Center Home Science Policy Photos University of Colorado spacer
Location: > Prometheus: Hurricane Politics Archives

June 13, 2006

Hurricane Politics

Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

Hurricane Politics

I like Bill Clinton. I wish he were still president (22nd Amendment aside!). But the following characterization of his remarks on hurricane policy is an inevitable consequence of the ongoing debate over hurricanes and global warming, in which hurricanes are used to justify emissions reductions policies:

As Tropical Storm Alberto threatened to strengthen into the ninth hurricane in 22 months to affect Florida, former President Clinton predicted Monday that Republican environmental policies will lead to more severe storms.

Expect to see more of such nonsense in the coming months.

Posted on June 13, 2006 07:21 AM


Careful now, there are other environmental policies that affect hurrican damage, such as loss of wetlands. But I accept that your link does provide a quote of Clinton (context?) that clearly indicates he links global warming with more hurricanes.

The ongoing debate accepted, there is in fact a good scientific case to be made for this position. On top of that, all other policies being equal, more high intensity storms clearly does mean more storm damage. Hurricane damage mitigation advocates should definately target other policies first, such as development patterns, buiding codes and wetland protection. Global Warming mitigation advocates on the other hand are completely justified in mentioning a possible link between that issue and worse storms.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 13, 2006 10:08 AM


I'd be interested in your views on the differences between "Republican environmental policies" and any other possibile policies with respect to future storm severity. Please be quantitative.


Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 13, 2006 12:03 PM

FYI- I submitted this comment (7:30AM my time 13 June 06, resubmitted at 12:30PM my time) over at RealClimate on this same subject:

RC Host Ray Pierrehumbert in response to comment #68:

"The prediction [of several NOAA scientists], if I may paraphrase it, is for another decade of anomalouslly strong hurricane activity due to natural causes. Probably they'll insist on another ten years after that to admit there's something wrong with the natural cycle idea. Thus, they manage to put off facing facts for around twenty years, by which time people will start arguing that it's too late to do anything to reduce emissions, so we might as well just get used to it. --raypierre"

My submitted comment: "Ray- Re: your response to #68. I am interested in your views as to what effect emissions reductions will have on tropical cyclone behavior over the next decades or half century. Please be quantitative. Thanks!"

Contrary to Ray's suggestion, (a) I seriously doubt that NOAA scientists are constructing their views on hurricane behavior with emissions policies in mind, nor should they, and (b) the scientifically correct policy analysis is that NO EMISSIONS REDUCTION policy will have a discernible effect on tropical cyclone behavior for at least 50 years.

I look forward to his response.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 13, 2006 12:34 PM


Why doesn't life after 50 years matter?

And to answer your question to me, I never made any complaint about "Republican environmental policies", those were President Clinton's words. It was a very minor part of my comment...

Am I wrong that wetland restoration *is* a very good hurricane mitigation policy? Anyway, I'm sorry that part distracted us from my main points.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 13, 2006 09:57 PM


Life after 50 years matters, we should worry about it. At the same time the climate debate should be openly discussed in those terms.

In my class last fall a team of graduate students worked on a semester paper on the role of wetlands as a tool of hurricane mitigation. They were routinely frustrated by the lack of scientific information available about the direct role of wetlands in reducing vulnerabilities to hurricanes. She looked at New Orleans in particular. This may say more about the literature than wetlands, however, my sense from that work is that wetlands can play a role, but the case for wetlands is much broader than just hurricane mitigation.


Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 13, 2006 10:56 PM

Roger, good post. All transparently cheap and opportunistic efforts by politicians to hold Republicans politically responsible for jamming up meaningful climate change mitigation and adaptation policies should be dismissed as the self-evident and self-serving nonsense they are.

Nor do we want Democrats to prod Republicans into taking meaningful action. That should be done only by licensed policy wonks, preferrably pursuant to a federal grant, who really know how to be quanitative, objective and yes, even-handed.



Posted by: Tom Dreves at June 14, 2006 05:29 AM

Tom- Thanks, I know sarcasm when I see it;-)

Let me paraphrase your first parpagraph:

"All transparently cheap and opportunistic efforts by politicians to hold Democrats politically responsible for jamming up meaningful regime change in Iraq should be dismissed as the self-evident and self-serving nonsense they are."

What you suggest is that justifications for policy action shouldn't matter so long as the end is a good one. Well that is the exact sort of thinking and argumentation that got us into Iraq. I think that justifications should be grounded in expectations that the promised means can deliver the promised ends. That should be the case on selling the war in Iraq as well as selling policy on climate change and hurricanes, irrespective of whether you happen to be a neo-con or green.

That is how I see it.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 14, 2006 06:31 AM

Looks like the folks at RealClimate has decided to take a pass on my science question. It is a lot easier to call for emissions reductions as part of hurricane policy, as Ray did, when you can avoid facing up to the policy realities;-)

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 14, 2006 07:59 AM

Well, you were trolling with a strawman after all ;-)

If it were my call I would have let it through anyway, useful discussion could have started from there.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 14, 2006 10:10 AM

Roger, you may understand sarcasm, but you’ve missed my point, which is not that the ends justifies any means or policies, but that the debate over climate change strategy is inherently political and it is naïve to expect that some of those who wish to see the logjam break will not try to make political hay in doing so.

Moreover, it seems obvious that putting political heat on Republicans, in a manner that makes clear that continued intransigence will exact political costs in elections, is precisely what is needed to get Republican political leadership to join the bipartisan consensus that has already formed in the Senate and is developing in the House.

The Republicans will decide to move when they are convinced that they have more to gain politically by moving than they do from fogging and delay, and it is abundantly clear that it is partisan advantage and favoritism to rent-seekers that has been delaying meaningful mitigation or adaptation policy measures until now. Failure to act, precisely because it imposes such large adaptation costs and irremediable ecological damage, the dishonest methods that have been employed to procure such delay, and the fact that the benefits have accrued to certain private interests at a rather small cost, should be scandalous. Clinton’s hands are not wholly clean, since he and Gore did a poor job of negotiating Kyoto and in bringing in China and India, but the fact of the matter is that the better the Democrats can do at making Republicans worry about the costs of intransigence, the sooner the Republicans will act to minimize the damage by moving forward on mitigation and adaptation policy.

As to climate change science, I think you would acknowledge that the summaries in “An Inconvenient Truth” and taken by Democrats generally have been more accurate and fair than those taken by the Administration, its industry supporters and skeptic pundits. On hurricanes in particular, my understanding is that the attributed remarks you mention are consistent with what scientists expect, even though not all are convinced that an AGW signal is yet discernable in the global hurricane record. Thus it puzzles me that you can justify calling “nonsense” a Clinton prediction that Republican inaction on mitigation will lead to more severe hurricanes.

By the way, it seems that your counterexample on Iraq doesn’t work, but in fact supports my point. Just as with climate change inaction, opportunistic Republican demagoguery, fear-mongering and misuse of information got us into Iraq, for policy goals that have never been clearly explained, but for partisan political gains and for the benefit of favored industries. More so than with climate change, Democrats have been in complete disarray on how to deal with the Iraq mess, but since it is rather clear that the Republican Administration desired and has waged this war, efforts to push off responsibility for the morass of Iraq onto Democrats in the manner you suggest just don’t work. However, just as many citizens still do not seem to understand the sleight of hand that occurred when our attention went from 9/11 and al Qaeda/bin Laden to Iraq/Saddam, many voters still don’t seem to understand the misuse of science in which the Administration and its supporters have engaged in over climate policy.

It puzzles me greatly that you seem to prefer to bark up the wrong tree, by chastising Democrats instead of Republicans, who have been far worse in their misuse of information and science. I can understand this “even-handedness” from someone in academia, but frankly it doesn’t fly. Instead, it seems entirely counterproductive to your own professed goal of trying to push the policy discussion forward, and comes across as an attempt to limit political damage to Republicans.

My own view is that the best way to find middle ground on policy is to try to stay above the political fray and to focus on (i) describing the science and the size of the problem, (ii) describing the nature of the problem as one of the many “tragedy of the commons” where no effective private property rights or other regulatory regime has been established, leading to subsidies to current consumption/pollution, at the indirect cost of all and at the expense of future generations, (iii) explain the need for coordinated international action to set meaningful goals and to minimize free riders and cheating (and how our trade policy can be used as both a carrot and stick to get China and India to play along), (iv) describing “market-friendly” solutions that would create continuing incentives to reduce GHG emissions (through new technologies, alternatives and greater efficiency) and to sequester carbon, (v) to focus on the urgent need to fix governance in the developing world – so they can better adapt and to reduce the unrest and instability that will surely ensue otherwise – and (vi) seeing how the pot can be sweetened for industry to move forward on mitigation, such as by revising environmental and other laws in a manner than focuses on performance and eliminates the huge and unnecessary costs imposed by existing rules. Such a non-partisan approach would acknowledge that there is a problem, explain it as a case of market failure and direct policy discussion in a direction that focuses on the problem (away from fear of enviros, international government or capitalism) in a manner that minimizes the role of government and provides incentives for the existing rent-seekers to move.



Posted by: Tom Dreves at June 15, 2006 02:12 AM


Thanks for your thoughtful comments. A few very quick reactions.

1. Have a look at our archives, you'll find no shortage of criticisms of Republicans, and Republican-appointed officials on a range of issues -- Bush, Barton, Chertoff, Brown, Kass come right to mind. This post might be my first post on Clinton. But yes, you are correct on particular policy issues I don't give free passes to Democrats even if I lean that direction myself on most issues.

2. Do I have strong biases, you bet. But this blog is not about putting "political heat" on a particular party. Other blogs serve that purpose. My focus will inevitably focus on my areas of expertise, and it just so happens that one of those areas (hurricanes) policy recommendations made by some leading Democrats are flawed in important respects. Pointing that help can help them to improve the merit of their policy recommendations, no?

3. I don't have time to respond further, but have a look at the archives for much (too much some might say!) discussion of climate adaptation and mitigation, and hopefully you will see a pretty clear message that both Republicans and Democrats have yet to show a viable path forward on this issue. As far as focusing on the science and the problem, well ... have a look through the archives! ;-)

Thanks much.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 15, 2006 06:45 AM

Sitemap | Contact | Find us | Email webmaster