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Disaster costs largely driven by the wealth effect

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by Cohete Rojo, Mar 23, 2014.

  1. Cohete Rojo

    Cohete Rojo Contributing Member

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    From FiveThrityEight:

    I have to agree that all too often people point toward the human effects of natural disasters to measure the scale of that disaster. It is similar to asking "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound"? Often times, this kind of egotistical thinking leads to unsupported statements and conclusions. Weather does have abnormal effects on the economy. Even the Federal Reserve recently observed just as much:

    However, the Federal Reserve did not cite climate change once in its summary. Even though the "bad weather" excuse for below-expectation economic activity may be dubious, it should help illustrate how humans are (rightfully) concerned with climate and weather effects that impact their's and other people's immediate infrastructure.
     
  2. Dairy Ashford

    Dairy Ashford Member

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    There's also the ****ty infrastructure and the age-old conundrum of building and valuing property in the riskiest places; coupled with the more modern issue of not resettling elsewhere after a catastrophe.
     
  3. Northside Storm

    Northside Storm Contributing Member

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    Well, this is handy because---

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/22/global-warming-hit-asia-hardest

    but it's cool, we have more property losses because we're richer, meanwhile entire islands of relative non-polluters will sink in the ocean because well, who really gives a s**t about them
     
  4. Northside Storm

    Northside Storm Contributing Member

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    Bangladesh should build better condos, so that when the country sinks into the ocean, property losses will be bigger, and the people can rejoice at their wealth.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/alex-mifflin/bangladesh-climate-change_b_4150220.html

     
  5. rimrocker

    rimrocker Contributing Member

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    That report conveniently left out the one type of disaster that has a more direct tie to climate change than any others: wildland fires. Winters are getting shorter and drier, longer growing seasons provide more fuel, hotter summers increase the intensity of fire behavior. If you look at specifics, in the last 12 years, the world's largest ponderosa pine forest, which stretched along the Mogollon Rim from Silver City, NM to Flagstaff, AZ has seen 1,573 square miles burn, which means over 40% of that ponderosa forest is not there anymore. (And that is just from two fires, Rodeo-Chediski and Wallow). You can argue human intervention in the natural forest-fire cycle contributed, but even accounting for that, what we have seen in the SW and across the west over the last 10-15 years is dramatic change in fire behavior, season length, and weather patterns. And it will only get worse.

    Every time I have the chance to talk to an old-timer, they tell me how different wildland firefighting is now compared to the 1950-1970 timeframe: hotter, drier longer.

    I'm starting to think the climate deniers have won. We're screwed and there will be little consolation in coming on here in 25-40 years and saying "i told you so" when it is finally blatantly obvious to even the densest wingnut.

    It is so depressing I'd prefer not to think about it, but part of my job demands I do.
     
  6. Cohete Rojo

    Cohete Rojo Contributing Member

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    What were the wildfires like 250-200 years ago? What have the old-timers to say about those days?
     
  7. rocketsjudoka

    rocketsjudoka Contributing Member

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    I agree with the central premise that disasters are more costly because there is more wealth now. It is obvious that there is so much more building in areas that are disaster prone, such as barrier islands, that any disaster in those areas is going to be more expensive than they were when there was less development. That said that doesn't rule out climate change and climate change has already been identified by many as exacerbating the damage. For instance Hurricane Sandy was very expensive because of how much more has been built along the east coast but there is strong evidence that sea level rise contributed to the flooding.

    Also as Rimrocker notes that drought in the last decade has been worse in the West than it has in more than a century but at the same time more people are building in fire prone areas. Development is main driver in damage costs but climate change is still a factor.
     
  8. rimrocker

    rimrocker Contributing Member

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    We can tell from tree ring data and charcoal deposits in bogs and other things that fires 200-250 years ago were less intense than now. One way we know this is because the trees only got scorched and continued to put on rings. In most ponderosa forests, the fire return interval was 10-25 years and you an see the burn marks on the lower rings in routine cycles. (It changes on tree type and this is not to suggest there weren't large fires 200 years ago, as there certainly were, particularly in lodgepole and mixed conifer forests. However, even there, we can tell the fires with high intensity were less than what we see now... and it is more complicated and nuanced than what I just said.)

    TLDR version: We can tell from tree rings and other data sources how frequent and intense fires were 200 years ago and today, they are more intense, on average.
     
  9. rocketsjudoka

    rocketsjudoka Contributing Member

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    Tangential but related question. Rimrocker, how much do you believe that the previous suppression policy of fires (trying to stop all forest fires) contributed to the making fires in recent decades worse?

    I've read that fires are a natural part of forest in that they clear out more flammable growth so once all fires were suppressed growth of more flammable plants built up making fires worse.
     
  10. Bandwagoner

    Bandwagoner Contributing Member

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    Sandy and Katrina were costly because of how horribly ill prepared New York and New Orleans were.

    Sandy showed how abysmal NYC prepared because if anything close to the power of Katrina had hit them, thousands would have been dead. We only heard about how bad climate change was though. Nothing about how they should have been spending millions for preparation.
     
  11. Cohete Rojo

    Cohete Rojo Contributing Member

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    That's good stuff but how is that all explained by climate change? Isn't there a massive 12,000 year old charcoal deposit across most of the southern USA associated with the start of the Clovis society?
     
  12. peleincubus

    peleincubus Member

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    I read an article a while back, it may have been in time magazine that said Florida is pretty much screwed in the near future.
     
  13. heypartner

    heypartner Contributing Member

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    Yeah, NOLA has no experience with hurricanes.
     
  14. bobrek

    bobrek Politics belong in the D & D

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    Regardless of how many hurricanes have hit New Orleans, they were not well prepared for Katrina.
     
  15. Major

    Major Member

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    I read somewhere that this study is fairly controversial in that it really simplifies property damage. Basically, they found a correlation between increasing wealth and increasing property damage. But they didn't consider that there should actually be a negative correlation over time - because we are becoming better engineers. All things equal, the property damage today should be less from a hurricane or earthquake or whatever else, because we know how to build more resistant structures. So if you're still getting a straightforward increase in damage, it means the damage is actually increasing relative to wealth.

    No idea the validity of the criticism though, and I can't find the original article offhand.
     
  16. heypartner

    heypartner Contributing Member

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    What weren't they prepared for? And what other city would have been more prepared, and how?
     
  17. Classic

    Classic Member

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    The simplification I see with the data is that it doesn't appear to sub-sect the reinsurance data. In these natural disasters you have property damage and loss of business income. Both of these items are considered from an insurance perspective 'property damage' but you can have a business income loss without property damage if supporting infrastructure does not allow for business operations (like power grid).

    Think about NOLA/HOU/NY. If we have a direct loss in those three major cities/ports, the insurance companies big ticket property damage item for large petrochemical/shipping/mfg companies are more likely driven by the business income losses that pile up because supporting infrastructure is down, not necessarily because there was a physical loss to the actual buildings. Because, like you say, we are becoming better engineers and buildings have improved. That is a fact. These companies who do hundreds of millions of dollars in sales can easily claim a $10 to $20 mil loss without so much as a blown out roof for a month off-line. By virtue of the property 'pool', all 'property' rates are then driven up in the area.

    Another problem with the data: do the reinsurance companies break down residential & commercial losses? I just read economic loss. Major storms hitting major economic hubs during a global recession are the problem[were those business income figures 100% accurate or maybe fluffed a bit?].

    So I'd agree, too much simplification of the data.
     
  18. bobrek

    bobrek Politics belong in the D & D

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    Levees, Evacuation, shelters. I doubt any city would have been prepared.
     
    #18 bobrek, Mar 26, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2014
  19. heypartner

    heypartner Contributing Member

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    Appreciate you saying you doubt any city would have been prepared. I felt sick for them.

    Levees -- NOLA has more levees that any other city. As we know, it's below sea level. The front line held. The back levees broke.

    Evacuation -- In fairness to NOLA, they do have evacuation plans with the best of them, but Katrina rose to Cat 5 so fast and they had, what?, less than two days. Then the levees broke, and cornered people who didn't evacuate.

    Shelters -- not sure how many cities could have handled that many people when full of water.

    I just can't blame the city at all. I very much felt sorry for them, and volunteered to foster dogs...best I could do. It makes me sick to hear Yankees criticize that city and making it a politic debate.
     
    #19 heypartner, Mar 26, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2014

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