The Terrible Toll of Typhoon Haiyan Doesn't Excuse Bad Policy

December 4, 2013

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is not the solution to hurricanes and typhoons, says Julian Morris, vice president of research at the Reason Foundation.

After Typhoon Haiyan, many pointed to global warming as the culprit. However, it is unclear that global warming is increasing the number or intensity of these types of storms:

  • A 2006 study that measured "accumulated cyclone energy" (the total amount of energy in tropical cyclones worldwide) between 1986 and 2005 found no trend in cyclone activity, despite the temperature rise that took place during that period.
  • Even going back to 1851, there is no significant trend in either the total number of hurricanes making landfall in the United States or the number of major (categories 3, 4 and 5) hurricanes making landfall.

But even assuming global warming has contributed to hurricane activity, cutting emissions will have little if any impact on these weather events, while costing a great deal. The better way to reduce the impact of cyclones is through good governance and economic freedom.

  • Raising foundations and building sea walls can save lives. After the 1900 Galveston Hurricane (in which between 8,000 and 12,000 died), residents built a 17-foot-high sea wall. When a hurricane hit the Texas town 15 years later, only 53 people lost their lives.
  • Better detection systems and infrastructure have already lowered the death rate for extreme weather events, as have improvements in building technologies.
  • Most countries have dramatically improved access to emergency medical care, food and water in the last 50 years through the removal of trade barriers. When a Category 5 storm hit Mexico in 2007, the country was prepared and no one died. But when a similar storm hit Burma, an authoritarian and impoverished nation, 200,000 died.

Good governance allows the development of early warning systems and steady infrastructure, while economic freedom encourages innovation and economic development -- ensuring that individuals are better able to withstand cyclones.

Source: Julian Morris, "The Terrible Toll of Typhoon Haiyan Doesn't Excuse Bad Policy," Reason Magazine, November 15, 2013.

 

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