Betting against climate change

Dr Don Boudreaux has offered a bet:

I’ll bet $10,000 that the average annual number of Americans killed by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes will fall over the next 20 years.

[…]

If environmentalists really are convinced that climate change inevitably makes life on Earth more lethal, this bet for them is a no-brainer. They can position themselves to earn a cool 10 grand while demonstrating to a still-skeptical American public the seriousness of their convictions.

Irrespective of the decision ‘environmentalists’ take about taking the offer up, I think the bet itself is misplaced.

The question is not simply of the number of lives lost. The number of deaths can be reduced by a number of factors, most of which boil down to being able to timely expend required amounts of resources (economic, human, technological) to ‘undo’ or prevent the harm that would otherwise occur.

Would Dr Boudreaux design his home ignoring every fire safety regulation of his region, if the fire department was right next door to his house? After all, in case of a fire, the fire department would be there in literally no time, and prevent human casualty! Or would he design his home so that even the chance of a mishap is negligible, so that resources are saved later in undoing any possible damage?

The data I would be interested in is not the number of lives lost. Rather, I’d be interested in (at least) two metrics.

First: what resources are expended over time to deal with natural calamities? (This data has to be normalized against population density in the vicinity.) How severely is the local ecosystem affected? Are the required resources increasing over time? This would indicate whether the strength and/or frequency of events is increasing over time.

Second: what is the frequency of natural disasters over time? What are the trends as to their location? For example, we know that some regions are hurricane prone, some are earthquake prone, etc. Do events follow historic patterns, or are there more events in newer locations, where these things never rarely happened before?

There are better metrics to judge the effects of climate change, than simply the number of human lives lost. Considering, at the very least, that humankind is hardly the majority fraction of life on Earth.

(I’m surprised that Dr Boudreaux blithely equates “number of Americans killed” to “life on Earth”. Really, Dr Boudreaux?)

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