What AOC & co. get horribly wrong about Dorian and climate change
With Hurricane Dorian striking the Bahamas and the East Coast, the climate blame game is now in full swing again: Global-warming activists, newspaper columnists, TV commentators and politicians are drawing links between climate change and hurricanes.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, warns, “This is what climate change looks like.” Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders one-ups that, tweeting: “Hurricane Dorian has everything to do with climate change, which is the existential crisis of our time.”
Julian Castro is also tying Dorian to global warming.
They’re wrong, but their warnings fit a pattern. When hurricanes Harvey and Irma both hit mainland US in quick succession in 2017, critics claimed this was the “new normal.”
In fact, those two storms, along with Michael in 2018, were the only three major hurricanes greater than a Category 3 to hit the continental US in the last 13 years. That’s a record low since 1900. For comparison, the average over the same timeframe has been nearly eight major hurricanes.
It’s vital to consider the science. In its most recent assessment, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that “no robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes … have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin.”
Globally, the international scientific body finds “no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency.”
What’s more, “confidence in large-scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones [big events like Superstorm Sandy] since 1900 is low.”
The person who did more than most to link global warming to hurricanes was Al Gore. A poster for his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” showed a hurricane growing out of a smokestack, and the former vice president blamed Hurricane Katrina on global warming.
Gore was following 2005 talking points from the Sierra Club that were intended for environmentalists looking to sell expensive limits on carbon emissions: “Ride the wave of public concern created over extreme weather,” the group advised.
Activists continue to ride that wave by taking advantage of fear, and by misusing the fact that hurricane costs do keep escalating. Yet this cost spike isn’t caused by climate change but by having more people with more wealth live in harm’s way.
Since 1900, the US population has risen four-fold, but Florida’s coastal population increased 67 times. Homes are bigger and have more expensive possessions.
Moreover, adjusted for population and wealth, US hurricane damage actually has not even gone up since 1900. As a percentage of global GDP, global weather damage dipped from 1990-2017.
And while it’s true that climate change will likely make hurricanes become somewhat stronger, it will also make them less frequent.
A major study in Nature showed hurricane damage today runs the world about 0.04 percent of GDP. Accounting for growth in prosperity (which means more resilience), by 2100 this would drop to 0.01 percent.
And the effect of global warming making storms fewer but stronger will see damage end up around 0.02 percent.
No wonder researchers who study extreme weather and climate change warn that overselling the link risks eroding “scientific credibility” and distracting from the things we need to do to be better prepared for extreme weather.
To reduce hurricane impacts, our first priority isn’t cutting carbon. Rather, we need to improve building codes.
And we should not allow so many houses to be built on vulnerable coastlines. One way to achieve that would be to stop subsidizing home insurance for building houses most likely to get wiped out in hurricanes — literally a subsidy for building irresponsibly.
We could also encourage more wetlands to soak up storm surges and undertake some of the many smart, adaptive measures in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for NYC, including subway covers to stop underground lines flooding.
We also need to keep in mind that more prosperous communities are better able to cope with disasters. This is especially clear when we consider the poor shantytowns in developing countries hit by hurricanes.
They don’t need people in rich countries piously trying to cut carbon emissions, which will at best slightly ease their increased suffering in 2100. They need to grow their economies, feed their kids, stop easily curable diseases and expand access to education so they can move into the 21st century and boost resilience.
For many in America, preparedness for hurricanes is a part of life. Activists and pundits divert our attention from smart policies to ineffective ones when they insist on linking today’s hurricanes wrongly to global warming.
Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
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