3 Stupid Responses to Hurricane Sandy - and Every Other Disaster You Can Think Of

This trifecta gets trotted out whenever there's a hurricane, earthquake, or terrifying event.

(Page 3 of 3)

3. This Latest Event Confirms Everything I Have Always Believed In!

On Monday's Morning Joe, Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University's Earth Institute underscored that Hurricane Sandy was evidence that man-made climate change needed to be addressed pronto and wasn't it shameful that the topic didn't even come up during the presidential debates? Worse still was the continuing - and frankly inexplicable - reluctance of people everywhere to sign on to his preferred plan to save the world (which predates Sandy by many years and will doubtless outlive all memories of the storm too).

He was joined in such deep thoughts by Chuck Todd, who noted that when he was a kid growing up in Florida, he just didn't remember storms getting named with letters so deep into the alphabet (an indication that the number of storms in a given season is growing). The Post's Eugene Robinson perfectly summarizes a widely observed mind-set where hunches are better than actual information:

I know it’s impossible to definitively blame any one storm on human-induced atmospheric warming. But I’m sorry, these off-the-charts phenomena are becoming awfully commonplace. By the time scientists definitively establish what’s happening, it will be too late.

Former Vice President Al Gore, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm scatted variations on this theme too. For Gore, the 2010 flood in Nashville was a milestone that led him to understand better that "Dirty energy makes dirty weather." Given that Gore's Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which featured miles of footage of Gore musing about catastrophic climate change, came out in 2006, it's kind of hard to believe that the Nashville flood was that a big a deal for him, but whatever.

Look, hunches are bad ideas at the race track, at a singles bar, and for rogue cops who play by their own rules but deliver results, dammit! They're not all that much better when it comes to proposing massive geo-political restructuring of global energy production and use.

On the specific point about the number of storms and the severity of the damage they cause, it's worth actually looking at something a bit firmer than Chuck Todd's remembrance of things past. In a 2007 piece for Reason.com, Ronald Bailey noted that the data about the annual number of storms is not a slam dunk one way or another, though the theory that global warming might boost the count (and the severity) certainly makes sense. At the same time, it's likely that storm trackers underestimated storms in the 20th century for the same technological reasons we can follow them better now. Arguably more important - after all, by most climate-change models, even pulling the plug on all energy use now will have next to no effect on weather for decades if not centuries or milennia to come - is the fact that deaths from extreme weather events have continued to drop throughout the past 100 years. The dollar amount of damages goes up because there are more people on the planet, more folks live near a coast than ever before, and inflation keeps on rising (despite Ben Bernanke's promises).

On the more general point of using any specific disaster or tragedy to prove your pre-existing (and ex post facto) beliefs, keep in mind what Jerry Falwell said on September 13, 2001 - right around the same time Paul Krugman's wife must have been doing final edits on his grotesque and inaccurate Times col about the stimulative properties of mass destruction.

Speaking with Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, Falwell waved aside such minor details as the Allah-loving nutjobs who had hijacked planes and flown them into buildings in New York and D.C. Instead, he laid into "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians...and the ACLU, People for the American Way" for working to "secularize" the good old U.S. of A. "I point the finger in their face and say, 'you helped make this happen,'" preached Falwell.

Nobody really wants to be like that, do they, to be like Captain Ahab staring at the landscape image in the doubloon nailed to the Pequod's mast in Moby-Dick

Look here,—three peaks as proud as Lucifer. The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab;

Yeah, yeah, we get it already, Cap'n A! Everything that happens just happens to perfectly confirm everything you already know to be absolutely true. Even Falwell didn't want to be Ahab; he tried to apologize the next day for his outburst.

It may just be that especially in times of catastrophes, zipping your mouth for a couple of minutes may be the smartest course of action. And the most comforting to those who are actually in distress.

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  • The Craig||

    0 for 3 on alt-text. This means I am 0 for 3 on reading the articles.

  • The Craig||

    Fuck, nevermind

  • Hyperion||

    The storm appeared to be headed straight for Baltimore on Monday at noon. Not sure what happened, but I don't see any real damage here at all. A few small tree limbs down and leaves blown around, but nothing big enough to cause any damage. I have heard that there are some folks in the area without power, but I never lost it and I don't personally know anyone who did.

    One thing I can say for sure is that Irene was far worse here and not nerely as hyped.

    I guess the storm decided that there are more assholes in NYC and Jersey who deserve divine punishment and so for the most part, left us alone.

  • Hyperion||

    Nearly. I am not even going to say anything about edit feature. I guess & is some sort of a start.

  • The Craig||

    There was a port-a-pot knocked over on the side of 795. Such devastation.

  • Hyperion||

    OMG! Shock and Awe! Get a photo quick and send to the Baltimore Sun, they are out of material for the last few decades.

  • ||

    As a gulf coaster more used to this thing: if the storm ended up moving north of you, you were on the the safer side of the storm as it spins counter clockwise. The winds are always far weaker on this side. Here in Houston it is always preferable to for the storms to shift over to Beaumont or L.A. than shift down south.

  • The Hammer||

    Could you really tell the difference in Baltimore?

  • The Craig||

    Seems a little cleaner to me.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Speaking with Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, Falwell waved aside such minor details as the Allah-loving nutjobs who had hijacked planes and flown them into buildings in New York and D.C. Instead, he laid into "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians...and the ACLU, People for the American Way" for working to "secularize" the good old U.S. of A. "I point the finger in their face and say, 'you helped make this happen,'"

    So Falwell was saying that violent Muslim terrorists were doing God's will.

    OBL agreed.

  • ||

    Far more ironically, he was employing the "blowback" argument as an explanation for the attack. It's nice to see that Reason can that line of argument for the shallow and lazy blame shifting it is when it is coming from the lips of someone they dislike.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If climate changed didn't cause this unprecedented hurricane to suddenly appear in the Atlantic Ocean in late October then I don't know what did.

  • Hyperion||

    ManBearPig?

  • Rick Santorum||

    Natural disasters are because God hates fags Gaia hates pollution.

  • Jake W||

    HAARP

  • HenryMiller||

    You are correct: you don't know what did.

    Some people, unfortunately, take ignorance as a reason to believe any bit of drivel that comes along.

    There's really nothing wrong with saying "I don't know."

  • James1754||

    It is still hurricane season, a little late but still hurricane season. What caused it is called weather.

  • Severely Ltd||

    I think your last five words sum it up pretty well. In 2001 hurricane Michelle formed in the Caribbean, winds up to 140 mph and churned across Cuba, and me, in the Bahamas. If it had turned and hit the U.S., you might remember it. Nice jump to your conclusion, though.

  • Bryan C||

    Interocitors?

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    Nanu.

  • Paleo-ConAvenger||

    Ill give FEMA the benefit of the doubt. Most people do not understand FEMA's "mission", and media hype and pressure usually shapes FEMA's response. I have an uncle that works part time with FEMA as a lead inspector. Hes always says he denies the vast majority of "claims" because people and businesses expect FEMA to subsidize their loses. Even he wants FEMA to be dismantled. Although he probably isn't the typical FEMA worker, he actually spent his entire life in the private sector.

    Katrina was largely a mess because of the state response.

    We'll see if Romney has the cajones to stand up to the leftards about cutting FEMA.

  • Raven Nation||

    Isn't FEMA's mission to set up detention camps that can be used after the alien-engineered plague decimates America?

  • Paleo-ConAvenger||

  • Raven Nation||

    Well, if Jesse says it's true, I'm convinced.

  • Paleo-ConAvenger||

    You see, Jesse is a REAL BIG L Libertarian says my Paultard friends. Anyone who disagrees is a part of the plan!

  • ||

    Love the Paul, hate the paultard.

  • RightNut||

    Well I'm thinking of Moby Dick, which I found an utterly joyless read but with some surprisingly poetic prose, I thought of this rather spot on quote about the storm.

    "When beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it, and would not willingly remember that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang."

    Herman Melville
    Moby Dick

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    sometimes when I read old stuff, I think to myself "wow man. people really knew how to write back in the day. what a bunch of mouth breathing heathens we are".

    But when I read that quote I think to myself "Holy crap man. get to the point, are you paid by the word?"

  • PapayaSF||

    Wouldn't a paw conceal a claw and not a fang?

  • Spoonman.||

    Finally at work, because there's power downtown and to SEPTA. Still no power at home.

    I am following the policy that if I can't see myself clearly in my shaving mirror, I don't have to shave.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    SEPTA not having power has nothing to do with storms.

  • Andrew S.||

    Back in 1635, a major hurricane hit the northeast. It's estimated that it hit Long Island as a category 4 hurricane, and then hit between Plymouth and Boston as a category 3. Landfall pressure is estimated to have been 938mb, the strongest ever for a storm that far north.

    One day, that's going to happen again (or the 1938 Long Island Express will happen again, or the 1944 Great Atlantic Hurricane will happen again...), and it will be far worse than Sandy. And that doesn't even take into account the thought that one day, a hurricane similar to the 1938 Long Island Express will go directly into Lower Manhattan and leave JFK Airport under 20 feet of water.

    I'd really love to see the claims that would come out of THAT kind of storm.

  • CE||

    But how could that be, when there was no global warming in 1635?

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    And how was it that Chuck Todd didn't notice there were US-striking hurricanes every year from 1950 through 1999, but not a single one in 2000, 2001, 2006, 2009 or 2010.

    How much global warming was there in the 1950s, through the 1990s versus the 2000s?

  • James1754||

    About as much global warming as there is today, none.

  • Briggie||

    Texas Sharpshooter?

  • Briggie||

    Or if something similar to the perfect storm of 91 when the ocean is warmer, like in July.

  • Briggie||

    perfect storm of 91 occurs*

    No edit feature :(

  • Philo||

    According to ICAT, the professional organization who estimates potential storm damages for the insurance companies, when adjusted for inflation and current population build-up, Sandy was about #17 in ranking for destructive hurricanes. Three hurricanes that hit the east coast in the 1950's would have each been about twice as destructive had they happended today. They have a very interesting website, including an online storm estimator: http://www.icatdamageestimator.com

  • Mr Whipple||

    I just know Pauly Krugnuts was in front of his TV the entire time with the Weather Channel on and his pants down moaning,

    "mmmmmmmmmmmmm, stimmmmmmmmmmmulousssssssssssssssssss

  • The Late P Brooks||

    people and businesses expect FEMA to subsidize their loses.

    Imagine my surprise.

  • Bob Straub||

    From an article in today's Lancaster Intelligencer Journal / New Era, via AP:
    "In the long run, the devastation the storm inflicted on New York City and other parts of the Northeast will barely nick the U.S. economy. That’s the view of economists who say a slightly slower economy in coming weeks will likely be matched by reconstruction and repairs that will contribute to growth over time."

    Nuts!

  • ||

    Sort-of related: Bashar Assad claims Hurricane Sandy was caused by Iranian weather-control technology:

    [H]urricane Sandy "Is a result of an advanced technology developed by heroic Iran."

    At a hastily assembled press conference, President Obama declared in response, "Weather-control technology must not be allowed in Iranian hands, at all costs. Until this issue can be resolved, the Department of Defense has been given the greenlight to develop 'Cloud City', a new weather-defense program."
  • The Hammer||

    I don't get it. They spent the entire week leading up to this comparing this thing to the storm from "The Perfect Storm," and now all of a sudden it's "unprecedented." The damage is only unprecedented because it hit further south than the previous one and there was more stuff in the way.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Norfolk and Long Island hurricane in 1821, 17 deaths.
    Hurricane Five in 1894, 10 deaths.
    New England Hurricane in 1938, 60 deaths.
    Great Atlantic Hurricane in 1944, 6 deaths.
    Hurricane Edna in 1954, 29 deaths.
    Hurricane Agnes in 1972, 6 deaths.
    Hurricane Belle in 1976, 1 death.
    Hurricane Gloria in 1985, 1 death.
    Hurricane Bob in 1991, 2 deaths.
    Tropical Storm Beryl in 1994, 2 deaths.
    Hurricane Floyd in 1999, 2 deaths.
    Tropical Storm Cristobal in 2002, 3 deaths.
    Hurricane Isabel in 2003, 1 death.
    Hurricane Frances in 2004, 1 death.
    Tropical Storm Tammy in 2005, 1 death.
    Hurricane Irene in 2011, 5 deaths.
    Hurricane Sandy in 2012, 55 deaths.

  • CE||

    If one hurricane is good for the economy, why wouldn't a hurricane every week be even better?

    The problem comes when "economists" equate "economic activity" or "combined spending by everyone" with the health of the economy.

    If you're spending money to fix things that were working fine yesterday, your economy is not getting better -- you're wasting resources that could have been used to create new goods and services, if the disaster hadn't occurred.

    The health of a system should never be measured just by kinetic energy -- you have to consider the potential energy as well. An electrical system that is shorting out has a lot of current running, but the stored charge won't last for long. For an economy, that means spending, but also productive capacity and savings.

  • oblivia||

    Strawman. Nobody is saying that hurricanes are "good". They're saying that they increase spending in the economy, which is a statement of fact.

    "If you're spending money to fix things that were working fine yesterday, your economy is not getting better -- you're wasting resources that could have been used to create new goods and services, if the disaster hadn't occurred."

    You're describing an economy operating at full capacity. But imagine an economy where resources are being wasted because they're sitting idle, then imagine that Phenomenon X comes along and consumes those resources. That's better, right?

    If you're an unemployed roofer in New Jersey, is the sudden availability of work a bad thing? Should you feel bad about helping people to re-build their homes instead of collecting the dole at home?

    Look at America before WWII and after it. The country went from the Great Depression to a golden age of growth and prosperity, thanks in large part to the increased spending of the war years.

    Close to half a million Americans died during WWII. It was not "good". But it did generate the spending that kickstarted the most beloved period in conservative folklore.

    Of course, if it wasn't the war that caused economic growth, I guess you could always argue that it was the New Deal...

  • Bryan C||

    "You're describing an economy operating at full capacity. But imagine an economy where resources are being wasted because they're sitting idle, then imagine that Phenomenon X comes along and consumes those resources. That's better, right?"

    No, it isn't better. You've consumed resources and ended up, at best, exactly where you were before. No net gain. And in the meantime, large parts of the economy that were still functioning at some level despite the recession have now been shut down completely. Many for good, because they have no capital left to rebuild. Government has taxed it all away.

    WWII didn't end the great depression by burning resources. It destroyed the the industrial capacity of our economic competitors. This allowed us to enjoy a period of relative prosperity at home, but overseas it resulted in counterproductive economic and social policies that lead inexorably to the long-term decline of Europe's entire economy.

  • RickC||

    My question is, if your formulation is true then why wait for the occasional natural disaster or world war? Why not employ a mass of folks to go around and wreak destruction with another mass following behind rebuilding?

    Also, there is quite a bit of scholarship that calls into question your theories of WWII or the New Deal as having brought about economic recovery.

  • Redmanfms||

    "Of course, if it wasn't the war that caused economic growth, I guess you could always argue that it was the New Deal..."

    Or, if you actually know anything about economics you could argue that it was neither and the Great Depression/Recession didn't actually end until the early '50s, but thanks for playing prog.

  • CE||

    The hurricane shutting down the city for a day was an expensive hit on the economy, and a tragedy for many people who lost their lives or their property or some of their income. The mayor shutting down the city for a day the day before the hurricane did was stupid.

  • HenryMiller||

    If Paul Krugman ever gets a flat tyre, he's going to expect the federal government to buy him a new car. He obviously earned his Nobel in economics in exactly the same way Al Gore and Obama earned their prizes: by being Leftist loons.

  • harold_lloyd||

    We get that everyone is wrong, but how about some examples of what you think is right in a situation like this.

    Pretend you're in charge, the Prez, what are you going to do?

  • wef||

    re tropical storms and hurricanes - though the theory that global warming might boost the count (and the severity) certainly makes sense

    This is a popular but incorrect notion that tropical storm counts and severity would be enhanced by CO2-induced global warming. Storms are (in great part) a function of temperature gradients, not global temperatures. Based on the "theory" on which the big models are based, with global warming (induced by global CO2 increase) such gradients should decline. That's the basic theory. In physical-practical terms, however, we do not have evidence to say.

  • JeremyR||

    In a way though, Falwell was right. 50 years ago, had 9/11 happened, we would have nuked the hell out of Afghanistan.

    Nowadays, because our culture hates itself, we're weak and start half-assed wars we can't be bothered to finish.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Whenever some person who claims to be an economist demonstrates their inability to understand the broken window fallacy, it proves that most alleged economists haven't been educated at all, they've been comprehensively misinformed. How many of them will even admit that Keynes' monumental turd, his much-touted "General Theory", is completely incoherent?

    -jcr

  • Choey||

    The laws of thermodynamics say that global warming should result in fewer less intense storms, not more. But then, who needs the laws of thermodynamics? There is nothing Mann-made global warming can't do.

  • ||

    Hurricane Katrina (itself a case study in the failure of local, state, and federal governments to provide basic safety for residents)

    ... By, what, failing to drag people out of their homes, throw them in the evacuation wagon, and lock them in a safety zone while they rebuilt their homes? Very libertarian.

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