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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.
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.