EDITORIAL: Celebrating tragedy

A storm is bad enough without the money-making political hype

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The typhoon that slammed into the Philippines laid waste to vast stretches of the island nation. Houses were leveled, and wreckage was strewn as far as the eye could see. Thousands died. Officials are racing against the clock to find the missing among the 2.1 million displaced families. U.S. Marines were dispatched to lend the appropriate hand in the benevolent search-and-rescue mission.

Others are merely searching for opportunity. George Clooney, the actor, interrupted partying in Beverly Hills to declaim about the tragedy. “The idea that we ignore that we are in some way involved in climate change is ridiculous.” And it’s not just Hollywood trying to spin Typhoon Haiyan. Australian climatologist Will Steffen blames mankind. “Once [cyclones] do form,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald, “they get most of their energy from the surface waters of the ocean. We know sea-surface temperatures are warming pretty much around the planet, so that’s a pretty direct influence of climate change on the nature of the storm.”

When scientists mention “climate change,” they’re usually talking about blaming man for overheating the planet. Man exhales carbon dioxide, the gas that plants feed on and convert into oxygen. This is a good thing, yet chemically identical carbon-dioxide molecules become a “pollutant” when emitted from the tailpipe of an internal combustion engine. These evil, man-made carbon-dioxide molecules supposedly stir an angry, hot planet to lash out with fierce storms.

Typhoon Haiyan packed a formidable wallop, a two-fisted assault with torrential rain and high wind, and opportunists have sought to make bad enough sound worse, calling it a “195 mph superstorm” as if it were the most powerful storm ever to make landfall, whipped and fueled by global warming. The 195 mph figure comes from NASA satellites, which measure wind speeds at high altitude. Actual measurements taken on the ground tell a slightly more modest tale.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration clocked the wind at 145 mph at landfall. That’s a heavyweight tempest, just not the record-breaker. The typhoon struck at a nation still tender from an earthquake that struck less than a month ago, registering 7.1 on the Richter scale. To put it in perspective, that’s stronger than the 1989 temblor in San Francisco that collapsed an elevated freeway.

Though Typhoon Haiyan was extremely powerful, there’s nothing particularly unusual about devastating storms in Southeast Asia. Typhoons bedeviled the western Pacific long before internal combustion engines began sending those extra carbon-dioxide molecules into the atmosphere. The Climate Depot website tells of an equivalent typhoon that hit the Philippines in 1882 with instruments recording 144 mph winds before the instruments broke.

Blaming typhoons on global warming is inaccurate, and even the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concedes in its latest report, “Globally, there is low confidence in attribution of changes in tropical cyclone activity to human influence.”

Such facts don’t matter much to the purveyors of global-warming hysteria. Tall tales bring in big money. When Al Gore left the White House in 2001 to become the high priest of climate change, he had never held a job outside government. Now he’s worth $200 million.

Nobody on the gravy train is likely to give up the platform to exploit tragedy and misery with fanciful tales of weather mayhem. Ghouls, goblins and tellers of tall tales had their big night on Halloween. What the Philippines needs now is food, water, medicine and shelter.

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