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Commentary

Bloomberg’s November Surprise


     
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The multibillionaire mayor of New York City has combined bad climate science and bad politics, hoping to help swing the electorate toward reelecting Barack Obama.

The New York Times (Nov. 2) reports:

In a surprise announcement, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Thursday [Nov. 1] that Hurricane Sandy had reshaped his thinking about the presidential campaign and that as a result, he was endorsing President Obama. But he said he had decided over the past several days that Mr. Obama was the better candidate to tackle the global climate change that he believes might have contributed to the violent storm, which took the lives of at least 38 New Yorkers and caused billions of dollars in damage.

The Christian Science Monitor reminds us that:

“One of Bloomberg’s major concerns as mayor for the past 11 years has been global warming. He’s tried to lower New York City’s carbon footprint by planting more trees, getting more people to ride bikes, and looking for alternative energy supplies for one of the nation’s largest consumers of power. From Bloomberg’s viewpoint, Obama has marched in the same direction by setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, tightening controls on mercury emissions, and closing the dirtiest coal plants.

In an editorial for Bloomberg View he wrote:

Our climate is changing—and while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be—given the devastation it is wreaking—should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.

In making his endorsement, Mr. Bloomberg listed the various steps that Mr. Obama had taken over the last four years to confront the issue of climate change, including pushing regulations that seek to curtail emissions from cars and power plants. But the mayor cited other reasons for endorsing Mr. Obama, including the president’s support for abortion rights and for same-sex marriage, two high-priority issues for the mayor.

This is not to say Bloomberg is overjoyed with Obama.

As president he devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists, which doomed hope for any real progress on illegal guns, immigration, tax reform, job creation and deficit reduction. And, rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice, he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.

Yet a leading British newspaper presents a quite different view:

The city of New York always has been a paean to human achievement—but seldom more than it is this week. The recovery from Hurricane Sandy is turning out to be more spectacular than the storm itself. The New York marathon is to proceed as planned on Sunday, sending 50,000 runners down streets where taxis were floating just a few days ago. A subway system which was deluged with seawater on Tuesday has already started to roar back to life. The New York Stock Exchange was open again after just two days, and was ashamed to have closed for even that long. Broadway shows have reopened. Work has begun pumping 86 million gallons of water from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

Had Superstorm Sandy struck five years ago, we would by now be hearing all manner of theories linking it to climate change or murky claims that it represented Gaia’s revenge. But as science evolves, the hysteria is draining out of the climate change debate—and a new rationalism taking its place. We might not be sure that we can make any meaningful difference to its trajectory, but we know that we can adapt to it.

In the old days, prime ministers would jet off to climate summits, making Flash Gordon-style declarations about there being only so many hours left to save the world. If you believed that the planet is warming, and that human activity is at least in part to blame (which I do) then you were asked to sign up to all manner of carbon-cutting schemes, regardless of what they’d accomplish. Environmentalism became the new Live Aid. Posters linked third-world floods to wasteful British household habits.

It has since become harder to sustain such simplistic, emotive claims. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admitted that the extent of mankind/s influence on extreme weather events is uncertain—and may not be clear for another 30 years. Fossil fuel consumption in the rich world peaked five years ago; the rise now comes from poorer countries, where millions are living longer, better (and yes, more carbon-intensive) lives. It would be impossible, not to say sadistic, to try to impede such progress.

So rising carbon emissions are, to a significant extent, a side effect of alleviating global poverty. And poverty is by far a bigger killer than climate. At least 74 people died from Superstorm Sandy, but had a similar storm struck Asia, the toll could have run into the thousands. A recent MIT study into natural disasters between 1980 and 2002 found that America suffered an average of 17 deaths per windstorm, compared to almost 2,000 in Bangladesh. The average flood cost six lives in the former, but 210 in the latter. It wasn’t that the storms were more severe or more frequent—just that America had the money to cope better.

Nature’s fury can be awesome – but man’s resilience and inventiveness is more awesome still.

Bloomberg’s Climate Science Is Abysmal

Evidently, Mayor Bloomberg has imbibed climate hype – even as US public opinion has become increasingly skeptical. Tellingly, neither Obama nor Romney has been discussing climate change. As reported by Andrew Revkin’s blog dot.earth and by the Huffington Post, Martin Hoerling, who chairs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate variability research program and oversees NOAA’s Climate Scene Investigators, has debunked the assertion that global warming played a significant role in Hurricane Sandy.

Bloomberg should listen to University of Colorado climate expert Prof. Roger Pielke, writing in the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 31):

Sandy was terrible, but we’re currently in a relative hurricane ‘drought.’ Connecting energy policy and disasters makes little scientific sense. . . . But to call Sandy a harbinger of a “new normal,” in which unprecedented weather events cause unprecedented destruction, would be wrong. This historic storm should remind us that planet Earth is a dangerous place, where extreme events are commonplace and disasters are to be expected. In the proper context, Sandy is less an example of how bad things can get than a reminder that they could be much worse.

While it’s hardly mentioned in the media, the U.S. is currently in an extended and intense hurricane ‘drought.’ The last Category 3 or stronger storm to make landfall was Wilma in 2005. The more than seven years since then is the longest such span in over a century.

Flood damage has decreased as a proportion of the economy since reliable records were first kept by the National Weather Service in the 1930s, and there is no evidence of increasing extreme river floods. Historic tornado damage (adjusted for changing levels of development) has decreased since 1950, paralleling a dramatic reduction in casualties. Although the tragic impacts of tornadoes in 2011 (including 553 confirmed deaths) were comparable only to those of 1953 and 1964, such tornado impacts were far more common in the first half of the 20th century.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that drought in America’s central plains has decreased in recent decades. And even when extensive drought occurs, we fare better. For example, the widespread 2012 drought was about 10% as costly to the U.S. economy as the multiyear 1988-89 drought, indicating greater resiliency of American agriculture.

There is therefore reason to believe we are living in an extended period of relatively good fortune with respect to disasters. A recurrence of the 1908 San Francisco earthquake today, for example, could cause more than $300 billion in damage and thousands of lives, according to a study I co-published in 2009.

Another danger: 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. In New York this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared: “I think at this point it is undeniable but that we have a higher frequency of these extreme weather situations and we’re going to have to deal with it.” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke similarly.

Humans do affect the climate system, and it is indeed important to take action on energy policy—but to connect energy policy and disasters makes little scientific or policy sense. There are no signs that human-caused climate change has increased the toll of recent disasters, as even the most recent extreme-event report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds. And even under the assumptions of the IPCC, changes to energy policies wouldn’t have a discernible impact on future disasters for the better part of a century or more.

The only strategies that will help us effectively prepare for future disasters are those that have succeeded in the past: strategic land use, structural protection, and effective forecasts, warnings and evacuations. That is the real lesson of Sandy.

Will Bloomberg Make a Difference?

I don’t expect that the Bloomberg endorsement will make a discernible impact on the presidential elections. After all, New York is a ‘Blue’ state and will go for Obama—no matter what. But voters in the swing states Ohio and Virginia certainly don’t relish Obama’s war on coal and are worried that his EPA would severely restrict ‘fracking’ for shale oil and gas. In Florida, another key state, retired elderly New Yorkers are more likely to follow former mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who has endorsed Romney.

On the other hand, Bloomberg has increasingly used his personal wealth and the bully pulpit of his office to support same-sex marriage and gun control. His active campaign for incumbent senator Scott Brown (R-MA), with whom he shares gun-control policies, may yet result in Republican control of the US Senate.


Atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and former founding Director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. He is author of Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate (The Independent Institute).

dot.earth

Hot Talk, Cold ScienceFrom S. Fred Singer
HOT TALK, COLD SCIENCE: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate
S. Fred Singer is a distinguished astrophysicist who has taken a hard, scientific look at the evidence. In this book, Dr. Singer explores the inaccuracies in historical climate data, the limitations of attempting to model climate on computers, solar variability and its impact on climate, the effects of clouds, ocean currents, and sea levels on global climate, and factors that could mitigate any human impacts on world climate. Learn More »»






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