DSC_6817 My feed, as you’d expect, is full of stuff from Houston about hurricane Harvey. A typical example is How Climate Change is Making the Houston Situation Worse. Or Stefan’s Storm Harvey: impacts likely worsened due to global warming. I’m sure you can fill in any gaps.

But also Timmy’s It’s amazing how few people Harvey has killed. And ~101 is indeed a very small number for a storm of this size. Of course there are many reasons: (government funded) warning systems; lots of planning; high quality infrastructure; a resilient civil society; and so on.

So the question is: if we temporarily ignore the economic costs, and consider only the cost in human life, has GW made Harvey better or worse? I’m thinking of the (unrealisable in practice) thought experiment of Harvey as it is, compared to Harvey as the same track, but with weaker SSTs and hence a weaker storm, running over a Houston corresponding to a state in which the infrastructure was built with negligible CO2 emissions. GW, let us take as granted, made the storm stronger and pushed the rainfall up to “unprecedented”; but the CO2 used to make the infrastructure makes the deaths fewer. If we compare with analogues in Bangladesh India, of which there’s a recent example, then I think the default case is that Harvey is having a weaker effect than it otherwise would have.

Obviously, this is not a full analysis. You could easily choose to say “screw the people! What about the property damage?” and that would be a valid viewpoint. Or you could, somewhat mischievously, ask (as one of Timmy’s commentators does), that given the usual death rates on Houston’s roads is it possible that Harvey has actually saved lives?

[Update: note the Graun’s It’s a fact: climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly. The headline is then, according to me, dubious. The subheadline “We can’t say that Hurricane Harvey was caused by climate change. But it was certainly worsened by it” is fine, as long as you interpret “worsened” to mean “in a meteorological sense”.]


1. Or 30.


* Reconstruction number 5 by RT
* There are bad factions on both sides of this hurricane, claims Trump
* Tamino has a different perspective
* Impacts – XIII – Rainfall 3 by SoD, featuring Ingram (see-also Moyhu).
* Climate change and inequality: The rich pollute, the poor suffer – the Economist.
* Hurricane Harvey and climate change: Is there a connection? – USA Today
* With Ten Times the Usual Rain, Mumbai Heads Towards Imminent Flood
* How Washington Made Harvey Worse – “A federal insurance program made Harvey far more costly—and Congress could have known it was coming”. FEMA and so on.
* CH on prices and “gouging”
* Disaster Relief as Bad
Public Policy

* Houston floods: Uninsured and anxious, victims return home – Beeb.
* THE WRONG STUFF from RS. But the trend in deaths from natural disasters is interesting.
* WMO (World Weather Research Programme) Expert Team on Climate Impacts on Tropical Cyclones statement on possible linkages between Hurricane Harvey and anthropogenic climate change
* Neptune’s revenge by mt.


  1. #1 Nick Barnes

    The full death-toll won’t be known for months.

    [Quite likely true, but that’s not an answer to the question, it’s an evasion -W]

  2. #2 Phil Hays

    Link to Trump doesn’t work.

    [Thanks; fixed -W]

    If we change the climate enough, we end up at the PT. Storms will be the least of our worries. But the Chlorobiaceae will love us for it.

    [Yes; we can consider the future too. And indeed, for a complete assessment of GW we certainly should. But I’m trying to ask a more limited question -W]

    It’s nice to be loved.

  3. #3 verytallguy

    “Quite likely true, but that’s not an answer to the question, it’s an evasion”

    Not really; I heard someone from disaster coordination in Houston on this morning saying that one concern was how to deal with the numbers of bodies as the waters recede. I’ve no idea if this is reflective of reality or mere hyperbole, but assuming as you do that the death toll as of now is at all reflective of the final seems premature, to put it politely. Aside from its other obvious flaws, your “thought experiment” is posed too early to be meaningful.

  4. #4 JCH

    Harvey has a low death toll because the Mayor of Houston stuck to his guns and did not order an evacuation. In 1935 Houston experienced a terrible flood. At that time water drained into the soil. When it was saturated, it flowed across the surfaces to the bayous and out to sea through the ship channel and Galveston Bay. The olde houses in many neighborhoods are built way above the ground. They’re elevated. After that they created a flood control district and started building infrastructure. The dams that are releasing water were among the first things they built. For a long time they thought they had the situation under control, so they developed the land with one-story, slab housing right up the edges of the flood-control ditches. They need to be widened, and there is no land to do it. Tropical Storm Allison rang the bell that Houston had a major problem. They scrambled to address ~30 inches of rain in a short period of time. I lived close to the bayou by the hospital district. They built extensive flood mitigation infrastructure in that area after Allison, which was almost complete when Harvey hit. They are reporting it worked. Now they have to scramble to accommodate ~50 inches of rain, and maybe the next 50-inch rain comes with 145 mph winds (which would make no evacuation result in a huge loss of life.) They’re playing chicken with a semi.

    [“because the Mayor of Houston stuck to his guns and did not order an evacuation” – but that’s hardly a full explanation. I doubt the death toll in India was ~20 x the (currently reported) Harvey toll because India evacuated (indeed, i doubt they did). Or are you suggesting that India could reduce the death toll by not evacuating? -W]

  5. #5 JCH

    Harvey hit Rockport: wind and storm surge. That’s a relatively small community. I haven’t read this, but I suspect a lot of people there left. Houston is an inland city (the storm surge in Galveston Bay was around 5 feet.) Houston has had a lot of experience with flooding. They know where there flood-prone housing is. They have fire stations. They have 911. They have pavement on which to wade to safety. Imagine wading in mud. They have a large number of people who own boats. When I lived there I had a Mercedes SUV: because they can go through deep water. I drove through water that was above my windshield wipers. Every storm is different. They kill in different ways. A tree falls and nobody is under it; a tree falls and somebody is under it. It’s random. Falling trees are among the killers in these storms. The footage makes it look like Houston is under 20 foot of water. Those are the bayous. It’s not under 20 foot of water. People are driving around on many of its streets. Typically having slow moving water on your first floor is not going to kill you. So this time they are seeing flooding in places they have never seen it, but it’s not 20-foot water everywhere. It’s mostly first-floor water. If it drove people into the attics of 50s through 80s 1st-floors, then there could some dead people in them. But post 1980s, a lot of Houston houses are multiple story. They have a thing there for narrow houses that are three, even four stories. My nephew is sitting in one right now in the Heights area. Their 1st-floor ceiling is 12 foot. His house is four stories.

  6. #6 lois verso
    san antonio, texas

    they tried evacuating the last time when Ike hit. the feeways cant handle that big of a population trying to leave town in a short time. its not possible to evacuate in the amount of time that was allowed. it would take a week or more and then not everyone could leave. once the freeways are blocked and all the roads are congested, there is no rescue available but by boat. makes sense to stay in place and it seems at this time to have been a good plan. time will tell. doubt that evacuation would have saved lives though.

  7. #7 crandles

    >”Harvey as it is, compared to Harvey as the same track, but with weaker SSTs and hence a weaker storm”

    “But I’m trying to ask a more limited question”

    Seems strangely limited to me. Shouldn’t we be (more?) concerned about frequency of strong hurricanes (and other hurricanes and tropical storms) and also of whether there is more stalling possibly causing less landfalls but increased possibility of the worst case scenario of stalling shortly after landfall to cause lots of rain in one place?

    [Frequency affects are important, too. But how would we assess them, now? Harvey is the first after a long drought -W]

    With your very limited question, isn’t the answer rather obvious: stronger storm more damage. Deaths somewhat questionable perhaps weaker storm has less coverage and less safety oriented action.

    [I’m not sure I quite understand how that is an answer to my question. My question was, effectively, “has the totality of GW-related activity made Harvey kill more or less people?” How does what you’ve written answer that? Should I interpret it as “don’t know”? -W]

    This answer seem unimportant compared to frequency effects.

  8. #8 Thomas Fuller
    United States

    Tropical storm Nargis klled 138,000 in Myanmar. Satellites and physical infrastructure work.

    I was in Taiwan when Super Typhoon Soudelor hit–stronger than Harvey by quite a bit. We got 995 millimeters of rain in a day. The only fatalities were 8 people that thought it would be fun to go play in the ocean.

    Perhaps most importantly, Taiwan was back to normal in less than a week. Frequency of a certain type of weather allows for better preparation. Practice makes perfect.

    As for the contribution of climate change, I think a lot of good things have been written about it wrt Harvey, unlike previous Xtreme Weather silliness. Glad to see we’re all learning.

    Harvey is a perfect example of how climate change is expressed regionally. The higher temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico’s waters feed the beast, making tropical storms stronger. It’s real, it’s serious and it’s here to stay. And a good part of it is us.

    So what to do? I think this argument will end up being (once again) mitigation vs. adaptation. I know which side the citizens of Houston will vote for.

  9. #9 CIP

    I’m disappointed to find you among those who think that a meaningful estimate of the excess casualties of Harvey can be made at this point. The small number of direct casualties counted so far (fourteen) is very unlikely to be meaningful even for direct casualties. Excess deaths due to Harvey, if ever counted, are likely to be two orders of magnitude higher, but in any case, can only be calculated much later.

    Aren’t you a little young to have begun your transition to cranky old crackpot?

    [Haven’t you seen my grey beard? You really think Harvey will end up with 1,400 (direct+indirect) casualties? That seems high to me. How did you make that estimate? Have previous storms seen a similar 2-orders-of-mag increase over time? -W]

  10. #10 izen

    @-“…running over a Houston corresponding to a state in which the infrastructure was built with negligible CO2 emissions. GW, let us take as granted, made the storm stronger and pushed the rainfall up to “unprecedented”; but the CO2 used to make the infrastructure makes the deaths fewer.”

    The CO2 also built the population. Without CO2 driven infrastructure population would be much lower so less people would die. Although posssibly a larger proportion as they would lack the infrastructure.

    India is an example of this. They have benefited from the CO2 in feeding (clothing housing, sanitation…) a larger population. But have not benefited in acquiring the infrastructure.

    [Sure. It is hard to even phrase the question in a meaningful way. But you know what I mean -W]

  11. #11 Nick

    but the CO2 used to make the infrastructure makes the deaths fewer.
    I think that’s a pretty obvious yes, Galveston early 1900s being a classic study of weak structures and scant meteorological knowledge delivering a huge death toll.
    Are the relative costs of rebuilding in both cases comparable? I don’t know yet. Someone will make it clearer.
    There does seem to be a bit of the give with one hand take with the other in Houston planning: two excellent flood retention basins built in the 1930s have had their best water capacities compromised by allowing some subdivision within their basins, for example. So resources go into evacuating people who should not have needed it, if zoning was more realistic.
    But considering the massive volumes of water supplied in this event, Houston is doing pretty well, given topography is against easy drainage
    Nice mountain.

  12. #12 CIP

    One hint: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18388597

    [Errm, OK, but it isn’t clear how you derive your numbers from that. Since you know, why not say? -W]

  13. #13 MMM

    ” corresponding to a state in which the infrastructure was built with negligible CO2 emissions.”

    Sure. If we are comparing BAU versus “no-CO2-ever”, I’ll take BAU every time.

    But if we are comparing BAU versus a world in which we had had a carbon tax since 1950 (at some reasonable level, rising over time to, say, $50/ton today)… my guess is that the net infrastructure impacts would be negligible in terms of lives lost/saved (with a pretty even probability for either sign: in fact, if we could posit a well-designed carbon tax with rebate, then I’d take the “fewer lives lost” side because the net effect of a tax+rebate would be to improve the lives of the poorest. In more complex effects, I’m not sure to what extent a lower-carbon economy would be more or less resilient in other ways: less sprawl might mean more resilience, but maybe less energy-intensive building materials/methods might mean weaker structures which was probably your argument. Better public transit systems cold be a wash. More distributed solar, good, less natural gas infrastructure, good, more dependence on electricity for transport, bad… we could go on…).

    Mind you, the climate benefits of such a tax would only take a couple percent off the top of Harvey, so I’m unclear that there would be much in the way of lives saved on that side either, but I think there could be some modest reduction in infrastructure damage.

  14. #14 Kevin ONeill

    The premise here seems to be that energy intensity is highly correlated with GDP. Is that true?

  15. #15 Thomas Fuller
    United States

    Always has been–of course past returns are no guarantee of future results.


  16. #16 Kevin ONeill

    Thomas Fuller – energy *intensity* – not simply energy consumption. Read harder.

  17. #17 Thomas Fuller
    United States

    Which might tend to exhibit a bit of auto-correlation in your analysys.

    Energy intensity is a measure of the energy efficiency of a nation’s economy. It is calculated as units of energy per unit of GDP.

    High energy intensities indicate a high price or cost of converting energy into GDP.
    Low energy intensity indicates a lower price or cost of converting energy into GDP.
    High energy intensity means high industrial output as portion of GDP. Countries with low energy intensity signifies labor intensive economy,

  18. #18 CIP

    A WAG – I just think anybody’s guess right now is likely to be uncertain by a bunch. The NO data shows that casualties don’t stop when the flood waters disappear. People left without homes and jobs keep dying at an accelerated rate for many months – maybe many years.

  19. #19 CIP

    How toxic are the chemicals released from ExxonMobile’s big spill? How long might they keep killing for? We have no clue since EM won’t say what was in it.

    [I don’t know. What “big spill”? It might be helpful if you linked to what you know. http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/company/news-and-updates/news-releases-and-alerts/hurricane-harvey-safety-and-operations-update doesn’t say anything exciting. Do you mean http://money.cnn.com/2017/08/28/news/companies/exxon-refinery-baytown-harvey-damage/index.html ? -W]

  20. #20 izen

    @-“Sure. It is hard to even phrase the question in a meaningful way. But you know what I mean” -W

    I know what you mean, which is why I think you have phrased the question in a meaningless way.

    You cannot have a city of 6 million without the infrastructure. It is what allows that concerntration of numbers. History indicates that cities with more than half a million inhabitants are rare before the invention of the diesel engine.

    The hypothetical question is rendered meanigless by positing a contradictory and absurd senario. A city scale size and density of population without a city to maintain it. A Houston that would starve long before it flooded.

    The CO2 infrastructure (agriculture, transport, manufacture) that enables us to live in mega-cities can also protect and reduce the risk from extreme events. How much protection a city builds is a matter of politics, or colonialism. Freetown versus Houston?

  21. #21 Bernard J.

    But I’m trying to ask a more limited question

    Others have already alluded to it, but if you’re trying to ask a relevant and useful question, you’ve asked the wrong question.

    [I think you’re wrong. And I’ve had enough “answers” now to draw the obvious conclusion -W]

  22. #22 MMM

    “the obvious conclusion”

    Well, don’t leave us hanging! For those of us who don’t see the obvious, what is it?

    [That you don’t want to answer my question with the obvious answer -W]

  23. #23 Phil Hays

    The obvious answer is that burning fossil fuels makes our lives easier and safer in the short term.

    Short term, meaning decades to maybe a century.

    Long term, this is great news for Chlorobiaceae.

  24. #24 crandles

    “That you don’t want to answer my question” “Should I interpret it as “don’t know” ”

    Seems to me like you are putting a ‘don’t know’ or ‘don’t want to answer’ spin on what you have received. Others might interpret differently as providing more nuanced answers that:

    it might be sensible to be cautious especially when there are competing effects: stronger storm -> more damage but also more coverage in advance and more preparatory action.

    It may well be that death tally on its own is not a good metric without adding lots of context such as amount and severity of prior warnings.

    Other issues such as frequency of such events might be more important.

    Continue interpreting as ‘don’t know’ or ‘don’t want to answer’ if you want, but will people reading this agree with you?

  25. #25 dave s

    Well, so far the official death toll is only 20, though they’re continuing to find bodies. While there has been some property damage, this is hardly catastrophic, and reports of catastrophe are surely exaggerated. TAKE THAT CAGW supporters!!!

    Of course, different death tolls and extent of damage might be expected, as storms vary considerably, and circumstances differ. Meanwhile, people affected by the hurricane seem to be, understandably, rather upset by it all. No doubt there will be extensive research into the extent to which various factors, including climate change, contributed to the damage.

    [there will be extensive research into… contributed to the damage – indeed. That’s kinda my point: will there be any research into how GW ameliorated the damage? -W]

  26. #26 dave s

    re # 25 ‘[there will be extensive research into… contributed to the damage – indeed. That’s kinda my point: will there be any research into how GW ameliorated the damage? -W]”

    Would expect so, all factors should be assessed for positives and negatives. Suspect various parts of the meeja will emphasise different parts of the research.

  27. #27 Kevin ONeill

    WC writes:[….That’s kinda my point: will there be any research into how GW ameliorated the damage? -W]

    Huh? This sounds awfully WUWTty.

    [How amusing. To DS the idea is so dull as to be hardly worth mentioning; to you it is so unreasonable as to be WUWT territory. At least one of you needs recalibration. DS I think is nearer right, but probably wrong to think that there will be studies of the amelioration; I confidently expect all or most to focus on the extra damage from GW -W]

  28. #28 dave s

    It’s more that I think studies of the causes will show both enhancement and amelioration of damage, expect the publishers to emphasise sensational enhancement in press releases. But my knowledge of science is limited.

    Better informed, https://arstechnica.co.uk/science/2017/08/this-is-probably-the-worst-us-flood-storm-ever-and-ill-never-be-the-same/ ….. “The silver lining is that while more than 1,800 people died during Katrina, Harvey’s death toll will likely be measured in the dozens. This illustrates the difference in the risk from rapidly rising storm surge waters (as in Katrina) and those of inland flooding where rises are typically slower.”

    In the context of what may be the costliest evah US hurricane, some consolation. At its peak, the National Weather Service issued what it is calling a “Flash Flood Emergency for Catastrophic Life Threatening Flooding.”

    Not to worry. Conservative groups shrug off link between tropical storm Harvey and climate change, starting with Myron Ebell, who headed the EPA’s transition team when Trump became president… https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/30/tropical-storm-harvey-climate-change-conservatives-donald-trump
    Such devotion to duty, who said conservatives only care about money?

    [I doubt reading ME is illuminating (although his Instead of wasting colossal sums of money on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, much smaller amounts should be spent on improving the infrastructure that protects the Gulf and Atlantic costs does somewhat allude to my point. Only somewhat, because it forgets the future). Try http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/29/a-storm-made-in-washington-215549 instead -W]

  29. #29 Kevin ONeill

    If IIRC, most studies of AGW effects on GDP show both damages and benefits. What was Tol’s cutoff line? Benefits exceed damages up to +1C?

    So, now you’re claiming that only damages will be studied. If that’s not whackadoodle WUWT territory, then what is?

  30. #30 Phil Hays

    No comments at all on Houston’s Libber Terrier Zoning rules?

    Roughly 20% of flooded properties had flood insurance. I’m sure the reason why all those properties got built is that they might buy flood insurance that they couldn’t afford to buy. Makes perfect sense.


    [No; NFIP insurance is very silly. You obviously missed http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/29/a-storm-made-in-washington-215549 -W]

  31. #31 dave s

    Thsnks for Politico link, interesting.

    Meanwhile, known death toll over 30.
    In other news, South Asia floods kill 1,200 and shut 1.8 million children out of school https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/30/mumbai-paralysed-by-floods-as-india-and-region-hit-by-worst-monsoon-rains-in-years

    [It is hardly “other news”, since that’s the example I linked to when I wrote this post, comparing Harvey’s death toll to an Indian one -W]

    No Britons were reported among the dead.
    Cricket: at close of play yesterday at Lords, …… [modified from a parody of the BBC Home Service news, think it was on “Beyond the Fringe”]

  32. #32 dave s

    “Other news” in relation to most news reports we see here, quite right that you pointed to that at the outset.

    Indy provides some answers to your question: Houston had made preparations, and there was widespread community support in contrast to Katrina..
    Including Mexican [or Tex-Mex?] community..

  33. #33 izen

    @-“[That you don’t want to answer my question with the obvious answer -W”

    Do you deduce that the reason for such retinence is –
    1)- ‘Warmists’ will go to great lengths to avoid saying anything positive about CO2 emissions and the resulting AGW in the same way, but opposite sign, to WUWThaters who avoid any negative aspects of fossil fuel use.
    2)- People avoid giving a misleading and meaningless answer to a question that has been phrased to generate nonsense. And prefer to point out the errors implicit in the question construction.

    [I’d tend towards (1). But really, I’d prefer people thought about it for themselves -W]

  34. #34 PaulS

    Infrastructure and CO2 emissions are something India does as well. Looking at CDIAC figures, emissions per capita due to cement production have been pretty much the same as in the US over the past several years.

    What’s the answer to your question if exactly the same amount of CO2 emissions have been used to build relevant infrastructure in the US and India?

    [I took it for granted that the US has higher-quality infrastructure built with more CO2. If you think otherwise, then we’d need to look at the details; stuff like (i) same amount of CO2, yes, but 3* the population; (ii) “past several years” yes, but much of the infrastructure is much older; (iii) perhaps the Indian infrastructure is less efficiently (per CO2 emitted) built? And so on -W]

  35. #35 PaulS

    Population would be a factor in casualties as well. Mumbai is reportedly the second most densely populated urban area in the world, more than 20 times as densely populated as Houston.

  36. #36 Marco

    PaulS, most of the casualties aren’t in Mumbai, but in the North East of India (around Bangladesh and Nepal).

    Mumbai is suffering from major flooding, too, however.

  37. #37 Phil Hays
    Amazed and Amused

    > [NFIP insurance is very silly. You obviously missed…]

    No, I was commenting on it. What about the rest of the problem, the 80% not insured?

    [That is a decision for people to make: should they insure their property or not. Why should anyone else make it for them? -W]

  38. #38 Phil Hays
    Amused and Amazed.

    > [That is a decision for people to make…]

    Dodging again. Blaming the victims as well, always a classy move.

    Houston was a flood disaster waiting for the rain to fall. Why? Sure, you might have a partial answer in NFIP. The rest?

    I hear crickets.

    [Err, no. As you say: Houston was indeed a flood disaster waiting to happen. No-one can claim to be surprised by it. If you decided to live there, you got to decide whether to get insured or not. Calling that “blaming the victim” is rhetoric, not thought. Why do you expect a mysterious “someone” or “something” to fixup these people’s entirely foreseeable mistakes for them? -W]

  39. #39 Phil Hays
    Amused and Amazed.

    Fixup or prevent problems?

    The first is a pain. The second requires rules, enforced.

    [No: you can’t simply assert your desired answer. You have to argue for it. At present the system encourages people to take risks and build, and buy, and let, houses in flood-prone areas. You want to regulate people into obedience. I want the balance of risk and reward to encourage them to do the right thing. Which is to take risks if they want to, and live somewhere else (or spend suitable sums on insurance) if not -W]

    Houston lacked the second. It was a Libber Terrier Pair a Dice.

    Roll them bones.

    Snake Eyes.

    [You contradict yourself. Previously, you’ve suggested the flooding was forseeable; and I agreed. Now you’re implying it was unlucky; a bad roll of the dice. Averaged across years, I think you’re wrong -W]

  40. #40 MMM

    “That is a decision for people to make: should they insure their property or not. Why should anyone else make it for them? -W”

    Because it is too complicated for people to figure out all the possible issues they need to deal with. I bet for most people, it wasn’t even a decision that they knew they had the ability to make.

    My ideal system: everything gets wrapped up in home insurance (no separate flood insurance, earthquake insurance, asteroid insurance, what have you). It becomes the insurance companies job to figure out the probability of each, and offer a full insurance package, and different companies can compete.

    I suppose, the insurance companies could give a line-by-line insurance offering with opt-outs, but… do we really expect any given homeowner to be able to research the probabilities well?

    [You want a big comfy all-embracing system to solve your problems. Fine; but you have to pay for it. 80% of people not having flood insurance in a flood prone area is deliberate choice, though. Home insurance doesn’t include flood insurance because it’s too expensive; this is a hint. Bailing people out afterwards destroys the hint, and replaces it with “don’t bother; you’ll be bailed out” -W]

  41. #41 Phil Hays
    I do not live in a Libber Terrier Pair a Dice

    Nor do I want to. I’m happy that the local flood plain is zoned so that houses can’t be built there.

    Risk is real. Bad rolls of the dice must happen. Laws of chance require it.

    [An example of someone getting this badly wrong is Dan Satterfield at AGU blogs. Notice the only possible solution he can think of is a political one -W]

  42. #42 Vinny Burgoo

    I don’t have house insurance of any sort at the mo because the UK’s Environment Agency produced a new flood map that placed an at-risk flooding zone right next to a corner of my garden and, although the bedrock on which my house stands is at least 1m above the EA’s highest at-risk level and my house’s ground floor is 2m above that and my property is on the other side of a road with proper drains that marks the edge of the EA’s clever risk map – despite all that, the EA’s new map doubled my insurance premiums in two years. My insurer wouldn’t supply flood-excluded coverage, so (piquishly and prolly foolishly) I just cancelled the policy and (even more foolishly) haven’t yet got around to looking for a more sensible one.

    So come and burn my house down or steal from it. That’ll really hurt.

    But flood it? You can’t. Ha ha ha! Who’s the winner here?

    [Arguably, you’re yet another victim of govt flood mismanagement. The winner is you, if nothing happens and you don’t need any insurance cover; in such circumstances the losers are the various insurance companies that could have made a profit out of your business, had they been prepared to offer sensible cover -W]

  43. #43 Hank Roberts

    > over a Houston corresponding to a state in which the
    > infrastructure was built with negligible CO2 emissions

    that would be as built on Killian’s world, right?

  44. #44 Marco

    Is it really so simple as blaming the Houstonians to live where they live, so let them suffer their own choice of living there without proper protection/insurance?

    [That seems reasonable, yes. Why would you think otherwise? -W]

    If so, remember that there is a lot of industry there, on which the rest of the American economy depends. Katrina hit oil production hard, causing long-term increases in price. Harvey has also hit oil production (and derivatives) hard, and thus will also cause long-term increases in price. In fact, some have warned of a real shortage of ethylene, a major starting chemical for lots of different products, for months.

    The rest of the people, not taking the same risk as the Houstonians, may well find themselves wondering why they suddenly have to pay higher prices, even when not a single dollar is transferred to help the Houstonians recover…

    If you really want, you could say the externalities of having important production in Houston aren’t properly included in the price of the product, but are to be paid when disaster (in this case Harvey) strikes.

    [That would seem entirely natural, except for the word “externalities”, which isn’t right, since its actually an internality (unless you’re rather stretching the meaning of the term to include time) -W]

  45. #45 Marco

    William, consider the following: you are an American. You need to have a job to have something that at the very least resembles a reasonable life – perhaps with some luck even save some money to retire before you die, rather than work until you die. You may have certain skills that allow you to work in, say, the oil industry. There are a few places in the US where such jobs are available, most of which are in areas where hurricanes tend to wreak havoc and flooding occurs (New Orleans or Houston to name but two).

    The product is sold cheap, needs to be cheap, and to make sure it stays cheap, the average worker gets a salary that gets him/her through the day, but that’s about it. They most surely can’t afford flooding insurance from that salary. All so others can have that cheap product. Those others are thus not paying what they maybe should be paying: that extra money to help those who make the product have a reasonable life *with* flooding insurance. Hence my use of the term “externality” rather than “internality”.

    [You seem to be claiming an extensive knowledge of workers in the oil industry, and oddly you think they’re close to poverty. And yet you do so without any references. From personal experience I know a few people who worked in the oil industry, and they had distinctly above-average salaries. So without some form of evidence I’m disinclined to think you’re correct. I don’t think your argument about “others” makes sense; the obvious correct way to solve this is simply through price -W]

  46. #46 Hank Roberts

    > rather stretching the meaning of
    > [externality] to include time) -W]

    Predictable consequences like flooding costs don’t count?

    [I don’t understand what you mean. Of course flooding costs “count”. Why wouldn’t they? -W]

  47. #47 Joshua
    United States

    > [Sure. It is hard to even phrase the question in a meaningful way. But you know what I mean -W]

    Indeed. And the statement that:

    but the CO2 used to make the infrastructure makes the deaths fewer.

    is pretty meaningless. How do you disentangle the influences of democracy, civil society, voter enfranchisement, government financing, etc., to determine what CO2 “made?”

    And then you have to account for what else might have been made with other energy sources other than CO2, without the costs of CO2?

    How do you determine what would have been made with more CO2 and less civil society, or less CO2 and more civil society?

    Counterfactuals require a high bar of proof to be valid, but using them to pursue an ideological agenda (such as, say, a libertarian agenda) require very little effort, indeed.

  48. #48 crandles

    >[I’d tend towards (1). But really, I’d prefer people thought about it for themselves -W]

    And if I and other people say: if landfalls appear to be decreasing in number, then hurricanes shouldn’t be used as an added reason for needing more action to deal with GW.

    Would that make you happy and be more inclined towards (2)?

    [I’m puzzled. I don’t think Izen, who offered these options, would be at all inclined towards your suggestion. I’m not at all sure that statistics of landfalling are stable enough to try to project them -W]

  49. #49 Hank Roberts
    a shocking lack of Pielke here

    Let’s fix that (quoting from a comment at RC)

    Wall Street Journal editorial and accompanying Roger Pielke Jr. op-ed:


    The editorial contains this, for instance: “No less than the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says it lacks evidence to show that global warming is making storms and flooding worse. But climate scolds still blame Harvey on climate change because, well, this is what the climate models say *should* happen as the climate warms.”

    Pielke says, for instance, “Without data to support their wilder claims, climate partisans have now resorted to shouting that every extreme weather event was somehow ‘made worse’ by the emission of greenhouse gases.”
    ——-end quote——

    [Those seem to be behind a paywall, so it’s hard to see the context. But I wouldn’t expect sense on this issue from the WSJ -W]

  50. #50 Howard

    Perhaps Harvey was made less destructive by climate change. The system is so complex, the answer is unknowable. It’s stadium waves all the way down!

    [The default assumption, without complex analysis, is that Harvey is made worse by GW. There’s no real reason to try to disagree with that -W]

  51. #51 Hank Roberts
    ah, here's the problem

    > Harvey is made worse by GW. There’s no real reason
    > to try to disagree with that -W]

    Well, politically positioning oneself as a candidate presidential information broker is a real reason to say, well, anything.

    Ask any political scientist.


  52. #52 Hank Roberts

    > WSJ …. paywall

    Just google the WSJ’s article title, and you’ll find anything by RPJr. is being widely distributed. Here’s one result:


  53. #53 Hank Roberts

    Chuckle. 12,800 results:

    the nation needs a National Disaster Review Board. After every disaster, it would evaluate what went wrong—and right—and distill lessons. The Trump administration should create such a board in the wake of Harvey.
    —–end quote—–

    But he does undercut his chances by arguing for Obama’s recovery resiliency rule, which Trump cancelled a few weeks before Harvey hit:

    • Encourage resilient growth. Disaster researcher Dennis Mileti has explained that the choices made at the local level—such as where to build—determine how a community will experience disasters. As communities develop, it can be difficult to see how local decisions might affect disasters years or decades down the road. This is particularly the case in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, when the push to “return to normal” might mean simply reinforcing the conditions that led to problems. Local communities need to take better advantage of experts who can explore development choices with an eye toward better preparing for an uncertain future.
    —-end quote—-

    “Oh, please, take advantage of my expertise …..”

    [Indeed; I remain unconvinced. Better is just to not bail people out; they will learn -W]

  54. #54 David B. Benson

    [ they will learn — W ] Sorry, but they will be destitute. That is well known not to promote learning.

    Think and study first, comment later…

  55. #55 rconnor


    Re: your response at #27

    CO2 is concrete food! It’s both dull and WUWTty.

    The dull part – The better infrastructure in Houston was built, in part, on the back of CO2. It probably saved lives compared to worse infrastructure.

    This is trivially true but pointless.

    [I’m not sure it is trivially true. In the sense that it’s a generally forgotten fact in the discussions -W]

    The WUWTty part – If the amount of lives saved from better infrastructure, that was built, in part on the back of CO2, was more than the amount of additional lives lost due to the increase energy of the hurricane, due, in part, to CO2 emissions, then CO2 emissions are net positive!

    This is horribly unsupported.

    [As you’ve phrased it – with an exclamation mark – yes. As I phrased it – with a question mark – no -W]

    What you’re doing is comparing the actual lives lost/infrastructure/CO2 emissions against a counterfactual of less CO2 emissions.

    [Yes -W]

    You used India as a counter-example but that’s not a good comparator – the geography is different, the population density is different and the weather event is different. The proper comparison is a counterfactual Houston that used less CO2 for infrastructure.

    [Brilliant, Watson. Sadly, that counterfactual doesn’t exist; we can only work with the evidence we have; or with theory -W]

    However, in the counterfactual you don’t know that less emissions would necessarily lead to less infrastructure (maybe in the counterfactual, renewables were implemented earlier or wasteful CO2 emissions in other areas were lessened due to different societal choices) and you certainly don’t know that less emissions necessarily lead to less infrastructure that lead to more deaths. That there IS a link between CO2 emissions and infrastructure and a link between infrastructure and lives saved (which itself is not well established) does not mean there MUST have been.

    But beyond that, even if the link between CO2  infrastructure lives lost is solid and scalable, it’s still a silly argument because it ignores the fact that CO2 emissions (1) have global consequences and (2) have impacts other than more energetic storms.

    [It does indeed ignore the other impacts. Had we been able to have a meaningful conversation about my first question, we might have gone on to talk further. But since the discussion totally bogged down on the first point, we didn’t. It’s like trying to discuss https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idealized_greenhouse_model with Sky Dragons: you’ll never get past “but the Earth isn’t flat” and other irrelevancies -W]

    What’s funny is you used India as an example of what happens when you have less CO2 emissions and worse infrastructure, which should have been a tip-off to the first point. The CO2 emissions that “helped” Houston also contributed to the events in India.

    [Probably. But how much? -W]

    And the lower emissions in India also had an impact on the events in Houston. The whole question of “has GW made Harvey better or worse” is so silly because when you discuss the impacts of CO2 emissions, you cannot talk in such isolated terms. (Well, I mean you can, of course, but it will likely lead to either incorrect or irrelevant conclusions.)

    [Baffled now. There are zillions of posts on “has GW made Harvey better or worse”, why are you only complaining about this one? -W]

    And speaking of isolated terms, the focus on energetic storms (let alone a single storm, in a single local) misses the bigger picture. GW has a multitude of difference consequences that better housing does not protect against (from ocean acidification to droughts to destabilizing food chains). So even if you want to claim that the CO2 emissions and the Harvey death toll have a negative correlation (which is dubious to begin with), it tells us nothing about the correlation between CO2 emissions and global death toll/damages (which is the relevant question).

    Perhaps we’ll see “CO2 is Concrete Food!” on Skeptical Science right next to “CO2 is Plant Food!”. They definitely are equally silly arguments.

  56. #56 rconnor

    > [Baffled now. There are zillions of posts on “has GW made Harvey better or worse”, why are you only complaining about this one? -W]

    I’m sure you’re aware of the difference but are playing word games to avoid addressing the issues. Those “zillions of posts” are asking whether GW contributed to the intensity of Harvey. You are asking if CO2 emissions used to construct infrastructure in Houston were net positive (or not) for Houston. Those are two very different questions…and you know it. It’s why you patted yourself on the back with the “it’s a generally forgotten fact in the discussions” response before. You tried to be the wise contrarian, asking the questions that others won’t/don’t think of. Now, you’re trying to play some whataboutism game to deflect criticism. It’s baffling.

    [I’m still baffled. Why is “did GW make Harvey stronger” a permissible question, but “did the CO2 emissions used to construct infrastructure” impermissible? I appreciate that they are *different*, but why is one totally harmless and unremarkable, but the otehr outside the bounds of the discourse you’re prepared to permit? -w]

    > [Brilliant, Watson. Sadly, that counterfactual doesn’t exist; we can only work with the evidence we have; or with theory -W]

    The problem with the counterfactual is not that it doesn’t exist (…which is obvious). Counterfactuals can be useful to discuss the differences in outcomes when the relationship between what you are changing (from the real world example) and the outcome is well established (i.e. what would the global average temperature be today if CO2 was only at 200 ppm?). The problem here is the relationship between Houston’s CO2 emissions and deaths from Harvey is so poorly understood that the counterfactual is inconclusive.

    [Well it is to you, because you recoil with horror from thinking about it. In fact the answer is trivially obvious: the infrastructure improvements have saved lives, and the extra strength of Harvey from GW doesn’t significantly counter that -W]

    So instead you try to use a counterexample to demonstrate the relationship. However, you’ve failed to (even attempt to) understand or describe the other difference between Houston and India which makes the comparison, again, rather inconclusive.

    > […Had we been able to have a meaningful conversation about my first question, we might have gone on to talk further…-W]

    What I’m saying is that the first question is poorly constructed. Nothing meaningful can be drawn from it without bringing in the appropriate context. It’s both trivially true, if taken at face value, but incredibly misleading if you follow the question where it naturally leads you.

    It’s like asking “Have Houston’s CO2 emissions made Houston’s crop yields better or worse?” Taking at face value, the question is trivially true – yes, modernized agriculture, spurred, in part, by CO2 emissions have likely increased crop yields in the Houston area. However, the logically extension of “does that mean the CO2 emissions were a positive thing?” is misleading (and WUWTty) without bringing in the appropriate context.

    > [Probably. But how much? -W]

    That is a good question indeed. I don’t have the answer but have tried to highlight that such questions need to be asked (and answered) before we can conclude anything about the net benefit of Houston’s CO2 emissions.

  57. #57 Thomas Fuller
    United States

    Perhaps a better counterfactual can be found. There are port cities with similar population sizes that have not yet ‘spent’ significant amounts of CO2 on their infrastructure. Some of them are subject to storms and even more rainfall than Harvey dropped on Houston. We could see how they fared to a certain degree.

    10) Typhoon Angela (Rosing) – This typhoon was one of the strongest storms to hit the Philippines. Rosing brought winds of up to 260 kms per hour. 936 people lost their lives because of Rosing which battered Bicol and Manila in November 1995.

    9) Typhoon Fengshen (Frank) – Typhoon Frank ripped through the central Philippines in June 2008. This typhoon caused the death of 938 people.

    8) Typhoon Nina (Sisang) – In 1987, Sisang tore through the Bicol region where it caused mudslides down Mayon volcano. 979 people died because of Typhoon Nina.

    7) Typhoon Amy (Yoyong) – The floods and landslides caused by Yoyong in December 1951 killed 991 people when it ripped through the central Philippines.

    6) Typhoon Trix – Typhoon Trix caused floods and landslides in the Bicol region. The devastation caused the death of 995 people back in October 1952.

    5) Typhoon Washi (Sendong) – 1,080 people lost their lives when Sendong hit northern Mindanao in December 2011. What made this typhoon very deadly was that it hit an area that is not typically visited by typhoons. Sendong dumped as much as 50 millimeters of rain, which was as much as what Ondoy dumped in Metro Manila in 2009.

    4) Typhoon Ike (Ruping) – In August 1984, Ruping ripped through the central Philippines and caused the death of 1,363 people.

    3) Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) – A year after Sendong, Mindanao was again hit by another deadly typhoon. 1,900 people were dead or missing when Pablo Mindanao in December 2012. Pablo was the strongest tropical cyclone to hit the Philippines that year.

    2) Tropical Storm Thelma (Uring) – In November 1991, flash floods hit Ormoc in Leyte when Tropical Storm Thelma (Uring) smashed through the island. This storm killed more than 5,100 people. Uring let loose 150 mm of rain on the Visayas and as much as 580 mm of rain on Leyte.

    1) Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) – Typhoon Haiyan is one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded. This super typhoon had gusts of as strong as 315 km/h. 6,340 people were confirmed dead because of this typhoon and another 1,061 were declared missing. Most of the fatalities were recorded in Eastern Visayas.