Friday, September 09, 2005

Pointing the Finger

Pointing the finger of blame for deficiencies in the response to Hurricane Katrina has become a full-time pursuit for some people. Who they blame, of course, depends largely on who they perceive to be their political enemies.

Charles Krauthammer addressed the issue in a way that will surprise many people. I realize that liberals rarely deign to read Krauthammer, but I hope they'll make an exception in this case. Much of the last half of the column will please them. Here's the beginning:

In less enlightened times there was no catastrophe independent of human agency. When the plague or some other natural disaster struck, witches were burned, Jews were massacred and all felt better (except the witches and Jews).

A few centuries later, our progressive thinkers have progressed not an inch. No fall of a sparrow on this planet is not attributed to sin and human perfidy. The three current favorites are: (1) global warming, (2) the war in Iraq and (3) tax cuts. Katrina hits and the unholy trinity is immediately invoked to damn sinner-in-chief George W. Bush.

This kind of stupidity merits no attention whatsoever, but I'll give it a paragraph. There is no relationship between global warming and the frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes. Period. The problem with the evacuation of New Orleans is not that National Guardsmen in Iraq could not get to New Orleans but that National Guardsmen in Louisiana did not get to New Orleans. As for the Bush tax cuts, administration budget requests for New Orleans flood control during the five Bush years exceed those of the five preceding Clinton years. The notion that the allegedly missing revenue would have been spent wisely by Congress, targeted precisely to the levees of New Orleans, and that the reconstruction would have been completed in time, is a threefold fallacy. The argument ends when you realize that, as The Post noted, "the levees that failed were already completed projects."

He continued, using the sparse amount of information now available to point the finger of blame at Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, FEMA Director Brown, President Bush, Congress, and the American people. His logic is persuasive.


Blogger LASunsett said...

This was an excellent piece, Colonel. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Krauthammer's writings, they are usually spot on target.

I remember a school teacher (many years ago) telling us that when we point a finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at us. But beyond that, I find it especially reprehensible that the left has chosen to engage in partisan political finger-pointing, while the rescue and relief efforts are going on.

9:10 AM, September 09, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

This kind of stupidity merits no attention whatsoever, but I'll give it a paragraph. There is no relationship between global warming and the frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes. Period.

Krauthammer should stick to writing about politics.

While it is certainly debated among scientists, there does appear to be scientific evidence of a relationship between tempurature and hurricanes. In fact, without warm tempuratures there would be no hurricanes.

The question is one of whether global warming is a significant or an insignificant contributor to hurricanes... not whether it contributes or not.

9:47 AM, September 09, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Kevin, the article you linked to doesn't support your argument very well. Take a look also at this New York Times article. It begins,

Because hurricanes form over warm ocean water, it is easy to assume that the recent rise in their number and ferocity is because of global warming.

But that is not the case, scientists say. Instead, the severity of hurricane seasons changes with cycles of temperatures of several decades in the Atlantic Ocean. The recent onslaught "is very much natural," said William M. Gray, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University who issues forecasts for the hurricane season.

In regard to liberal political attacks based on global warming, which is what this is all about, you might want to look at an earlier post, Global Warming and Hurricanes.

10:07 AM, September 09, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Tom, as usual you provide a moderate, rational voice in the midst of the political nonsense. You wrote:
Who they blame, of course, depends largely on who they perceive to be their political enemies.

That alone exposes the wrongness of their behavior. I am sure that we will learn something from Katrina (if we care to), but I am appalled that this is what the political blabberers have devolved into. It exposes a basic lack of respect for the victims and their rescuers.

Unlike most people, I believe that the Katrina rescue effort has been incredibly effective when you consider the obstacles. I also believe that it has not been effective enough, but I believe that is because of the historic dimensions of this disaster.

I am really upset at the blame that has been cast upon so many people (including the NO police) who have borne the brunt of Katrina's effects. No institution can be entirely staffed with perfect people.

It is a terribly unfortunate thing that the press has chosen to report all of this only as failures when the real story is more about heroic efforts under terrible circumstances.

10:57 AM, September 09, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Tom, you won't find me defending liberal attacks based on global warming. I don't think anyone, including the scientific community, knows enough to authoritatively say one way or the other.

That said... the linked article supports my argument just fine. Krauthammer made a concrete assertion which isn't borne out by the totality of the facts because NOBODY knows with the kind of certainty that he uses.

Notice the difference between how I phrased my comment and how Krauthammer phrased his assertion. He used "period"! Very black and white assertion on his part. I used "appear". That was deliberate on my part.

If you think his assertion has scientific merit than I would suggest you get to know some scientists and talk to them about the difference between a hypothesis and a theory. I've done that. Which is why I was careful how I phrased my comment.

11:22 AM, September 09, 2005  
Anonymous howard said...

The arguments over global warming are a moot. Each side has their stable of scientific minds so that they can both easily trot out their "scientists say" lines, with enough plausible belief (or deniability) to not look like bold-faced liars to those who aren't so sold on the issue. The tone of dueling "scientists say" arguments gets nowhere, especially when there are so many on each side of the issue.

Past that, Tom, how does that last paragraph satisfy anyone who wants to blame the President?

3:40 PM, September 09, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Howard, which paragraph are you referring to?

7:55 PM, September 09, 2005  
Anonymous howard said...

Sorry, Tom, I misread your introduction and hadn't read the whole column at the time I made my comment. I'm going to have to slow down and take more time with my blog digestion -- besides that I have a lazy mouse finger.

My fault. You're absolutely right on the column. I thought Krauthammer put it together quite well. I especially liked his inclusion of the American people.

2:35 AM, September 10, 2005  
Blogger dav said...

Try REALCLIMATE for a better understanding of hurricanes and GW.

Hurricanes and Global Warming - Is There a Connection?
Filed under:

* Climate Science
* Climate modelling
* Instrumental Record
* Oceans

— group @ 9:53 am

by Stefan Rahmstorf, Michael Mann, Rasmus Benestad, Gavin Schmidt, and William Connolley

On Monday August 29, Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Louisiana and Missisippi, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. It will be some time until the full toll of this hurricane can be assessed, but the devastating human and environmental impacts are already obvious.

Katrina was the most feared of all meteorological events, a major hurricane making landfall in a highly-populated low-lying region. In the wake of this devastation, many have questioned whether global warming may have contributed to this disaster. Could New Orleans be the first major U.S. city ravaged by human-caused climate change?

The correct answer--the one we have indeed provided in previous posts (Storms & Global Warming II, Some recent updates and Storms and Climate Change) --is that there is no way to prove that Katrina either was, or was not, affected by global warming. For a single event, regardless of how extreme, such attribution is fundamentally impossible. We only have one Earth, and it will follow only one of an infinite number of possible weather sequences. It is impossible to know whether or not this event would have taken place if we had not increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as much as we have. Weather events will always result from a combination of deterministic factors (including greenhouse gas forcing or slow natural climate cycles) and stochastic factors (pure chance).

Due to this semi-random nature of weather, it is wrong to blame any one event such as Katrina specifically on global warming - and of course it is just as indefensible to blame Katrina on a long-term natural cycle in the climate.

Yet this is not the right way to frame the question. As we have also pointed out in previous posts, we can indeed draw some important conclusions about the links between hurricane activity and global warming in a statistical sense. The situation is analogous to rolling loaded dice: one could, if one was so inclined, construct a set of dice where sixes occur twice as often as normal. But if you were to roll a six using these dice, you could not blame it specifically on the fact that the dice had been loaded. Half of the sixes would have occurred anyway, even with normal dice. Loading the dice simply doubled the odds. In the same manner, while we cannot draw firm conclusions about one single hurricane, we can draw some conclusions about hurricanes more generally. In particular, the available scientific evidence indicates that it is likely that global warming will make - and possibly already is making - those hurricanes that form more destructive than they otherwise would have been.


6:24 AM, September 10, 2005  

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