While continued rising global carbon-dioxide levels are likely to make storms like Sandy less frequent, there will continue to be some regardless. So what is our best defense? The answer is prosperity.
No one can prevent hurricanes, but prosperous communities are much better able to withstand them than poor ones. To see this, just compare the several-score deaths from Sandy to the thousands from Katrina, or the tens of thousands that perish when such storms hit Haiti or other impoverished countries. Prosperous communities are much better able to survive hurricanes or other natural disasters because they have greater resources, both public and private, to fall back upon. Middle-class homes are stouter, and more likely to be stocked with food, candles, first-aid kits, generators, and other useful items, than poor ones are. Prosperous people are much more likely to own cars or boats and thus have the capacity to evacuate themselves, and they have cash to buy food or check into a hotel if they lose their homes. They are also, on average, healthier than poor people, and thus much more resilient against cold and disease. They’re more likely to have useful survival skills, such as the ability to swim. Wealthy communities can afford better staffed and better equipped emergency services, and their infrastructure will generally be in better shape. Finally, and critically, prosperous communities have a sounder social fabric than poor ones, so that people can generally rely on their neighbors for help in an emergency, instead of fearing them as threats.
Far from implying a need for economy-destroying policies like carbon taxes, the lessons to be drawn from Sandy and Katrina are exactly the opposite. Indeed, such depressive policies have the capacity to create disasters even in the absence of any hurricane. For example, while Sandy may have rendered thousands homeless, since Barack Obama took office, 3.5 million American families have lost their homes to foreclosures (four times the rate under Bush), and countless millions more tenants have been evicted from apartments because they could not make their monthly payments.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has endorsed Barack Obama, praising his desire to impose carbon taxes for the purpose of weather control. A billionaire himself, Bloomberg has no reason to be concerned about the burden that the tripling of electricity prices Obama’s anti-coal crusade will place upon his city’s poorer residents. No doubt he is also hedged against the fall in the U.S. stock market that will ensue as carbon taxes and other forms of economic strangulation make American industry ever less competitive. Perhaps he simply feels that such minor considerations must be set aside in the interests of public safety.
But if Bloomberg were truly worried about the safety of his city, he might want to reconsider his endorsement first and foremost with a more complete view of potential threats. New York is, after all, the No. 1 target in the West for Islamist terrorists, who killed 70 times as many New Yorkers on September 11, 2001, as were just lost to Sandy. And while neither candidate can shield the Big Apple against hurricanes, one of them might be able to prevent it from being hit by terrorists equipped with an Iranian atomic bomb. But that will require something quite different from carbon taxes.