Scary Myths Laid to Rest (Again)

We have had several deadly tornadoes recently, so the short memory set is talking again about killer weather. The fact is that weather related deaths have been dropping for a generation. But it is like other news of improvements, such as the drop in crime, drop in traffic fatalities or the drop in cancer deaths . It goes unnoticed and reports of the facts are greeted with disbelief or even hostility. For the 30-year span of 1980-2009, the average annual number of Americans killed by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes was 194—fully one-third fewer deaths each year than during the 1940-1979 periods, as outlined in this article. This is even more remarkable, since the American population in 2009 is more than double what is was in 1940, so your individual chances of dying in a weather related event is even lower. The weather has not become more benign since 1940. The weather is … the weather. It varies a lot. It gets very cold sometimes and hot other times. Sometimes it rains a lot; other times it rains hardly at all. The difference is human adaption. We are better at predicting weather and better at saving lives. People are adaptive.

My posting is based on an article by Professor Donald Boudreaux of George Mason University. He believes that the number of weather related deaths will continue to decline and has offered to bet $10,000. the dooms sayers always underestimate is human ability to adapt and triumph. They see what is today and cannot conceive of anything that doesn’t follow in direct projection. They assume that in the face of a rising tide, human beings will sit like King Canute instead of moving.

The bottom line is that my life is significantly better than my father’s. My sons and daughter will live better than I do. When I was 18 I didn’t believe this. We were told that the American dream was over and that we would face bleak futures. I think they tell us that every year, but people seem to forget the earlier predictions. It is like that clown that predicted the rapture … and then it didn’t happen. We have secular versions of that too. It seems we all like to think our times are uniquely difficult. It provides an excuse for our personal failures.

Progress will end. Everything ends, but probably not today, not tomorrow and not soon. The new hi-tech, such as biotech and nanotech, will revolutionize the way we live, creating greater wealth and engendering new anxiety among the weak minded and the credulous. Twenty years from today, people will look back on our times and claim that our challenges were nothing compared to theirs, just as we do with earlier times. They too will be wrong.