One of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever measured (including the Gulf of Mexico) named Ida hit the U.S. last week. Ida appears to have been responsible for fewer than 100 deaths, which is a tragedy, but a fraction of the reported 1,833 killed in Hurricane Katrina, which landed in the same place in 2005, or the estimated 8,000 lives lost in the Great Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900. Most Ida deaths occurred in New Jersey, and not Louisiana, from people being trapped in flooded cars.
Why the great difference in death tolls? The short answer is infrastructure and better forecasting. In 2005, the levee system and pumps protecting New Orleans failed. In 2021, the rebuilt and better-engineered levee system and pumps protecting New Orleans held.
For the last four decades, the public has been saturated with endless horror stories about “global warming.” Yet, despite a continuing slow rise in sea levels, the ability to deal with hurricanes and other natural disasters is increasing, while in fact, the number of landfall hurricanes in the U.S. since 1900 has slightly decreased. Before the age of weather satellites, many hurricanes that stayed at sea were not detected or measured at all.
Many politicians, particularly in New Jersey and New York, were quick to blame hurricane Ida on global warming – without evidence – but it was a handy scapegoat to cover for their own lack of preparedness. Most members of the news media parroted the nonsense, for to do otherwise would require some thought and real explanation and would have embarrassed their political allies.
You may be unaware (because much of the media has failed to report) that the recent studies of the rate of climate change show a decline from earlier estimates. The good news is that even with the current state of engineering knowledge, people will adapt to the expected slow rise of sea levels and CO2 emissions, probably without much difficulty for the next century or two – and by then, the technology is likely to have advanced to such a point that what seems like a big problem today will be moot.
You may have noticed that much of the political class and their media and Hollywood allies are implicitly acknowledging this fact (regardless of what they say) by continuing to buy and build costly homes by the ocean and fly around in private jets. The narrative has now changed from climate being the most important problem facing mankind to “racism.”
Most people, past and present, have doomsday scenarios that they believe for a variety of reasons. My doomsday scenario is not climate change or racism but a global financial collapse. If you live long enough, you will see who is right. (The climate alarmists made the mistake of having too few years to their end-of-the-world predictions, and stuff like the end of the Arctic ice cap and global famine – the planet is actually getting greener with more food – have failed to occur, thus rightly damaging their credibility.
A fun thing to do is look at old maps of Manhattan (which can be found on the web) starting in the 1600s. Despite rising sea levels for the last 400 years, Manhattan Island gets bigger each decade rather than smaller – as the edges are expanded by land fill. This happens to most major cities, and over the centuries, cities get higher as the new structures are built on top of the previous ones – which is a great boon to archeologists.
The state of Florida is actually getting bigger, not smaller, despite claims of environmental fear mongers. 120 years ago, Miami Beach did not exist – just a few sand bars and mangrove swamps. Coastal land is precious – so the incentives are to create more of it – which is exactly what happens. Sea level rise was a threat to Miami Beach – it was only built nine feet or so above sea level a hundred years ago. So, rather than the people moving elsewhere, the decision was made to literally raise Miami Beach, a great engineering project that is underway, so it should be well above sea level for another century or so – at which time they will raise it again.
Technology is not at the stage where mankind knows how to alter the climate (despite claims contrary), and there is no agreement on the ideal climate – temperature, rainfall, etc. Scientists cannot even agree on the optimum level of CO2 in the atmosphere: more CO2 causes most plants to grow faster, i.e., more and cheaper food, but too much C02 could damage animal life.
Many forms of “renewable energy” actually have a bigger carbon footprint than natural gas when all costs are correctly measured. Most renewables reduce the reliability of the electric grid, making the ability to cope with storms more, rather than less, difficult and adding to the loss of life.
Government nannies hate the idea, but the free-market price system and engineering know-how, in many cases, can do a far better job in efficiently meeting most energy, environmental, and storm safety needs. Funding infrastructure improvements through user fees or private tolls for roads, dams, ports, etc., tend to allocate capital better with less waste than projects designed and built by government actors using general tax revenues.
• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.