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Jul. 6 2010 - 2:54 pm | 203 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

In the Last Decade – Extreme Weather Deaths Outnumbered War Casualties

Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico near i...

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Safe to say, nothing is so bad that a hurricane can’t make worse. Take an existing problem, toss it around in the wind and smack it with flying debris – it’s certainly not going to improve. Shoddy construction is made worse, communication concerns – made worse, a struggling economy – made worse, disastrous Bush presidency – made worse. And now the wonders of deregulation – the BP Oil Spill – the worst environmental disaster in the history of the U.S. – found itself in the pathway of early riser Alex, the first official hurricane of this season.

Alex shut down drilling and clean-up efforts for a few days until it made landfall in Monterrey, Mexico, missing the marshes of Louisiana. Rain instead has plagued the region. The BP Oil Spill is already a current-carried glob of doom. It’s a mass of toxic sludge submerged in the Northern Hemisphere’s hotbed of hurricanes. As usual, we are at the mercy of the winds. We are the subjects of the impending season of storms that rip through our Gulf Coast every year.

In 2007 during a cable interview, Senator Barbara Boxer said, ”One of the very important national security threats we face is climate change.” Warmer waters in the Gulf will promise more hurricanes. Oceans will rise from the melting of glaciers. Heat waves will kill crops and damage industries. Famine, floods, tornadoes, drought, violent storms, fires, tsunamis, disease and unrest? Sure, this could be a concern to the security of the nation.

Now, sacked Hewlett-Packard CEO turned California Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina used the Boxer clip for an attack ad. Carly, in her curious Jodie Foster accent, said in the spot, “Terrorism kills and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather.”

Then the self-proclaimed fringe to the “lamestream media” and fraction-of-a-term governor Sarah Palin chimed in on Twitter, “BarbBoxer sez ’greatest security threat’ is WEATHER. Not nukes, or unsustainable debt leading 2 insolvency? Silly Senator, glad theres competition.” [Spaces added.]

Palin is like a militant reformed smoker – she quit her job as governor and now has contempt for all who continue the habit of public service. Silly Senator, keeping oaths are for chumps.

Okay, first off: the “weather” is not the “climate.” The difference between weather and climate is length of time. Weather is the immediate information – climate is the big picture. So it’s like trying to discuss a concern about a decade and Carly Fiorina says you’re worrying about an hour. This is why climate change deniers disagree with scientists – they’re not using the same measurements. If you believed miles were inches, you’d think you were being lied to by eggheads all the time too.

Our climate is changing. And yes, WEATHER is also something which warrants worry: In the last ten years, there were more Americans who died from extreme weather than there were U.S. soldiers who died in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined. According to the National Weather Service, during the last decade 5,754 people have died due to weather events such as extreme temperatures, flooding and hurricanes. Compare that death toll with the 5,521 soldiers killed in the two wars we’ve waged since 2001. Truth be told, to date there have been more U.S. lives lost as a result of Hurricane Katrina (estimated 1,800) than there have been U.S. soldiers killed in the war in Afghanistan (1,125).

And as far as Fiorina’s focus on terrorism killing – well, an average of 42 Americans die from being struck by lightning every year. As opposed to – well, almost none from terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Here’s the problem with the Politics of Fear and Confusion: it confuses what to fear. Is terrorism still a threat? Sure. Should we pursue the elimination of terrorism while ignoring all other concerns because it makes politicians seem tough? No – at least not anymore.

This week the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat advisory for the Northeast. Forecasters predict prolonged temperatures exceeding 102 degrees could wreak havoc in cities like New York, D.C. and Philadelphia. Several have already died from the heat. In 1980 during a similar heat wave was responsible for 1,250 deaths.

Why? Because weather kills.

How’s that “worried about the weather-y” thing workin’ for ya?


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  1. collapse expand

    Allow me to point out the standard disclaimer for investors: past experience is no indication of future expectations.

    What you are dealing with here is fundamental risk assessment. Risk assessment gets very difficult with low frequency, high impact events.

    The problem is that extreme weather events happen all the time. It is only as we inhabit more and more of the plant that we have begun to assess the risks differently.

    Likewise, you cite terrorism problems. We could be a nation like Lebanon. It is multi-cultural, yet riddled with political terrorism to a degree that is difficult to imagine here. There are risks associated with NOT fighting terrorism as there are risks associated with fighting those who foment it.

    Simply citing deaths from weather and deaths from war and then declaring that one is more dangerous than the other is very misleading. These are comparisons of low frequency high impact events. They are the result of a decision to deal aggressively with one threat versus a decision not to deal with another.

    You have a Heisenbergian effect here (measured parameters are affected by the measurement being made). The casualties are directly related to the decisions we have made earlier. Measuring these casualties is merely an indicator of how well the risk is being managed, not necessarily the potential magnitude of the risk.

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