Hurricanes: it is time to Rethink Disasters


By Dr. Tim Ball and Tom Harris

The devastation caused by last month’s Hurricane Florence and related tornadoes are certainly appalling, and condolences are in order. However, seen in a long-term perspective, what humans define as disasters are an opportunity for improvement, just like in nature.

We must rethink disasters and reduce risk as much as reasonably possible but also recognize that they are opportunities to rebuild with better materials, new ideas, and improved planning. People go to London, England and marvel at the remarkable urban planning of streets and Georgian architecture. All of that happened only because of the Great Fire of London in 1666. 

It is a world full of risk, yet many environmentalists and promoters of human-caused global warming apparently want people to believe that it is naturally a no-risk world. They want people to accept that the risk exists only because of human activity. The illogic of this is that it implies that there was no risk before humans appeared. It is implied in the deep-rooted anti-human belief at the core of the more extreme elements of the environmental movement.

Yet, it is the presence of humans that define a natural event as a disaster. However, the global warming debate has become so distorted that most people do not understand that hurricanes and tornados are normal events and recent climate change is modest and well within natural variability.

To illustrate how this has come about, consider the September 23rd ABC News report, just days after Florence, which starts:

With global temperatures rising, superstorms taking their deadly toll and a year-end deadline to firm up the Paris climate deal, leaders at this year’s U.N. General Assembly are feeling a sense of urgency to keep up the momentum on combating climate change.

Global temperatures are not rising. There are no superstorms, and the human toll is not deadlier. Costs, which are part of the toll, increased because of insurance, government, and exploitation. These claims are a sign of desperation as the climate change movement loses momentum. After all, very few countries are meeting their political and financial commitments to the Paris Agreement and the Green Climate Fund.

The only real urgency is for those who demand climate action, since the public is apparently losing interest. Gallup doesn’t even list climate as a separate concern in its July 2018 US poll, lumping it in with other issues in the general “Environment/Pollution” category which garnered only 2% of those polled saying it is “the most important problem facing this country today.” And, according to the UN’s worldwide poll of 10 million people, “action taken on climate change” ranks last out of the 16 priorities suggested by the agency.

The environmental movement was originally a necessary paradigm shift when it started in the 1960s. Everybody knew it makes sense not to soil our nest but it went too far. In order to promote the alarm of human-caused change, they take normal events and present them as abnormal or unnatural.

The story of Hurricane Florence underscores the degree of corruption of natural events for a political agenda. All the players, from the bureaucrats at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through many in the press, and the historical role of insurance companies, created misinformation, misused and omitted data, to distort the reality. They took an event that was well within the norm in the historical record, and turned it into a never-before-seen monster. In reality, the impact of Florence was below the normal for long-term averages of hurricanes in this region.

Instead of accepting that extreme weather events are worsening due to human influence (it is not), the public need to demand proper answers to real world questions. Are building codes adequate for regions that experience extreme weather events? Why are not more electrical systems buried underground? Why isn’t the long-term goal to create an infrastructure that reflects the risk factors of the region? The cost may be higher initially, but cheaper than the repair, not to mention the loss of lives, property, stress, and misery.

Of course, the answer is simple. The planning horizon is defined by the average length of time in office for politicians. 


Dr. Tim Ball is an environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba. Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.

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