Politics & Policy

Stupid on Sandy

Something bad happened. It must therefore have an easily identifiable cause.

The new cover of Bloomberg Businessweek has a photo of a flooded New York City over a screaming headline, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

The magazine thus joins the effort to make the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy into a piece of cheap agitprop. Global-warming alarmists are desperate for a threat from climate change that’s more immediate and telegenic than the low-lying Maldives supposedly sinking day by day beneath a rising sea.

They need disasters, and need them right away. There’s a reason that Al Gore used an ominous photo of Hurricane Katrina seen from space as the emblematic image for his propagandistic documentary, An Inconvenient Truth

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In the case of Sandy, the alarmists revert to a simplistic style of reasoning (if it can be called that): Something bad happened. It must therefore have an easily identifiable cause. They then wrap this highly emotional appeal in the incontestable clothing of science. Bloomberg Businessweek’s editor, Josh Tyrangiel, sent out a tweet: “Our cover story this week may generate controversy, but only among the stupid.”

On the face of it, though, it requires belief in a series of improbabilities to be smart enough to meet Mr. Tyrangiel’s standards. Because of global warming, there was a Hurricane Sandy. Because of global warming, Sandy ran into a high-pressure system and took a highly unusual westward turn directly into the coast. Because of global warming, it made that turn into New Jersey and affected the richest, most populated areas in the country. Because of global warming, it hit at high tide during a full moon.

The Bloomberg Businessweek piece acknowledges that it’s “unsophisticated” to blame one storm on climate change, then does exactly that anyway. It quotes an official with the Environmental Defense Fund making a baseball analogy: “We can’t say that steroids caused any home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.” But what if a hitter is said to be on more steroids than ever, yet his power goes down, not up? 

University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke notes that a Category 3 hurricane hasn’t made landfall in the U.S. since 2005, the longest spell without one in more than a hundred years. “While it’s hardly mentioned in the media,” he writes, “the U.S. is currently in an extended and intense hurricane ‘drought.’”

On the other hand, there were fearsome hurricanes long before anyone dreamed up, let alone manufactured, an SUV. In 1938, the so-called Long Island Express devastated Long Island and New England. An old newsreel film describing it sounds like a report on Sandy. A high-pressure system kept it from blowing out to sea. It hit densely populated areas. It brought a huge storm surge. The Category 3 storm killed hundreds of people. 

In 1821, another storm flooded New York City all the way up to Canal Street. If Bloomberg Businessweek had existed 190 years ago, it might have reported on the damage and warned: “This is our future if we develop modern industry and transportation and make them both dependent on fossil fuels, idiots.”

The theory for global warming giving us more intense hurricanes is that warmer oceans will feed more energy into them. But the weather is complicated. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — not a bastion of climate-change “deniers” — has said, “There is low confidence in any observed long-term (i.e., 40 years or more) increases in tropical cyclone activity (i.e., intensity, frequency, duration).” 

The alarmists want us to crack down on fossil fuels and crimp our growth right now based on the bet that adjusting the climate to our liking in 100 years or so is within our power, and that when we endeavor to do it, China and India will feel moved to do the same. People who believe this shouldn’t throw around the word “stupid” so lightly.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2012 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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