Did America bring Hurricane Sandy upon itself? - Spectator Blogs

31 October 2012

12:58 PM

31 October 2012

12:58 PM

Apparently so. You can always count on the British left to sneer at the United States. (You can count on quite a bit of the British right to do so too.) According to Jon Snow, the veteran Channel 4 news presenter, the United States should probably recognise that it brought Hurricane Sandy on itself. If he stops just short of saying America had it coming that’s the pretty clear implication of his latest dispatch:

This is the wrong season for hurricanes to hit so far north. What has brought this upon what is – at times, and in some places – the most sophisticated nation on earth?

Has what is still the most energy-consuming country in the world brought this on itself to any extent? Is America – responsible for 25 per cent of all global carbon emissions, where the mother and father of the biggest vehicles are standard public usage – suffering from the effects of climate change to which she, and we, have contributed?

[…] And how vulnerable this nation’s “sophistication” proves. Bloomberg News, based in New York, talks of $6 billion in insurance claims. Nearly 14,000 flights have been cancelled, disrupting air travel across America with knock-ons across the world.

[…] Somehow who runs America becomes a secondary question. Now, surely, the question will be asked: in what condition is the America that is to be run?

[…] Climate change, global warming, are issues that have not surfaced in this presidential season. America is not alone in that. But as this vast country wrestles with a catastrophe that has affected some 20 per cent of the USA, and some 60 million of its people, the “why” word must surely assert itself.

Why? Because it’s weather. It happens. It can’t be prevented. That is to say that even if the United States were to adopt right-thinking policies on climate change there would still be storms and hurricanes and the occasional catastrophe. They might be less frequent or less extreme but they would still happen. Stuff just does.

Granted, these events appear to be happening more frequently and the US has been hit with any number of unusually extreme weather events – from droughts to heatwaves to hurricanes – in recent years. True too that climate change has not featured prominently in this year’s election (though that’s because Obama and Romney would each like to win the election and this is no time for a futile, vote-costing sacrifice). But so what?

Moreover and mercifully remarkably few people appear to have been killed by this hurricane. That is, at least in part, because the United States is a sophisticated country. Improvements in weather forecasting and hurricane-tracking  plus, on the whole, firm political leadership helped ensure the eastern seaboard was about as prepared for this storm as could reasonably be expected. To put it another way: had a storm of this sort hit New York City a century ago many, many more people would likely have been killed.


We know this. For instance, the Great Galveston hurricane of 1900 is believed to have killed around 8,000 people while a hurricane which hit New England in 1938 killed at least 600 citizens. Initial estimates suggest Sandy may have caused $20bn of damage. If this proves the case it will lurk just outside the top ten most expensive hurricanes in post-1900 US history. (Its economic impact may prove greater but that’s a slightly different matter.)

It seems somewhat harsh to blame SUV-driving suburban housewifes in Akron or Tulsa or Scottsdale for this. (Incidentally, it’s worth remembering that George W Bush authorised a significant increase in fuel-efficiency standards for US cars and light trucks. President Obama has followed his predecessor by raising requirements still further.)

Nevertheless, if the United States is to move to a more “energy efficient” future then it will need to invest heavily in two things above all: new nuclear power stations and the shale gas revolution. Opposition to these is certainly not confined to the liberal-left but, as a general rule, liberals (in the American sense of the term) are more likely to be concerned by these measures.

It is one thing to be concerned by climate change and energy emissions but quite another to simultaneously be opposed to some of the policies that might alleviate the very problems you consider so very pressing.

Snow’s argument, however, is wearisomely typical of the sneering, smug, superior attitude always on display whenever something bad happens to the United States. As Brendan O’Neill says:

Here, Snow is putting himself in the same company as Christian televangelist Pat Robertson (who wondered if Hurricane Katrina was God’s payback for America’s liberal abortion policy) and Christian preacher John McTernan (who suggested Hurricane Sandy was God’s punishment of America for its permissive attitude towards homosexuality). The only difference is that Snow is asking if Mother Nature, rather than God, is punishing America, and if she is doing so because America is too big and industrious and greedy (all those people driving around in the “biggest vehicles”) rather than because it has loads of gays. Yet the implication of his musings is the same as Pat Robertson’s over Katrina: America, being morally rotten, had it coming.



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Show comments
  • Minekiller

    Jon Snow is a twat.

  • Baron

    Alex, one of your best, ignore the nitpicking of the pseudo-liberal dross, they know not what they’re talking about. And Snow does beat any narcissistic, conceited, insolent gargoyle hands down, in a true BBC agitprop mould.

    Human activity has absolutely nothing, zilch, naught to do with climatic fluctuations, between roughly the time of the Norman invasion till about 1800 when the Industrial revolution got going CO2 levels had moved up but marginally, yet temperatures in the northern hemisphere got hoisted to levels higher than now then plunged substantially through the mini ice age, winters lasted for nine months. A mechanism other than a correlative relationship of temperature with the CO2 density must have been at play.

    In the 60s last century, a tight monthly correlation between the cases of dysentery in Scotland and the UK inflation ran for over two years, pity the ecochondriacs didn’t pick that one up use it as another justification to beat us with.

    • Chris

      Of course there are factors other than CO2 that affect climate to the degree that you demonstrate, however historically those fluctuations are not significant (possibly at the same level of non-significance was the reduction in population as result of the plague, but again in perspective, this is splitting hairs).

      In the ten thousand years that has been human civilisation, we’ve flourished under conditions that have been relatively stable and that has correlated with similarly stable levels of CO2. Set against a scale of hundreds of thousands of years, this is an unusually good period (for us), but the correlation between CO2 and temperature on such a scale is very clear. As a result of our emissions, we are now seeing higher levels of CO2 than at any point since well before the ice age and the mean global temperature is slowly adjusting consistent with those long-term observations. That is not a good thing (for us).

  • susie

    who cares what jon snow thinks there is a reason he reads the news on channel 4! he’s a prize tit!. Not all the british think like this twat!.

  • Beefeater

    Within minutes of 9/11 the British left was saying America had brought it upon itself.
    Americans are far more vulnerable to human nastiness and stupidity than to bad weather.
    By the way, there is a correlation between government funded global warming research and Islamic violence. Both have increased in number and intensity over recent years.

  • Chris

    “brought this on itself to any extent?” is hardly ‘has been under God’s judgment’. Emissions from vehicles have demonstrably contributed to climate change (though not as much as that from power generation), whereas I’ve yet to see convincing evidence that liberal abortion policy provokes God’s anger (and indeed that God’s anger has a tangible effect on weather).

  • Chris

    I’m not sure see the unreasonableness in your quoted portion of Snow’s post. You conclude that his assertions are on a par with Pat Robertson’s ‘Payback from God’ crap, yet all he seems to be saying is that America contributes much to climate change, America suffers much from climate change, shouldn’t they, y’know, discuss this?

    Also, your side-conclusion that some leftie distaste for some alternate energy sources is the reason why we can’t address energy reform in totality is laughable – the mass appeal of cheap fossil fuel (and self-promotion of those industries that help drive that appeal home) is clearly the number one factor: who wants change when it’s going to cost them?

    Anyways, some days you just have to feed the troll.

  • Andy Gill

    Jon Snow seems to have taken leave of his senses. Stupid git.

  • Tron

    Jon Snow is a smug Leftie who hates America (but loves Obama) . He and Channel 4 don’t give people the News they give their biased opinions. They are like the BBC on steroids.

    So what’s new?

    • Rod Blaine

      “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

  • kidmugsy

    Mind you, it’s an interesting question why NYC hasn’t bothered with effective flood defences for its tunnels, including the subway tunnels. I’d guess that because the electorate hasn’t given a hoot, neither have the politicians.

    • Chris

      Does the city or state have the means to make that investment? Given the multi-state nature of the NY metro/harbour area and likely price tag, seems a good candidate for Federal involvement, drawing on the Federal Govt’s excellent credit rating.

  • Tolkny

    The writer seems to have delayed naming the writer he quotes, finally just mentioning “snow” as if that substance can wield a writing implement.

    A journalistic production that has forgotten it is written for readers rather than to glorify its author in a pompous sort of way!

    • Tolkny

      It reads better now you have corrected it!

  • Kevin

    It seems somewhat harsh to blame SUV-driving suburban housewifes

    Some people seem to have no conception of driving in America. The world is a lot bigger than Tube zones 1 to 6.

    • Chris

      That’s hardly an excuse: it’s indicative of the poor choices Americans have made with regard to transport infrastructure. There is a stigma attached to any transit investment, except the blind spot that permits continual new layers of asphalt. What you get is a seemingly organic car culture that is anything but.

      • Chris

        I’m curious about receiving a downvote here with no comment—Federal and State Govt. contributes a lot of money for the upkeep of the nation’s roads, far outweighing any other investment in transport infrastructure. Is it controversial to assume that this leads to a tranport culture heavily dependent on cars? Is it also controversial that this is down to fundamental choices made by Americans? It follows that while, yes, cars are a necessary mode of transport, it is by choice and not excusable on conceptual grounds.

        I lived in Birmingham, Alabama for many years—they had the funds in place to implement light-rail, or at least a better bus system, yet it was actively opposed by the affluent municipalities within the metro area. It was said to be for social (cynics say racial) reasons, yet they had the means and not the will. Car culture by default.

        You can still see rail-beds where the trams used to run if you look in the right places.

      • Chris

        Yey, two downvotes—I’d be curious to know what the dissent is : )