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Bill “Chicken Little” McKibben

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Writing in today’s Washington Post [2], Bill McKibben blames deadly recent weather events on climate change.  And he snarkily dismisses as naive the argument that humankind can adapt well to such change.

Let’s look at data from the National Weather Service on annual fatalities in the U.S. caused by tornados, floods, and hurricanes from 1940 through 2009 [3].  Naturally, these data show that the number of such fatalities varies from year to year.  For example, in 1972 the number of persons killed by these weather events was 703 while in 1988 the number was 72.  On average, however, the trend is clear and encouraging: the number of such fatalities, especially since 1980, is declining.

The average annual number of such fatalities over this entire 70-year span is 248.  In each of the four decades prior to 1980, the average annual number of fatalities was higher than 248; in particular:

1940-49: 272

1950-59: 308

1960-69: 282

1970-79: 296

The average annual number of such fatalities over the full 40 years 1940-1979 was 290.

But in each of the three decades starting in 1980, the average annual number of fatalities caused by tornados, floods, and hurricanes was lower than 248; in particular:

1980-89: 173

1990-99: 171

2000-09: 238

The average annual number of such fatalities over the full 30 years 1980-2009 was 194.  (This number falls to 160 – just over half of the 1940-79 number of 290 – if we exclude the deaths attributed to hurricane Katrina, the great majority of which were caused by a levee that breached a day after the storm passed.)

This decline in the absolute number of deaths caused by tornados, floods, and hurricanes is even more impressive considering that U.S. population more than doubled over these 70 years, from 132 million in 1940 to 308 million today.

Seems that McKibben’s apocalyptic prognostications about humanity’s future are as fact-based as are those of the Rev. Harold Camping [4].

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