September 30, 2022

Hurricane Ian

“Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through inundated streets Thursday to save thousands of Floridians trapped amid flooded homes and shattered buildings left by Hurricane Ian, which crossed into the Atlantic Ocean and churned toward South Carolina…

“The devastation inflicted on Florida came into focus a day after Ian struck as a monstrous Category 4 hurricane, one of the strongest storms ever to hit the U.S. It flooded homes on both the state’s coasts, cut off the only road access to a barrier island, destroyed a historic waterfront pier and knocked out electricity to 2.67 million Florida homes and businesses.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left argues that climate change is making hurricanes more intense, and criticizes DeSantis’s environmental policies.

“While climate change is clearly fueling some disasters, such as heat waves and wildfires, it has a more complicated effect on hurricanes. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations–led panel of hundreds of climate scientists from around the world, has said that it’s an ‘established fact’ that industrial carbon pollution has led to an increase in ‘frequency’ or ‘intensity’ of extreme weather. But the report uses more circumspect language such as ‘likely’ to talk about tropical cyclones [including hurricanes]…

“Climate change is changing hurricanes in a few ways. ‘First of all, you can have more intense hurricanes in a warmer climate. That finding goes back well over 30 years now,’ Kerry Emanuel, an MIT meteorologist and an expert on how climate change affects hurricanes, told me. ‘For that reason we expect to see more of the highest-category storms—the Cat 3s, Cat 4s, Cat 5s, more of the Ian-style storms.’ In effect, climate change raises the speed limit on storms, he said, allowing hurricanes to attain a higher wind speed than they would otherwise.”

Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

“In June, Governor Ron DeSantis, as part of his broader anti-woke corporate effort, prohibited state investments in companies that use environmental, social, and governance, or ESG, ratings in investment decisions. It’s part of a nationwide right-wing move to keep investment money flowing to fossil fuels…

This was an abrupt turn for DeSantis, who came to office with the support of a key environmental group and started his term pushing environmental priorities that would boost climate resilience. He appointed the state’s first ‘resilience officer’ in 2019 and advocated for legislation he signed in 2021 to strengthen efforts around sea level rise… Much like with the Covid pandemic, DeSantis’s initial enthusiasm for action has eventually clashed with his desire to score political points with potential 2024 GOP presidential primary voters. His attitude leaves Floridians once again vulnerable to disaster.”

Kartik Krishnaiyer, New Republic

“Engineers have long defended against the threat of hurricanes by building structures like levees and seawalls. Yet these tools are imperfect. They can damage the environment, they don’t always hold the water back, and they can be pricey themselves. But for many communities, a simpler (and cheaper) solution could be a big help: restoring coral reefs…

Across the US, coral reefs help safeguard the homes of more than 18,000 people and avert $1.8 billion in flood damage each year… Florida, home to the world’s third-largest barrier reef, receives a large chunk of those benefits. Reefs provide flood protection to more than 5,600 Floridians and prevent $675 million worth of damage [each year]… Though they cover less than 1 percent of the world’s oceans, reefs [also] sustain about one-quarter of all marine life and half of all federally managed fisheries. It’s hard to think of a better example of how helping an ecosystem is also helping ourselves.”

Benji Jones, Vox

From the Right

The right is skeptical that climate change made the hurricane worse, and praises Desantis’s leadership.

The right is skeptical that climate change made the hurricane worse, and praises Desantis’s leadership.

“Despite what you may hear over and again, Atlantic hurricanes are not becoming more frequent. In fact, the frequency of hurricanes making landfall in the continental United States has declined slightly since 1900…

“And there aren’t more powerful hurricanes, either. The frequency of Category 3 and above hurricanes making landfall since 1900 is also trending slightly down. Although you hear much about hurricanes getting stronger, a study in the journal Nature finds that the increases are ‘not part of a century-scale increase, but a recovery from a deep minimum in the 1960s–1980s.’…

“Images of hurricane devastation abound, but remember that development and population along shores, especially in the United States, has expanded dramatically over the last century. Many more people live in the paths of these destructive storms compared to even a few decades ago. Florida had less than 600,000 houses in 1940 — today, that number is 17 times higher, at more than 10 million.”

Bjorn Lomborg, InsideSources

“Hurricanes have always been with us… [There was the] 1900’s Great Galveston hurricane, which hit eight years before Model Ts began emitting carbon into the air; it likely killed somewhere around 10,000 people in Texas. The 1926 Great Miami hurricane killed 372, causing an estimated, inflation-adjusted $164 billion in damage. Only around 150,000 people lived in all of Dade County back in those days. The Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was tied with 2019’s Hurricane Dorian for strongest maximum sustained landfall winds (185 mph)…

“[Critics will] point out that hurricanes are far less deadly now than they have been in the past because we’ve instituted warning systems and improved infrastructure and preparedness. And that’s right. Acclimatizing to the realities of climate is far cheaper and more effective than any state-compelled dismantling of modernity. No amount of scaremongering can change that reality.”

David Harsanyi, The Federalist

Some argue, “Like Trump, DeSantis is a political counterpuncher who relishes taking the fight to the left. He punched back at sanctuary-city advocates by flying planes of illegal migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. He punched back against the progressive education establishment by signing a law banning critical race theory in Florida schools. He punched back against Disney after it demagogued his bill to protect the parental rights of Floridians by removing its special tax status…

“But as Hurricane Ian approached, DeSantis did something Trump seemed unable or unwilling to do: He flipped a switch and became the very model of a chief executive leading in a time of crisis. At his news briefings, he has been all business — updating Floridians on the growing strength of the storm, evacuation plans for those in vulnerable locations, instructions for finding shelter and the deployment of line crews to restore power in affected areas… If Trump had carried himself then the way DeSantis is performing today, he would probably still be in the Oval Office.”

Marc A. Thiessen, Washington Post

A libertarian's take

“The situation brings up the question that natural disasters like this always do: Why do governments keep subsidizing houses in hurricane zones? Sure, some people would live in risky areas no matter what. Some live in these areas already and can't afford to move. But government intervention in the insurance market has helped many more people move to these areas since the 1970s…

“In Florida, for instance, millions of people in the past 50 years have moved into what became Hurricane Ian's path. And many new homes in risky areas were built to accommodate this. While some of these folks would surely have moved regardless, it seems likely that many would have been turned off if they couldn't get relatively inexpensive flood insurance… Interruption of market forces has made moving into disaster zones less financially risky for individuals but much more costly for taxpayers overall, while also discouraging development in other areas and encouraging people to put or keep themselves in harm's way.”
Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason

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