A Philosopher's Blog

Sandy & Society

Posted in Environment, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 5, 2012

Living in the south has made me as accustomed to hurricanes as growing up in Maine accustomed me to blizzards. However, Sandy was a new sort of thing: a massive storm that slammed into essentially the entire east coast of the United States and flooded vast areas of land.

A strong extra-tropical area of low pressure o...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is, of course, tempting to dismiss Sandy as an aberration and to ignore the doomsayers who speak of global climate change. After all, doubts can always be raised about what might happen and scientific theories about the world are always subject to philosophical doubt (the problem of   induction). Also, the mind deadening and emotion enhancing powers of political ideology make it easy to dismiss any claims, even when backed up with solid (or soaking wet) evidence.

However, it seems far more rational to consider that while the massive Sandy might be unusual, lesser storms of this sort could occur with greater frequency. That is, the east coast might start experiencing the sort of routine poundings that the folks down south have been suffering through for quite some time.  It is also well worth considering that flooding might become a recurring problem. At the very least, since Sandy happened once, we can be reasonable confident that it can happen again. After all, we know for sure that such storms are possible.

Sandy’s onslaught showed us once again how vulnerable and poorly prepared we are to face natural disasters. New Jersey was devastated by flood, wind and fire. Much of New York City looked like the set of some science fiction disaster movie with its flooded subways and streets. This incident shows how easy it is for the most powerful and advanced country in known history to be devastated by a storm. For all our iPads and military might, we still cannot keep water out of the subways or combat flooding. In short, we are woefully unprepared for the likely future.

Naturally, we can simply continue to live in denial-to insist that climate change is a conspiracy being put forth by mad scientists and liberals who hate capitalism, success and God. However, the flooding and devastation of Sandy seems to suggest that denial will not be an effective response.

Now, I would not suggest that the skeptics actually accept the idea that the climate is changing and that humans have had a role in this. Rather, I am just suggesting that we need to expend the resources and efforts needed to help mitigate the damage that is sure to come. Naturally, preparing for natural disasters is expensive and there is the natural tendency to simply forget about the danger once the current disaster has passed. Nature does have a way of reminding us, however, and perhaps the disasters will strike frequently enough that our minds will not be able to slide into soothing forgetfulness.

I would, of course, not suggest that we change our lifestyles in terms of the behavior that is alleged to cause climate change. That would meet mainly with derision and rage from those who have the most power to enact change and their loyal minions. However, I will suggest that we need to defend our cities, homes and lives against an enemy that is growing ever more violent: our own environment. As such, the east coast will need to build defenses against flooding such as sea walls. We will also need to develop defenses for our transportation systems-ways to flood proof the subways of the cities and to ensure that the airports remain above water. We will also probably need to relocate communities away from coastal areas that can be flooded. Obviously, we will also need to pour billions into disaster response capabilities, insurance funds and rebuilding supplies.

This massive undertaking will be on par with operating the military and the analogy is apt: we are, in effect, at war. We always have been-the war is just heating up. Naturally, just as the military requires the federal government, this disaster management cannot be fully handled by the states and the private sector. As such, responding to the weather threat will be a federal task.

Obviously, doing all this is far more sensible than even thinking about addressing the causes of climate change.

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31 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on November 5, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Alternative energy technologies are not ready for prime time. Far more basic research is needed, but the money is simply not forthcoming.

    For example, the DOE is funding “Energy Hubs” at $25M/yr. This is a drop in the bucket. The real money goes to companies like Solyndra, who got a loan of $500M.

    • biomass2 said, on November 5, 2012 at 9:52 am

      Nothing gets “ready for prime time” without money behind it. And, as any Republican likely knows, there’s no energy source, including coal, oil, and gas, that has not been susceptible to failure and /or accusations, sometimes valid , of corruption (easily Googled). That Solyndra involved taxpayer money is notable, but several oil companies (perhaps all) out there have had government support, licit and illicit, over the years under Republican and Democratic administrations.

  2. WTP said, on November 5, 2012 at 8:47 am

    The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
    H. L. Mencken


    As such, the east coast will need to build defenses against flooding such as sea walls. We will also need to develop defenses for our transportation systems-ways to flood proof the subways of the cities and to ensure that the airports remain above water. We will also probably need to relocate communities away from coastal areas that can be flooded. Obviously, we will also need to pour billions into disaster response capabilities, insurance funds and rebuilding supplies.


    Interesting that Mike was just recently mocking modern man for living too far from water. OK, that’s a bit snarky, but still. Notice “we need to develop”. Does Mike have a mouse in his pocket? Will philosophy just conjure up these devices? Where are the numbers, Mike? What does it cost to rebuild vs. relocate? What will it cost to develop these nebulous “systems”? Where will the money come from for this? From the people who take the risk? Highly unlikely.

    Who encourages people to take on these risks of living too close to the ocean? In Florida it is the government, by sticking its nose into telling insurers how much they can charge. Those higher rates reflected the risk involved. Now Mike wants to advocate more government spending, taking money from people who don’t take risks and using it to protect those who do.

    • magus71 said, on November 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm

      Maybe the god-president, Obama, should have built hurricane resistant infrastructure with the stimulus money instead of throwing it to the wind.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm

        More money should be spent on infrastructure-we get hammered by billion dollar storms regularly enough to make the expenditure financially sensible. Also, such defensive upgrades could also incorporate general improvements to the infrastructure. Plus, I’m sure that some smart engineers will figure out a way to get multiple uses out of the defense systems (such as hyrdo power from coastal defenses).

        • WTP said, on November 5, 2012 at 7:05 pm

          “I’m sure that some smart engineers will figure out a way …”

          And I’m sure that when they do, some not-so-smart politicians/philosophers will take credit for the idea.

  3. magus71 said, on November 5, 2012 at 9:10 am

    “Naturally, we can simply continue to live in denial-to insist that climate change is a conspiracy being put forth by mad scientists and liberals who hate capitalism, success and God. However, the flooding and devastation of Sandy seems to suggest that denial will not be an effective response.”

    I give up.

    • WTP said, on November 5, 2012 at 9:36 am

      Great, now Magus is leaving because of the hostility (he’s just too proud to explicitly say so)

      https://aphilosopher.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/binders-full-of-women/#comment-23274

      Will this madness ever end?

      • biomass2 said, on November 5, 2012 at 10:00 am

        “Will this madness ever end?”
        Well. . .You’re still here. That should answer your question. 🙂

        Let me quote an infamous contributor on here: “Oh, bull fucking shit.”

        If you sense hostility, WTP, you’re a big boy. You can take it.

  4. magus71 said, on November 5, 2012 at 9:28 am

    One last parting statement before I use my time more wisely. Watch again this video. You can’t stop all evil with federal government spending, Mike. Japan got hit with a Tsunami. Bad stuff happened. It is the liberal mindset to find outrage against nature and project the blame onto “the system”. Thus, an ever growing lexicon of rules and regulation in order to micromanage the universe. Sandy does not prove we are unready–it proves the limitations of even the most expensive government in the history of the solar system. We are not a hardy people any longer. We a bunch of coddled, crybabies begging for the government tit whenever discomfort arrives. One week after a large hurricane and it’s supposed to be all better? How about this: Have extra food stored in case of a disaster. Have a plan, especially when you are given a week’s notice of possible disaster.

    The whole global warming quip makes this article look preposterous, by the way. There have been more powerful hurricanes to hit the US. http://www.livescience.com/7568-greatest-hurricanes.html What about those? Many before the global warming farce. You are incredibly sensitive to news reporting, Mike. I’ve pointed this out before. You are fully infected with the archetypal liberal mind.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm

      “You can’t stop all evil with federal government spending, Mike.”

      I have never made the claim that all evil can be stopped with federal spending. Ever. My main point is that just as we have a national defense system against human enemies, it makes sense to have a national defense system against large scale national disasters. After all, the damage done by a massive weather event is comparable to an attack.

      “It is the liberal mindset to find outrage against nature and project the blame onto “the system”.

      I’m not outraged at nature-that would be irrational. I’m not blaming the “system.” Rather, my point is that we need to prepare for the reality of the climate.

      ” Sandy does not prove we are unready–it proves the limitations of even the most expensive government in the history of the solar system.”

      Actually, it does prove we are unready. We need better coastal defenses against flooding, better resiliency in our power systems and so on. If this was a war against human aggressors, it would be obvious that were are not adequately defended.

      “We are not a hardy people any longer. We a bunch of coddled, crybabies begging for the government tit whenever discomfort arrives.”

      Not true. Your remarks do a disservice to the people who have faced the disaster with courage.

    • WTP said, on November 5, 2012 at 10:21 pm

      Just had time to watch this video now. Sowell puts it so plainly here

      “They are people who seriously believe they are wiser and nobler than others. That the way to improve society is to have the government force people to follow the anointed ones rather than let people do what they themselves want to do”

      • biomass2 said, on November 5, 2012 at 10:54 pm

        Haven’t watched the vid.
        I strongly agree with the first sentence you quote. . . “Tis true, ’tis pity,. And pity ’tis ’tis true.”

        As for the remainder, there’s truth in both halves of that last sentence. There are those on one end of the spectrum who feel government should be the be all and end all. That it should, for example, own all corporations and control thought. Let’s call it communism. At the other end, there are those who think it’s best to “let people do what they themselves wand to do”. Let’s call that anarchy.

        I prefer neither.
        But enough about me. Would you rather be a robot or a guy who goes out and kills or rapes or steals “because [he himself] want[s] to. . .”?
        So, how about you?

  5. T. J. Babson said, on November 5, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Climate change is a technological problem and needs to be presented to the public and solved as such.

    Trying to make a moral case out of it (asking people to change their lifestyles) is a huge mistake.

    There is plenty of green energy potentially available, but there are huge technical hurdles to overcome.

    And biomass, just giving money to Democrats who own green energy companies is not going to solve the problems.

    • biomass2 said, on November 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm

      “Climate change is a technological problem”. Yes, indeed, in many ways that’s part of the problem. Nice to hear someone on here other than Mike point out that it ^is^, indeed, a problem.

      But as we all know almost everything has several sides. Rush, in his usual insightful manner, began attacking the issue with the second point you raise way back in the Eighties. Climate change, he said, is all a liberal plot to stop progress. He had no science on his side then; he just ‘knew’ in his heart of hearts I imagine, that that argument had legs with his audience. Also, he probably sensed that failure to get ‘ the people’ on board for the fight against climate change is a sure way to discourage their support for research that might deal with the problem. That undermining public support would in turn increase the time it would take to get a viable green energy industry up and running.

      ” . . .just giving money to Democrats who own green energy companies is not going to solve the problems.”
      TJ: Don’t leap so far. You’ll hurt yourself. I didn’t recommend what you imply, and the fact that Solyndra falls into that category hardly makes a case for holding back on government support to advance green research. You know, as well as I do, that the private sector isn’t up to leaping those “huge hurdles” on its own, especially when the hurdles are oil, gas, and ^clean^ coal.

    • magus71 said, on November 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm

      TJ,

      In my opinion, you’re giving too much credence to the idea that global warming is proven to cause any problem at all. If in fact there is any warming (no warming in last 15 years–why?). It actually shocks me a bit that Mike made his statement about the hurricane/warming connection, seeing that there is such a small sample of time and storms, compared to say, terrorist attacks by Muslims in the last 30 years. And yet we know his philosophical arguments made against my theory that Muslims are more prone to violence than other religious people.

      A hurricane hit an area of islands in New York. It would be reasonable to expect some flooding. Someone has to explain to me why this is any different than a hurricane from 50 years ago. 2 years ago there was a particularly bad winter here in upstate NY. Attributed to global warming of course. Last year it was a warm winter–yes, because of global warming.

      I’m living in denial.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2012 at 6:53 pm

        The thing is that we get hammered with major weather problems (storms, droughts, flooding) regularly and on a large scale. It is not just a matter of hurricanes (although they hit the US far more often than terrorists). Our infrastructure is aging badly and in need of an overhaul. Such improvements can be quite good for business-they need reliable power and stable conditions. Having droughts, floods and storm damage is good for some businesses, but generally bad for most. Plus there is that destruction of homes and deaths.

      • T. J. Babson said, on November 5, 2012 at 7:02 pm

        A couple of points:

        1) It is mainly rich people who live close to the ocean, so tax dollars tend to get used to subsidize the rich.

        2) Adding CO2 to the atmosphere will warm the earth, but nobody really knows how much. Burning fossil fuels is cheap but dirty. We can do better. Basic research is needed–not crony subsidies to Democratic friends who happen to own green energy companies.

      • biomass2 said, on November 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm

        Read TJ’s link below and my response to it.
        http://ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/images/uploads/SREX-SPMbrochure_FINAL.pdf
        Global warming is an unfortunate and too specific misnomer. Climate change is better, though it leaves openings to criticize among those who want to deny it all. They can claim climate is always changing, etc, etc. For what it’s worth, try his brochure .

      • T. J. Babson said, on November 5, 2012 at 10:22 pm

        Magus, there are other problems associated with burning fossil fuels besides climate change. Coal is especially bad. Natural gas is pretty clean. We need lots more basic research about how to convert and store solar energy. So far, though, it has been all talk and very little money for research. The real money went to Obama cronies.

        • biomass2 said, on November 5, 2012 at 10:58 pm

          Since the need for research of the problems and solutions related to burning fossil fuels (and ^possibly^climate change—though I think you’re giving Rush too much credit there🙂 ) was around long before Obama, where did the so-called ‘real money’ go then?

  6. T. J. Babson said, on November 5, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    From the latest IPCC report (p. 11):

    It is likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged. [

    There is medium confidence that there will be a reduction in the number of extratropical cyclones averaged
    over each hemisphere.

    http://ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/images/uploads/SREX-SPMbrochure_FINAL.pdf

    • biomass2 said, on November 5, 2012 at 5:17 pm

      And that’s it. From the entire brochure? Same source:

      “It is likely the frequency of heavy precipitation or the proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe.”
      “Average tropical cyclone maximum wind speed is likely to increase although increases may not occur in all ocean basins.”
      “There is medium confidence that droughts will intensify in the 21st century in some seasons and areas due to reduced precipitation and/or increased evapotranspiration.”
      “Extreme events will have greater impacts on sectors with closer links to climate, such as water, agriculture and food security, forestry, health, and tourism.”

  7. T. J. Babson said, on November 5, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    An enlightened Democrat speaks out:

    To be sure, as his defenders never cease to point out, Obama was greeted with the debris of a national calamity. The country seemed to be teetering on the edge of depression for stretches in late 2008 and early 2009, a casualty of a Washington environment that privileged and made unaccountable the giant government sponsored housing enterprises and a reckless Wall Street culture that took the risk out of lending for the mortgagor. But rather than tackle the crisis with single-mindedness, Obama veered off in too many scattered directions: a stimulus whose legacy is a slew of poor returns on investments in alternative energy and uncompleted construction projects, a partisan healthcare law that drained off a year of the administration’s efforts, a massive overhaul of the carbon producing economy that was too unwieldy for even many Democrats to embrace, a financial industry bill that has not stopped excessive leveraging in the capital markets. The portfolio is one that Obama and his allies have strained to explain, much less justify.

    So much of the defense of Obama’s results is weighted with excuses. But the record is one that Democrats would be mortified by if it had John McCain’s name on it: unemployment ratcheting up to as much as 10% before it headed back down; the limpest recovery in modern times; staggering levels of poverty among minorities and children; appalling losses of middle income savings and stagnant worker wages. It is an inventory that has caused millions of American to lose faith in both Wall Street and Washington, and that has left America decidedly more stratified between rich and poor (imagine the Democratic angst if a McCain recovery had left massive corporate profits while workers stayed in an uncertain, desperate state, precisely the state of play for the second half of Obama’s terms)

    The debates, especially the first one in Denver, signaled how thin the prospective agenda for four more years really is: beyond the old pledge to add to the tax burden on American small businesses and entrepreneurs—an eventuality that would barely dent the deficit—and generalized promises to try again on tax reform, immigration, and energy policy, the cupboard seems light, without much reason to think that initiatives that Obama’s own party balked at would suddenly become viable. There is certainly little that would rally Americans who have lost ground on Obama’s watch.

    It is impossible to assess Obama without addressing the central Democratic thesis about why he has disappointed. From African American talk shows to the editorial pages of the nation’s establishment papers, the argument is advanced that Obama has been undone by a ferocious kind of Republican opposition. The case does not survive scrutiny: Mitch McConnell’s vaunted pledge to impede Obama was made with a weakened hand of forty Republican votes in the Senate, not even enough to sustain the dreaded filibuster. Even the addition in early 2010 of one more GOP seat did not result in actual blockage of one Obama initiative during the first two years of this presidency. To a degree that Obama’s partisans don’t understand or won’t concede, the entirety of his economic agenda was written into law in those first two years.

    The bracing truth is not that Obama was denied a chance to govern, but that the government he produced has proved so unappealing and been so inadequate to the challenges of the times. The healthcare reform, Obama’s most notable victory, is illustrative. The law’s convoluted path, the single instance since the thirties of a party-line vote carrying landmark legislation, has contributed to Washington’s distance from Main Street. That gap will only grow more distressing as middle income Americans are subject to new taxes if they don’t purchase insurance, as small businesses minimize their work force to avoid the law’s mandates, and the estimates of higher premiums touch the pockets of ordinary families.

    http://www.officialarturdavis.com/2012/10/the-case-for-mitt-romney/

    • biomass2 said, on November 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      Another discussion ended with a giant TJ bomb. Could you possibly find some relevant portions to offer us? Some parts that don’t cherry pick only the parts that favor your view but still don’t contain all the empty stuff in between? Sorry, can’t read it.

  8. magus71 said, on November 5, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    TJ put sit perfectly: Energy and warming are scientific issues, not moral ones. I am not going to burn anything else but fossil fuel in my car at this point. And yet, along with capitalism, what has been more positive for human life than fossil fuel?

    Until we find dilithium crystals, I’ll go with gas. Or maybe we can power the world with love and magic.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 6, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      The topics of energy and climate change do contain moral issues. For example, when it comes to energy there is the moral issue of whether or not we should engage in war in order to protect our access to oil. As another example, there is the moral issue of who should bear the environmental and health costs of energy. As a third example, there is the moral issue of whether or not the state should fund energy produces. I could go on all day.

      Fossil fuel has been rather important to the development of human civilization-it is relative cheap, the technology to use it is fairly basic, and it is abundant. Without it, things would have been rather different.

      I’m not arguing that fossil fuels were not useful. Rather, I am noting that they come with a cost and they are also rather obviously finite. At some point, assuming humanity does not go extinct, we will need alternatives.

      I do not advocate alternatives because I have some sort of bizarre hatred of fossil fuels. Rather I do so because of the costs of fossil fuels in terms of the environment, health and such (such as wars). I also do so because we will obviously need alternatives.

      If we could get cheap fossil fuels forever with minimal costs to everyone, then I would be completely for them. However, this is not the case.

      • WTP said, on November 6, 2012 at 1:58 pm

        When it comes to philosophy there is the moral issue of whether or not we should misrepresent opposing views or imply that our wars in the Middle East were driven by “protecting our access to oil” rather than a series of premeditated intentional acts of terrorism against our country, our citizens, innocent third-country guests on our soil, and our representatives on foriegn soil.

        I’m not arguing that fossil fuels were not useful. Rather, I am noting that they come with a cost and they are also rather obviously finite. They also come with significant benefits that far outweigh the costs. The resources of which we will have plenty of for quite some time. Long before those resources start to run out, they will naturally become more expensive relative to alternatives, thus naturally driving alternative research and production. Malthus was wrong and he’s not alone. You continue to expound on subjects that you know nothing about.

        I do not advocate alternatives because I have some sort of bizarre hatred of fossil fuels. Rather I do so because of the costs of fossil fuels in terms of the environment, health and such (such as wars).
        If fossil fuels cost as much as you say, I can’t imagine why you would not hold a significant degree of distaste for them. Again, fossil fuels have benefits that far outweigh their costs.

      • magus71 said, on November 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm

        Am I against alternative, affordable energy? I am for advancement and science, far more than many of the primitivists on the Left.

        Can my car be powered by morals?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 6, 2012 at 2:42 pm

          I never claimed you were.

          Sure, there are a few people who are against technology-but I cannot recall seeing too many primitivists on the left or right.

          Obviously cars cannot be fueled on morals. But what does that prove? You cannot fuel your car with love, hate, friendship, faith, religion, politics, and so on either. But what would that prove about them?

          As far as the anti-science folks, if one wants to play politics it would seem that the right is more against mainstream science than the left. While one can point to a few left wingers who have dubious scientific views, the right has a more general opposition to mainstream science.

          Of course, the rational folks on the right and the left are fine with science, although they do tend to be concerned when science goes against their ideological conceptions of reality.

        • biomass2 said, on November 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm

          Mike: Mmm. Too bad. I’ve got a little road trip coming up at the end of the week. I could save some bucks, if my car would run on morals. It would prove to me that my car is caring and kind (especially to me).
          I would give it a name. Morey, perhaps. I always enjoyed Morey Amsterdam. Amsterdam’s a great place. Visit the Van Gogh Museum. See the Potato Eaters. Hell, eat a potato in Amsterdam before returning home on a plane powered by faith.


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