A betting opportunity on human adaptability

The fierce tornadoes that killed hundreds of Americans during the past month have prompted some environmentalists, including Bill McKibben in a recent Washington Post op-ed, to declare that these disasters are related to man-made climate change — and that things are only going to get worse.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, economist Don Boudreaux instead points to data showing that, single-year variances notwithstanding, in fact the “number of weather-related fatalities, especially since 1980, has dropped dramatically”:

For the 30-year span of 1980-2009, the average annual number of Americans killed by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes was 194 — fully one-third fewer deaths each year than during the 1940-1979 period. The average annual number of deaths for the years 1980-2009 falls even further, to 160 from 194, if we exclude the deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina, most of which were caused by a levee that breached on the day after the storm struck land.

This decline in the absolute number of deaths caused by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes is even more impressive considering that the population of the United States more than doubled over these years — to 308 million in 2010 from 132 million in 1940.

Contrary to what many environmentalists would have us believe, Americans are increasingly less likely to be killed by severe weather. Moreover, because of modern industrial and technological advances — radar, stronger yet lighter building materials, more reliable electronic warning devices, and longer-lasting packaged foods — we are better protected from nature’s fury today than at any other time in human history. We do adapt. …

Since 1950 there have been 57 confirmed F5 tornadoes, with winds between 261–318 miles per hour, in the U.S. Of those, five struck in 1953; six in 1974. So far this year there have been four F5 tornadoes in the U.S., including the devastating storm that killed more than 130 people in Joplin on May 22. F5 tornadoes are massive, terrifying and deadly. But they generally touch down in unpopulated areas, thus going unnoticed. The tragedy of Joplin and other tornadoes this year is that they touched down in populated areas, causing great loss of life. Yet if these storms had struck even 20 years ago there would have been far more deaths.

But what makes Boudreaux’s counterargument really interesting is this:

So confident am I that the number of deaths from violent storms will continue to decline that I challenge Mr. McKibben — or Al Gore, Paul Krugman, or any other climate-change doomsayer — to put his wealth where his words are. I’ll bet $10,000 that the average annual number of Americans killed by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes will fall over the next 20 years. Specifically, I’ll bet that the average annual number of Americans killed by these violent weather events from 2011 through 2030 will be lower than it was from 1991 through 2010.

Boudreaux writes, and I agree, that the reaction by prominent environmentalists and commentators to his offer will be telling. The libertarian economist Julian Simon famously won a bet with Paul Ehrlich, author of “The Population Bomb,” in which Simon predicted commodity prices would fall in spite of growth in the world’s population (and thus demand for limited resources).

I’ll update the post with any news that someone has Boudreaux’s challenge. But if any of you would like to take Boudreaux’s bet, please let us know here first!

– By Kyle Wingfield

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43 comments Add your comment

Dearie

May 31st, 2011
12:08 pm

I’m first, which is apparently some big deal.
Kyle, I enjoy your writing. Thanks

Jimmy62

May 31st, 2011
12:24 pm

You forgot to mention the followup to the Ehrlich bet. Somehow, despite Ehrlich being wrong over and over again, people still listen to Ehrlich while ignoring Simon. Sort of like the end of the second Hayek vs. Keynes rap, where the press completely ignores Hayek. It’s not about who is right or wrong, it’s about whose views fit with how the media and the liberals wish things were.

Also like Paul Krugman, who’s predictions rarely come true, yet people still consider him an authority. How many times do you have to be wrong before people will stop listening? If you’re a liberal, it doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong, as long as your politics are left.

Bart Abel

May 31st, 2011
12:24 pm

Mr. Boudreaux limits his challenge to the number of AMERICANS killed by extreme weather conditions. Even if these statistics decline, as he predicts, this could result from technological advances available to those living in a developed country. Understandably, many believe that those in the developing world would suffer the most.

In truth, an economist has nothing to teach us about global warming. The persons to listen to on this issue are the actual experts, primarily climate scientists. Climatologists tell us that the Earth is warming, icebergs are melting, oceans are rising and that this creates extreme weather conditions over time: droughts, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Almost unanimously, these experts tell us that this warming is caused by human activity, and that we need to take action yesterday.

I heard a good analogy recently…if nine out of ten oncologists tell you that you have cancer, do you ignore them and do nothing because you found one doctor who tells you that the other nine are wrong?

Ideologically-driven media outlets and politicians are grasping at anything they can find to dismiss the science, even if it means listening to non-experts like a right-wing economist, the owner of The Weather Channel, or even a science-fiction. They don’t like the solutions to global warming, but as usual, prevention would be a lot cheaper than dealing with the disease, and probably save a few live to boot.

Lee Weber

May 31st, 2011
12:28 pm

The truly unfortunate thing is that although Ehrlich was wrong so many, many times, he continued to be quoted by those pushing a particular political agenda. The bet is a very cool idea, but from my experience it won’t make a bit of difference to those who attribute every instance of severe weather to man made climate change. It’s hot….climate change,…it’s cold, climate change…drought…climate change, floods…climate change.

Bjorn Lundqvist probably has it right. The climate is changing, some of it is due to human activity, and while there are things we can and should do, the measures proposed by the alarmists are neither cost effective nor liable to have much impact.

Bart Abel

May 31st, 2011
12:28 pm

Republican NJ Governor has spoken with some experts, and here’s what he has to say on the subject: http://blogs.ajc.com/jay-bookman-blog/2011/05/27/gops-chris-christie-climate-change-real-man-contributes/?cxntfid=blogs_jay_bookman_blog

In addition, Republicans John McCain, Sarah Palin, John Huntsman, Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty were all for doing something about climate change, as recently as 2008, before they were against it. I suspect that Republican primary voters had more to do with their changes of heart more than the science.

Lee Weber

May 31st, 2011
12:30 pm

Jimmy62, great minds, yadda, yadda, yadda…cheers!.

jconservative

May 31st, 2011
12:34 pm

Technical advances should continue to reduce that number.

Jefferson

May 31st, 2011
12:58 pm

Its the kids future, not ours…

Roger Pielke Jr.

May 31st, 2011
1:01 pm

@@

May 31st, 2011
1:39 pm

It’s rather ghoulish when someone bets against human life.

Simon’s win certainly didn’t stop people from buying into Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb”. His efforts to control the population are well underway.

Abortion on demand is Ehrlich’s dream come true.

Lil' Georgie Bailout

May 31st, 2011
2:10 pm

Yep, man-made changes to the environment is minimal. All of the changes we are experiencing right now is due to dinosaurs, their factories, and the gas guzzlers they tooted around in.

Hillbilly D

May 31st, 2011
2:16 pm

When it’s your time to go, something is going to take you out of this world. Nothing any man can do to change that.

The Anti-Wooten

May 31st, 2011
2:23 pm

It’s a reasonably safe bet that Boudreaux has made here due to some of the very factors that he mentions. Nexrad, more commonly known as Doppler radar was still in it’s infancy through a good part of the ‘91 – ‘00. As that has become more common and increasingly sophisticated the warning times have increased greatly. Portable water and foodstuffs make disaster preparedness easier and less costly. Building materials and codes that make newer buildings safer all contribute to fewer yearly deaths.

Beyond that, Boudreaux has the rest wrong. As Arctic ice coverage shrinks each year and becomes thinner the melt will begin sooner and be more dramatic resulting in cold polar air coming southward earlier, later and more frequently. This is why and how tornado activity is created so we may begin to see more frequent and even stronger tornado activity.

Warmer ocean water in the tropic and sub-tropic ocean areas is extremely likely to result in more and stronger tropical storms. As evacuation methods and routes have been improved we’ve seen less loss of life from these storms but the economic costs are rising.

The same oceanic warming is showing the greatest ice melt increase in polar regions resulting in more fresh water absorbed into the atmosphere. This increases rainfall and flooding resulting in greater potential for loss of life.

arnold

May 31st, 2011
3:29 pm

Many deniers do as GWB did. “I don’t believe it”. Ignorance can be rectified. Stupidity….. well, you figure it out if you can.

Lil' Barry Bailout

May 31st, 2011
4:00 pm

arnold, you still driving around in that car?

Hypocrite.

Junior Samples

May 31st, 2011
4:08 pm

You brought an gambling economist to a science debate?

Kyle…

JDW

May 31st, 2011
4:17 pm

I notice that Boudreaux only mentions deaths in his offer of a wager. As others have pointed out that is primarily a function of better warning technology, stronger construction and in some cases just luck.

I wonder would the bet be offered if the measuring stick were say aggregate number of days over 95 degrees in Atlanta during the same timeframes?

Brian Hunt

May 31st, 2011
4:25 pm

Bart Abel and Junior Samples are the lone voices of reason in this wilderness.

The Anti-Wooten

May 31st, 2011
4:34 pm

L’il Barry Burnout, why do you hate your children and grandchildren?

As I’ve said on a few other occasions, since I don’t have kids I don’t have much of a stake in the long range future of the world. But I would like to think that people could look at science without their screen of politics. You’re just certain that someday you’ll be one of those people that make a $billion/year and need those Bush tax cuts. Delusional is no way to go through life.

steve

May 31st, 2011
4:35 pm

I just heard a radio interview with a leading climatologist (forgot the name, sorry). He is a believer that man-made climate change is real. However, he dismisses any connection to climate change and an increase in tornadoes or in the intensity of those storms. However, increase flooding is another story.

The Anti-Wooten

May 31st, 2011
4:38 pm

@Junior Samples, that’s all that Kyle and rest of the rightnutters have. All of the climate change denier “scientists” have been demonstrably shown to be as crazy as a crackhouse mouse.

ATF

May 31st, 2011
4:39 pm

How odd. The conservative right looks to economists to counter environmental scientists regarding global warming. Well, I like cross discipline studies, but think we have a little bit of a mish mash here. What original peer-reviewed work has Mr. Boudreaux done?

Aquagirl

May 31st, 2011
4:43 pm

“As others have pointed out that is primarily a function of better warning technology”

Amazing that the people behind those warnings–NOAA—are part of the Global Warming Communist Conspiracy. Well, I guess they have to do something when not trying to wreck our economy.

And does Mr. Boudreaux ignore tornado warnings from the National Weather Service too? C’mon Mr. Boudreaux, next time there is a hurricane warning, take your family to a beach in the projected path. I’ll bet you $10,000 you’re not willing to sit there in a beach chair at the high tide line. Show those NOAA guys who’s the real scientist.

Independent

May 31st, 2011
4:59 pm

I went to this site:

http://climate.engr.uga.edu/state/ga_temp.html

and graphed the average temperature for the State of Georgia and if you do a trendline, you see that, since 1895, the temperature trend is going DOWN, not up. Now I am sure the climatologists have all sorts of reasons why warming causes temperature to go down (aerosols is the current one), but until we see real data of global warming and increased levels of hurricanes and tornadoes, it is hard to believe in climate change.

And years ago, doctors told people that cancer was contagious.

Aquagirl

May 31st, 2011
5:22 pm

Cancer IS contagious, Independent. Ever hear of the cervical cancer vaccine?

Leave the science to the scientists.

Intown

May 31st, 2011
5:41 pm

If he had made the bet over 50 years it would be more interesting — albeit harder to collect.

oldguy

May 31st, 2011
5:52 pm

When the vast majority of scientist agree on global warming yet you poop poop the facts based on data that has nothing to do with global warming. An economist!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Truth

May 31st, 2011
6:17 pm

I think someone’s trying to get into my pocket.

Truth

May 31st, 2011
6:20 pm

The answer is not more taxes on the American tax payer. The Kyoto treaty excludes China and everyone knows that China is the biggest polluter in the world now. You people are always trying to blame us drivers for climate change. You always want to exclude industry.

Purple Hurricane

May 31st, 2011
6:29 pm

Here are a few facts I know to be true,

1 This earth is billions of year old and has continuously undergone climate changes without mans help.

2 No records were kept past the last few hundred years to prove how many Hurricanes, tornados, or floods affected the land that is now the United States so we dont know if we have more or bigger storms now.

3 It is possible that the things man does could affect the climate but the climate on earth will continue to change with or with out man.

4 There are people (Al Gore for example) that have nothing better to do than spread fear.

5 And last, only time and records of the future weather conditions will tell who is right.

I think we need to keep the environment clean as possible but there are ways to do it without almost shutting down the worlds economy and costing the people and business of this world billions of dollars.

.

Toby

May 31st, 2011
7:55 pm

Global warming is a fact, & it’s a fact that it is encouraged by emissions related to human behavior… I got an ‘A’ in geology, we covered that… the facts are in. It is only people with obscenely stupid views like Wingfield & other business worshiping social-Darwinist who disagree with the facts. Only in the US, and maybe some middle eastern nations, is such cynicism about such well established science happening. Thanks to Wingfield’s ignorance, some Atlantans are now even more out of touch… there is no debate about global warming; WSJ economists are not climate scientists, and when they disagree with scientific fact, it is obscene.

Lil' Barry Bailout

May 31st, 2011
8:26 pm

Morons, Boudreaux didn’t claim that global warming didn’t exist. He said that deaths from violent weather were down.

Don’t fear facts, warmists.

Independent

May 31st, 2011
9:00 pm

Toby – I am a geologist and I remember learning that the earth regulates itself – when there is more carbon dioxide, then phytoplankton bloom and consume the co2. I also remeber that at one time the geologist “experts” postulated a theory that there was a land bridge between africa and south america – to explain the fossils of the same animal on both sides of the ocean, because everyone knows that continents don’t move.

Now there is a theory that higher co2 will necessarily drive up temperatures and create all sorts of catastrophes, not in 1000 years, but in 50 years.

The only way to save the planet is to tax only people living in the United States. Don’t worry about China or India, they are due their “pollution time”. And don’t criticize the people in the Amazon for practicing slash and burn farming, because they are poor.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: Thee Magnificent!!! mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

May 31st, 2011
9:23 pm

RUSH: Okay, the Memorial Day weekend is over, ladies and gentlemen, which means that we are now officially in our third Summer of Recovery, and the question is: How many more Recovery Summers can our economy stand before it all goes kaput?

Just askin…

Lil' Barry Bailout

May 31st, 2011
9:27 pm

GM is selling about 425 Volts per month, but says they have the capability to make 17,000 per year.

Obozo the Idiot Messiah: Fail.

Johnny Angel

May 31st, 2011
9:57 pm

Sure thing, Kyle. By the way, what’s your advice on the best stocks to buy. After all, the economists are too busy telling us all about weather related deaths. Ahhhh hahahaha. You’re too funny.

Joel Edge

June 1st, 2011
6:13 am

” to declare that these disasters are related to man-made climate change ”
Of course.

DeborahinAthens

June 1st, 2011
6:50 am

Technology has helped prevent more deaths in storms. It’s interesting that he didn’t say there were fewer severe weather episodes. That would be the telling statistic. As to overpopulation, the ONLY reason 3/4 of the planet isn’t starving is, again, technology. We have better seeds, genetically engineered food such as corn, rice, and soy beans. Better planting and harvesting equipment. But you naysayers…the water is fast running out. We are so self-centered, we don’t pay attention to places in the world such as China and the Middle East that are raising food on a fast dwindling supply of water from underwater aquifers. So my question to all of you that seem to find a conspiracy in scientists trying to make the world a better place (key word here is WORLD–not the USA) what is wrong with making power companies stop polluting our air? What is wrong with encouraging families–rich or poor–to have only two children? What is wrong with holding corporations that pollute our water pay to clean it up? Say there is no such thing as severe climate change. What is wrong with these expectations? When I was a child I never knew anyone with asthma. Today 1/4 of the children have asthma. Here in Athens, you don’t have to look far to see the reason. We’re downwind of one of Southern Companies old coal fired plants. On days like today, you can smell the nasty pollution, you can see the pollution, and when the EPA measures the air quality, Athens fails because of the high “fine particulates” which come from–you guessed it–coal.

CLS

June 1st, 2011
6:58 am

Tornado deaths per million people have been steadily dropping for almost a century. There is good reason to not believe tornadoes have been increasing either in frequency or in intensity. http://freestudents.blogspot.com/2011/05/tornado-season-little-perspective.html

Independent

June 1st, 2011
8:02 am

DeborahinAthens – you may be right about smelling the pollution from a coal-fired power plant, but the question is whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant. You certainly didn’t see or smell it since it is colorless and odorless. If you could sense it, it would probably be the emissions from your own mouth, since you breathe it out continuously. CO2 is also non-toxic, so there is no direct ill effects on humans or animals. Plants thrive on it, since they use it for growth. The only theorised effect is on the climate, and that is far from a proven fact.

ATLBadger

June 1st, 2011
8:38 am

Really, this is suppose to support climate change deniers? Come on Kyle, you should be able to post a more thoughtful article than that….Not only does it ignore what happens in the rest of the world, but it ignores any other potentially severe impacts of climate change like droughts, sea level rise, heat waves, agricultural production impacts (again, taking into consideration the whole world, not just the USA), etc. All that commentary says is that we are getting better at predicting and reacting to severe storms…

I think it’s interesting that there seems to be a shift in the deniers….from outright denial of climate change, to posting blogs about how we can adapt to it.

What’s also telling is that Kyle hasn’t come back on the blog to defend the weak minded argument.

Just another attempt by an opinion columnist to spin the minds of his readers…

jconservative

June 1st, 2011
8:55 am

ATLBadger June 1st, 2011 8:38 am

“I think it’s interesting that there seems to be a shift in the deniers….from outright denial of climate change, to posting blogs about how we can adapt to it”.

Excellent point.

Rob Woodall wants you to keep paying for his healthcare, while you pay for your own healthcare, and help your elderly parents pay their healthcare

June 4th, 2011
9:30 pm

Climate change/no climate change. We can debate it until we’re blue in the face. It is climate, not weather. It is a global issue, not a state of Georgia, or US issue. We can ignore it and maybe we’ll be OK but we’re going to be sleeping through a significant revenue opportunity and we shouldn’t be that stupid.

Did anyone else notice that China was at the forefront of the line of climate change deniers for years, until they woke up to the significant business opportunity in green energy technology?

Let’s stop digging in our heals and having the same old, unproductive argument. Instead let’s promote this climate change problem like a carnival huckster and get our collective arse in gear around creating products and services to combat it. Even if it isn’t there. There’s money to be made and let’s stop giving the great business opportunities to the Chinese!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!