress. I know that Republicans don’t much like the idea, but back a couple of years ago, even people like Charles Krauthammer endorsed it. Unfortunately, liberals really don’t like the idea either. They feel it would be unfair to the poor and won’t go with a clean tax. They want to fool with and it and manipulate results.

Posted by: C&J at June 1, 2011 10:00 PM
Comment #323807

C&J,

Your an exception when it comes to climate change and methods to address it like a carbon tax. Unfortunately, most of the conservative community has chosen to deny the need for change and vigorously defends the status quo. Your skepticism regarding direct government investment in alternative sources is reasonable. A carbon tax is an elegant and direct way use the power of government to stimulate a free market, competitive approach to alternative energy development.

Posted by: Rich at June 1, 2011 11:03 PM
Comment #323818
In your answer, you actually deployed two kinds of assumptions that are misleading….

C&J You seem to have read quite a bit into my words. My message was actually plain and simple. The WSJ, once a reliable source for information has become tainted in recent years. The WSJ article you referred to attempted to rebut climate change by using statistics from one country as proof that as you say “things are getting better”. You used the number of lives lost, which is a good thing but didn’t mention the damage to property or the environment.

Substituting a smiley face for the whole story doesn’t make one an optimist IMHO. Some how we are to believe that climate change doesn’t exist because we now have ways of forecasting and abandoning areas subject to extreme weather events, which is the reason lives are saved.

Extrapolation as a means of identifying future problems has proved useful. Look at Ehirlich and his extrapolations and the resultant increase in agricultural productivity as an example. That is not pessimism that is realism, my friend.

To think that the channel whatever news station would be able to do the research and development to bring to market the technology to detect weather events without government leading the way indicate an unrealistic version of how we have progressed C&J. This negative attitude surrounding the function of government in protecting the people of this country is very pessimistic when we look at what the government has accomplished over the years.


Earthquakes in the past and in other places kill many more people than one does today usually. We have learned. Earthquakes have always been happening. In the past, they were more deadly.

We have made strides in earthquake prone areas in this country to build buildings that are more resistant to quakes C&J. But to say that they were more deadly in the past doesn’t hold up to the facts.

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/world_deaths.php

I knew you guys would be mad about repeating good news. Is there something about being a liberal that requires pessimism?…

And it is good news C&J, good news cherry picked by this professor to discredit the other guy. But it doesn’t mean that severe and/or extreme weather events and natural disasters are not happening nor does it mean that damage form these events has been minimized due to technological gains. It simply means we have enough time in this country, most of the time, to get people evacuated. This is why critical thinking skills are necessary and should be encouraged by conservatives such as yourself to help your fellow conservatives that seem unable to see the bigger picture.

The horse is out of the barn. Closing the barn door behind it will not change the outcome.

Wasn’t the Ozone layer horse also out of the barn?

Posted by: j2t2 at June 2, 2011 11:41 AM
Comment #323882

J2t2

Re quakes – as you may guess, I am very proudly American. When I say “we” I usually mean American and not the whole of benighted humanity. As I mentioned above, the fact that earthquakes are so much deadlier in other places than in the U.S. shows what CAN be done.

Re climate – the article doesn’t attack the idea of climate or even mention it except to point out that adaption count and the stats are misleading.

Re your implicit assumptions - I think they are implicit. When you talk of government cuts, you imply that things will get worse. You are measuring inputs not outputs or outgrowths. The government does not distribute food to most people, yet we all get to eat every day. In places where government is in the food business, this is less often true.

Re Ozone – it is very different. CO2, for one thing, is omnipresent and the product of a great variety of things, including simple breathing, natural decomposition and all sorts of combustion. None of these things is easily replaced and some are not replaceable at all.

Beyond that, the science tells us that there is already enough CO2 and other GHG in the air that the climate WILL warm. Even if nothing else was added. And things will be added. The Chinese in 2020 will alone produce more GHG than the entire world did in 1990. The horse is well away.

Posted by: C&J at June 2, 2011 9:06 PM
Comment #323887

C&J, you agreed that things got better due to the ability to predict weather events yet they won’t get worse when funding is cut and equipment is allowed to deteriorate, staff is overworked or not in place. Somehow channel whatever will wake the citizens and call for an orderly evacuation, or will they use the info to sell to the highest bidder and use the newsreel footage of the subsequent disaster to attract more viewers?

Posted by: j2t2 at June 2, 2011 9:32 PM
Comment #323889

j2t2

I think you mistake inputs for outputs or outcomes. Think of the case of education. We spend more money but get less.

It is a common government trick, BTW, when threatened with cuts to put forth the thing people like best and claim that will be cut.

Posted by: C&J at June 2, 2011 9:56 PM
Comment #323893
I think you mistake inputs for outputs or outcomes. Think of the case of education. We spend more money but get less.

Well we all know it takes money to make money C&J. Yet you would trust the lives of your family to channel whatever hoping that they have your best interest at heart despite the fact that they live or die by ratings and don’t have your best interests at heart?


It is a common government trick, BTW, when threatened with cuts to put forth the thing people like best and claim that will be cut.

Probably so as they are no different from the corporate world in that respect, but the dedicated at the NWS don’t do what they do for riches and rewards, as they do in the corporate world. Lets face facts, inflation has eaten away at the dollar, taxes have been cut time and again, millions less are working to pay taxes and we can spin till hell freezes over but the NWS will do a better job than channel whatever until channel whatever is rewarded in big dollars for saving lives. Who do you trust today C&J?

Posted by: j2t2 at June 2, 2011 10:55 PM
Comment #323949

J2t2

I believe in trust but verify for everybody. I don’t think that either government or private enterprise can be trusted to do the right thing. Both need check, balances and competition.

I am not saying that they are even trying to be dishonest. I know that many times I TRY to do the right thing only to find out that someone else has a better idea. It is good that I do not have the overwhelming power to stifle that. In fact, as a leader, you know that the biggest risk you face is that your idea will preempt the better ones of others. This is a risk for government, which has the actual power to preempt others. Most politicians are not as self-aware as we are and may believe they have the answers.

Re closing the most important thing, they call that the Washington Monument ploy. Indeed, you are correct that it also happens in private business. Nobody likes to take a cut and most people (especially government) calls a small increase a “cut.” It happens whenever those using the money have different incentives from those supplying it. Private business suffers from this too, but it is not as powerful as government, since it cannot compel obedience.

The national weather service is a crucial government function. I doubt private enterprise will do such a comprehensive job. However, all government bureaucracies get bloated and missions creep. For example, all government now has a task of “reaching out” to under served communities, code for politically significant groups. This is may be good, but has little to do with weather. Maybe government should stick to its core functions and leave the picking winners to the people themselves.

Posted by: C&J at June 3, 2011 9:24 PM
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