NEVER let a natural disaster go to waste.
Even before Hurricane Sandy slammed the Northeast, tweeters and bloggers and pundits — oh my! — engaged in rank speculation about the superstorm's ties to climate change. Now the speculation is going mainstream.
Bound to happen. Global warming zealots never waste a chance to exploit tragic events for political gain. Superstorms have hit the Northeast a number of times since records started being kept. They hit the area countless times before record-keeping began. If global warming was to blame then, it wasn't caused by coal-fired power plants.
“It's Global Warming, Stupid” was the headline used by Bloomberg Businessweek to exploit Sandy. “Our cover story this week may generate controversy,” editor Josh Tyrangiel wrote, “but only among the stupid.”
Only among the arrogant elite can such speculation be stated as scientific fact by people who wouldn't know a mesocyclone from mesothelioma. Bloomberg's namesake, who happens to be mayor of New York City, also got into the act — as did New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The usual pattern following a Sandy-like event is to note its ferocity and uniqueness, link it to climate change and then link that to human activity.
Human activity is indeed a factor in the devastation. The greater the number of people who live in coastal areas and the more expensive the property in those areas, the higher the death toll and property damage from superstorms.
“Public discussion of disasters risks being taken over by the climate lobby and its allies, who exploit every extreme event to argue for action on energy policy,” Roger Pielke Jr. wrote Thursday in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. Pielke is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, which isn't a hotbed of conservative academic views. Pielke argues rationally that storms must be kept in perspective and exposure to storms must be managed.
Sandy shouldn't be used as an excuse to reshape the economy just so more wealthy people can protect their beach homes. Other rational voices point out that the Atlantic is in a warming cycle while the Pacific is in a cooling pattern. This will reverse in short order and unleash other weather trends, which no doubt will also be blamed on climate change due to perceived assaults on the environment.
A rise in sea levels — which has occurred since the dawn of time — obviously puts coastal areas at more risk from storm surges. Shrinking sea levels would put $2 million beachfront homes farther from the surf. A rational approach would include not rewarding people who live too close to the shore, which we do when we help them cover their losses.
Couldn't that approach be used against tornado-prone Oklahoma? We think not. The chance of any tornado, much less an EF5, hitting any particular spot in this state is remote. The chances of a hurricane hitting the Outer Banks is much higher. Still, people should be allowed to live near a beach if they're willing to take the risk.
Pielke notes that the deadly 2011 tornado outbreaks, also linked by some to climate change, were comparable only to those of 1953 and 1964, but “such tornado impacts were far more common in the first half of the 20th century.” That would be the half when the population was much lower and far fewer cars and trucks were overheating the air.
Our conclusions about global warming may generate controversy, but only among those easily swayed by the well-financed climate change lobby. Unlike Bloomberg, we won't insult them by calling them stupid.