Tina DuPuy: Extreme weather deaths outnumber war casualties
Safe to say, nothing is so bad that a hurricane can’t make worse. Take an existing problem, toss it around in the wind and smack it with flying debris – it’s certainly not going to improve. Shoddy construction is made worse. Communication concerns, made worse; a struggling economy, made worse; disastrous Bush presidency, made worse.
In 2007 during a cable interview, Senator Barbara Boxer said, “One of the very important national security threats we face is climate change.” Warmer waters in the Gulf will promise more hurricanes. Oceans will rise from the melting of glaciers. Heat waves will kill crops and damage industries. Famine, floods, tornadoes, drought, violent storms, fires, tsunamis, disease and unrest? Sure, this could be a concern to the security of the nation.
Now, sacked Hewlett-Packard CEO turned California Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina used the Boxer clip for an attack ad. Carly said in the spot, “Terrorism kills and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather.”
Then the fraction-of-a-term governor Sarah Palin chimed in on Twitter, “BarbBoxer sez ‘greatest security threat’ is WEATHER. Not nukes, or unsustainable debt leading 2 insolvency? Silly Senator, glad theres competition.”
OK, first off: the “weather” is not the “climate.” The difference between weather and climate is length of time. Weather is the immediate information – climate is the big picture. So it’s like trying to discuss a concern about a decade and Carly Fiorina says you’re worrying about an hour.
Our climate is changing.
And yes, weather also is something which warrants worry: In the last 10 years, there have been more Americans who died from extreme weather than U.S. soldiers who died in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.
According to the National Weather Service, during the last decade 5,754 people have died because of weather events such as extreme temperatures, flooding and hurricanes. Compare that death toll with the 5,521 soldiers killed in the two wars we’ve waged since 2001. To date there have been more U.S. lives lost as a result of Hurricane Katrina (estimated 1,800) than there have been U.S. soldiers killed in the war in Afghanistan (1,125).
An average of 42 Americans die from being struck by lightning every year. As opposed to – well, almost none from terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11.
Here’s the problem with the politics of fear and confusion: It confuses what to fear. Is terrorism still a threat? Sure. Should we pursue the elimination of terrorism while ignoring all other concerns because it makes politicians seem tough? No.
This week the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat advisory for the Northeast. Forecasters predict prolonged temperatures exceeding 102 degrees could wreak havoc in cities like New York, D.C. and Philadelphia. Several have already died from the heat. In 1980 a similar heat wave was responsible for 1,250 deaths.
Why? Because weather kills.
How’s that “worried about the weather-y” thing workin’ for ya?
• Tina Dupuy is an award-winning writer and the editor of FishbowlLA.com.