The Corner

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More Property, More Property Damage


Climate change types often point to the huge increase in weather-caused property damage and claim it as a symptom of a “new normal,” a new State of Things in which the human race, having destroyed a once idyllic environment, will now be battered into extinction by a vengeful Mother Nature. This, to put it mildly, is nonsense. As Roger Pielke asks in the Wall Street Journal:

…how can today’s disasters, even if less physically powerful than previous ones, have such staggering financial costs? One reason: There are more people and more wealth in harm’s way. Partly this is due to local land-use policies, partly to incentives such as government-subsidized insurance, but mostly to the simple fact that people like being on the coast and near rivers.

In other words, the reason that there is more property destroyed in hurricanes now than 50 years ago is that there is more property in the way of hurricanes now than there was 50 years ago. That’s not a sexy explanation, but it has the distinct advantage of being true. To take just one example: Per Christopher Landsea of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Southeast Florida including metropolitan Miami went 42 years (1950-1992) between strikes by intense hurricanes. During that time, the population increased by more than 600 percent.”

Hurricane intensity would thus have to decline extremely dramatically for the resultant economic damage to fall. Something worth bearing in mind as the big numbers are thrown around this week.