Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Was Sandy systemically caused by CO2?

Anthony Watts wrote down a nice table describing which folks believe or at least pretend to believe that CO2 "caused" Hurricane Sandy and which people don't. If I simplify it a little bit, activists, liars, and crackpots such as Al Gore support the link while scientists don't. I am kind of pleased to see that for the first time, most of the media seem to agree that the people promoting the hurricane-CO2 link are hacks.

I was intrigued by a member of the former group, hardcore leftist activist Mr George Lakoff, who wrote the following text for the Huffington Post:
Global Warming Systemically Caused Hurricane Sandy
He introduces a new problematic term: "systemic causation". He believes that fossil fuels "systemically caused" Hurricane Sandy (and other weather events we don't like). The description makes it look like the construct "A systemically caused B" means "A increased the odds of B" – note that my alternative wording is equally long, much more accurate, and not requiring any new contrived phrases.

Except that Mr Lakoff believes that AIDS is only "systemically caused", not "directly caused", by the HIV virus. That's pretty interesting. Either he is an HIV denier or his definition of "systemic causation" is internally inconsistent. But let's ask two questions: Was Sandy "systemically caused" by CO2 emissions? And forgetting about the answer and focusing on genuine "systemic causes" of bad events in general, is it legitimate for the society to outlaw them?

My answer to both questions is No, although the latter question deserves a subtler discussion.




Unless you believe in astrology and similar things, you will surely agree that it's not in the power of CO2 or any other indirect hypothetical causes to adjust some "highly internal" and "seemingly random" characteristics of tropical storms such as the population of the city that the storms target. ;-)

So the fact that Sandy managed to flood some tunnels in the New York subway system, among dozens of related achievements, is pretty clearly a coincidence that can't be explained by any well-defined long-term "cause", not even a "systemic cause". Most hurricanes avoid New York, some hurricanes get there, and only the proportion may be measured or theoretically calculated. In other words, when we talk about unknown future hurricanes, we may only predict their ability to target New York or other great cities probabilistically. And we may only estimate the probability that the most important hurricane of 2013 will make landing at most 4 days before the Halloween.

(The same comment, "only probabilistic predictions are possible", obviously applies to earthquakes in Italy, too.)

Needless to say, exactly the same words apply to Katrina and New Orleans in 2005. Katrina was a big story – much bigger than Sandy (surely by the number of casualties) – because it hit a large and relatively vulnerable city of New Orleans. Sandy was a relatively big story because it affected the "greatest city in the world" although not as much as Katrina did harm New Orleans. Let's agree that the targeting is a matter of chance.

But if you subtract all the "special characteristics" of Sandy that are related to its random path, there is almost nothing left. In fact, by the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE), Sandy isn't even the largest storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. It's not even the second one. It's not even the third one: Sandy is just the fourth largest Atlantic tropical storm of 2012. That shouldn't be shocking because it has made it to the Category 2 and only marginally and for a short time.

One may look for various detailed properties of Sandy – its trajectory, its area, its pre-Halloween timing, and so on. But I think it's clear that trying to attribute some "message" (I would say "divine message") to any of these detailed properties is a sign of medieval superstitions. People who try to interpret these properties as divine signals may use a quasi-scientific vocabulary but the vocabulary isn't the essence. The essence is the logic behind their thoughts and beliefs and it is equally unscientific as any other generic medieval superstitions.

The fact that Sandy went to New Jersey is a coincidence – one that could be predicted a few days in advance but one that has no implications for any knowledge or mechanisms that are relevant outside the end of October 2012. The fact that Sandy hit before the Halloween or before the U.S. presidential election is another coincidence. It's totally scientifically implausible to assign "causes" or "systemic causes" to such microscopic accidental characteristics of a tropical storm. Such links are equivalent to astrology and other superstitions. There isn't any conceivable natural mechanism that could impose such causal links – and there's even no conceivable mechanism or explanation that could significantly increase the chance that a hurricane is more Sandy-like if the CO2 concentration is higher. I am convinced that everyone who has been given basic scientific education – or who has a basic scientific intuition even in the absence of any formal education – must know that.

So we are back to the usual questions whether the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may be increasing or decreasing the number or hurricanes or their average or maximum intensity. I think that the data speak a clear language: no such dependence, whether positive or negative, may be extracted from the data that seem to be fully explainable by "noise", essentially "white noise". In the future, the datasets will become more extensive and perhaps more accurate and people may see a signal we don't see today. That's why it makes sense to ask whether we may predict what they will see. I think (based on arguments I have been repeatedly explained by Richard Lindzen in particular) that if they will ever see such an impact, it should be a negative impact – fewer hurricanes or weaker hurricanes. It's because storminess and other activity is driven by temperature (and other) gradients and in a hypothetical warmer world, the equator-pole temperature difference should be smaller because the poles should warm up faster. The gradients should decrease and because the gradients power the cyclone activity (and other things, including temperature variations in general), the cyclone activity should go down.

That's my prediction but I don't know how strong the effect is. It's probably very weak and it may remain invisible for centuries and perhaps forever because "global warming caused by CO2" will most likely never have an observable effect that would go beyond a modest shift of the global mean temperature.

Even when you look at the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season which became another heavily overhyped one, you will see that the Accumulated Cyclone Energy is just 121 so far, just marginally higher than the historical average around 105. The ACEs for individual seasons are never constant. They belong to some statistical distribution. It's inevitable that sometimes, the ACE ends up being above the average, sometimes (in many years after 2005), it ends up being below the average. There's nothing shocking about either outcome: it's a law of physics that such things are not constant although left-wing, egalitarian activists often have a problem with this totally basic concept underlying all of science.

Standing doctrine vs systemic causes

Despite all the hype, there's no evidence that something is changing about the statistical distributions that encode the number, strength, and geographical location of tropical storms and there's surely no evidence that this unobserved change of the distributions has some particular reasons such as a changing CO2 concentration. We've spent way too much time with this stuff. If someone isn't able to see that my conclusion is the only one that is empirically defensible, he or she probably suffers from some hopeless mania of superstitions and it's probably impossible to rationally talk to such a person.

But I want to continue with my second topic, namely the right of "systemic causes" to lead to bans. Are bans justified by "systemic causes" i.e. causes that only affect undesirable effects probabilistically desirable and compatible with some legal principles of civilized countries based on the rule of law? I would say that the answer is mostly No and if it's Yes, it shouldn't be "complete bans" and the legislation behind some "incentives" shouldn't be dogmatic but it should be based on a careful cost-and-benefit analysis.

What do I mean?

In 2006, I informed about a Massachusetts vs EPA lawsuit that ultimately ended by the unbelievable verdict that CO2 was a pollutant that EPA has the duty to regulate. So far, thank God, this pernicious verdict hasn't been fully exploited but it's a time bomb that may still explode sometime in the future.

In 2006, I discussed an important legal technicality, the standing doctrine:
It says that the plaintiff in front of the federal courts must show that her injury is "concrete and particularized" as well as "actual or imminent". The founding fathers wrote these wise sentences exactly in order to make things like suppression of the freedom of speech or suppression of life and the work of companies with the help of hypothetical accusations impossible.
Using Mr Lakoff's new terms, a person who thinks he has been affected by a "systemic cause" has no standing in the federal courts! Indeed, it's very important that only "direct causes" may be used as arguments against a "culprit". Mr Lakoff's suggestion that we should suddenly start to fight against "systemic causes", i.e. against all kinds of acts and events that have been hypothesized to increase the chance of some undesirable "systemic consequences", is therefore extremely dangerous for the life in the U.S. and elsewhere. Such a program would have a huge potential to restrict the very basic freedoms of the citizens and corporations – well, indeed, this may be the very goal of Mr Lakoff and his comrades.

Our laws are actually already full of various regulations that are meant to suppress "systemic causes", i.e. processes that may increase the chances of undesired consequences. The laws protecting people against passive smoking may be picked as an example.

Science hasn't resolved the question whether passive smoking increases the odds of various bad diseases. There are many theoretical reasons to think that the answer should be Yes. There are also some "maverick" reasons that the influence could actually be going in the opposite direction – explanations emulating the proverb "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" (those things are believed by some in the case of weak radioactivity in particular). I personally think that the former – passive smoking is somewhat unhealthy – is more likely to be true.

However, this uncertainty is often presented using big words and the possible consequences are often presented as far-reaching ones. But this is a complete distortion of what the scientific research has already found out. We don't have reliable data showing that second-hand smoking increases the probability e.g. of lung cancer; and we don't have reliable data showing that second-hand smoking decreases the probability of e.g. lung cancer.

But we actually do have lots of evidence to say that if any of these two influences exists, it's very small! This conclusion of many studies that asked this very question is often being obscured, overlooked, and censored. But it's damn real. If \(p_\text{no smoke}\) is the probability to "catch" lung cancer if you are exposed to no cigarette smoke at all, the probability for second-hand smokers is related to it by something like\[

p_\text{second-hand smokers} = (1.1\pm 0.2) p_\text{no smoke}.

\] This is a number comparable to the results of various surveys. It's not the number from any particular survey but this result is as compatible with them as any single survey from the list of actual surveys and I think it's good to offer you my own number so that you won't overestimate the importance of any particular paper in literature. There is some error margin and the results are compatible with the hypothesis that there's no influence. And they are compatible with the hypothesis that the second-hand smoke slightly increases the risk or slightly decreases the risk (for the latter, the compatibility may be worse).

But the experiments are not compatible with the hypothesis that passive smokers have a doubled risk (or, on the contrary, halved risk) of lung cancer, for example!

That's an important point that will lead you, if you're rational, to realize that the change of lung cancer risks isn't a rational reason to avoid second-hand smoke! There may be other reasons but this simply ain't one of them because if the influence exists, it is weaker than the "noise". Because of genetic and other differences, you may have a 4 times higher risk or 3 times lower risk to develop lung cancer than your friend. You don't really know what the chance is but whether you change the risk by 10% isn't a real issue and if you're unpleasant to your environment because of this small correction to the noise, you may be rightfully viewed as an intolerant jerk. This may increase the chances that someone will kill you so you may be actually shortening your life by being nasty to smokers around you.

But such "systemic causes" that increase the chances of something bad do exist. I could surely find better examples than the second-hand smoke. The society wants to thrive "statistically" so it may invent various policies that "encourage" the systemic causes of good things and "discourage" systemic causes of bad things. But it's important that such legislation shouldn't be dogmatic, black-and-white, and mindless.

Various processes we have may have "good systemic consequences" (good events whose probability is increased by the cause) as well as "bad systemic consequences" (the bad events whose chance is increased by the cause). Both of them must be taken into account. I think that if the "good systemic consequences" prevail – e.g. if we measure them in dollars – it's utterly irrational and counterproductive to legally discourage such "systemic causes".

Needless to say, even if Sandy were fully caused by CO2 emissions in 2012 – in reality, not even 1% of it is "caused" by any carbon dioxide, whether one emitted in 2012 or any other previous year – it would still fail to imply that it's irrational to regulate CO2 using this Sandy justification. The damages caused by Sandy are of order $20 billion. Imagine that this happens every year. However, the damages caused by a full ban (or near-complete ban) on CO2 would be several trillion dollars a year just for the U.S. So even if you believed the totally indefensible hypothesis that "CO2 is the systemic cause behind most Sandy-like hurricanes", it would still be indefensible to introduce laws that (almost) outlaw the carbon dioxide. The actual cost-and-benefits analysis implies that the ban would be at least 3 orders of magnitude more costly than the "damages" it tries to mitigate.

In some cases, we may find out that it's plausible that some acts contribute as "systemic causes" to some undesired consequences. In those cases, it could make sense to create laws that would force the "perpetrators" of the acts identified as "systemic causes" to pay for a corresponding fraction of the damages of the consequences that were "partly or statistically" caused by the acts.

Let me give you an example. Imagine that there's some breakthrough or change and evidence accumulates that 10% of hurricanes like Sandy are caused by the CO2 emissions. If this were true – and I don't believe that the current science suggests anything of the sort but just imagine that it will do so in the future – then it would make sense to introduce legislation that would force the CO2 emitters to pay 10% of the damages caused by future hurricanes similar to Sandy. (Without a new law, prosecution must remain impossible. A judge simply can't prosecute someone for some previously unencountered "systemic causes" because the "guilt" can't be reliably demonstrated so any "guilty" verdict would conflict with the presumption of innocence!)

For "another Sandy" whose damages are $20 billion or so, the "club of all the world's CO2 emitters" would be ordered to pay $2 billion to the fund for the victims of "another Sandy". It would save some money to the insurers and others.

You surely see where I am going. My point is that even if science accumulated evidence that CO2 helps to strengthen similar hurricanes or increase their number, the extra fees that the CO2 emitters after a similar hurricane would have to pay would be totally negligible and they wouldn't change anything whatsoever about their business. Every year, the world's CO2 emitters would pay some extra $2 billion for an Atlantic hurricane, perhaps another billion for another weather event that would be partly blamed on them, and so on. So they could share a $5 billion fine a year.

That's totally negligible because they – and we – collectively waste hundreds of billions of dollars a year by carbon markets and similar policies to regulate the CO2 emissions.

Even if you decided that the largest hurricanes we experience are partially – significantly – "systemically caused" by CO2, the damages would still be vastly smaller than the costs of the war on CO2. The insane people who defend the policies regulating CO2 need much more than an indefensible attribution of weather events to the gas we call life: they need to invent tons of events and devastation that doesn't exist at all. They need a full, unrestricted demagogy. They are living outside the reality and their survival depends on their complete separation from the reality and from the truth.

It's very important to keep all those events and hypothetical causal relationships in the context and to assign them numbers. Even if human lives are at stake, you must talk about numbers. You either count the human lives separately or identify a human life with XY million dollars, whatever the right number is, but it's totally critical to do so and to preserve a rational thinking at every step. The failure to do so opens the door to the demagogy by unhinged medieval superstitious assholes such as the scum that wants to fight against the carbon dioxide. And once these jerks see the open door, they won't hesitate to scream that an influence that is actually very insignificant, cheap, and de facto negligible (for the mankind and for the CO2 emitters) is practically infinite and Universe-threatening and enough for them to demand everything, ban anything they want, and become de facto dictators of the society.

We mustn't allow anything of the sort. We must preserve the rational and quantitative reasoning. If we manage to do so, we will inevitably protect our legal systems and habits from counterproductive policies such as the carbon regulation – and from many other bad rules that refer to "externalities" and similar things that are actually negligible if looked at properly.

And that's the memo.

11 comments:

  1. Hi Lubos,

    I think your article starts off great. But you lose me a little when you start you hypothetical "monetary analysis" (by the way i think you have a typo; Needles to say.. fail to imply that it's irrational (rational) ...), especially when you imply that a "cost-benefit" analysis can be boiled down to some simple equation where you may attach numbers to the value of everything, even human life. My problem with this is that the value we put on life depends on context (Of course you never gave a value in this context). When we talk risks and problems someone induce on others, there has to be considerations of morals and the type or character of the threat. Who are exposed to risk vs who benefit, do people view it as fair when they know the details, the truth, and how much will they sacrifice and work to create another "reality". Peoples subjective experience of fairness matter. Certainly cost-benefit analysis using money arguments can easily lead to immoral decisions and politics which cannot be considered rational. People are willing to work hard against threats which on a numbers level are minor if they don't like this kind of threat. Many will sacrifice "everything" to keep (or in a sense, the perception that) a loved one safe. Indeed these are some of the reasons irrational hysteria is easily created (along with pack mentality), but the existence of such - at times- irrationality, surely doesn't imply that the answer is a money based cost benefit analysis. The money argument is too simplistic to hold true.

    I do of course agree that one should consider consequences (by thinking hard and from careful analysis) and use truthful data to decide what should be done but many more factors must be taken into account. Even utilitarianism, the idea that the way to go is to do what optimizes overall happiness (and we must learn what that means?!?), which may seem reasonable, brings it own bag of moral issues and is not universally applicable. Of course you never said anything about other situations and you did not generalize, but even in the context presented here I don't find the money argument that strong. But luckily, as CO2 is not the cause of these natural disasters, you don't need it.

    Of course money reflects importance and the importance of fossil fuels for the thrival of modern societies as we know them is probably underestimated by most people. Its ubiquity in everything from plastic cups, medical equipment, clothes, packaging etc. all the way to energy production is quite remarkable, but if there were actual catastrophic consequences it would be irrational not to consider alternative solutions. Such a threat may even motivate more economic activity under some circumstances. Its not always useful to think about money as something which is "used", and that to spend money on something means it must be taken from somewhere else. While true for oneself this is often wrong for countries.

    I don't believe the global warming hysteria, but whenever a single resource become very important and it is concentrated in specific locations there's potential for (yes trade and wealth) lots of problems resulting from games of power. Speaking of this importance of fossil fuels have you read about the petro-dollar system and its (by some) hypothesized importance for the us dollar. Some claim it to be ONE OF the main motivators for the war, whereas the official arguments are argued to be nothing but propaganda.



    By the way, great article yesterday.

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  2. Dear Michael, thanks for your feedback. I agree with you that the price of the human life depends on the context - and, well perhaps unfortunately but inevitably, on as simple things as the citizenship of the people, especially the GDP per capita of the nations where they're citizens - but I don't understand why you think that my remarks are incompatible with this fact. One must still appreciate that the loss of a human life is a tragedy but not an infinite one. And policies meant to save a human life may often indirectly lead to the loss of another human life, perhaps very indirectly. Of course that I wouldn't try to promote a particular "number" as the price ticket of an American, it would be silly and ugly. But yes, just the fact that something leads to a risk that someone could die isn't a sufficient condition to ban this activity. After all, most of the things we are doing carry some risk of killing some of us. Consider cheerleaders - they're really at risk which is not appreciated, as one episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit showed very convincingly. Even if we don't do anything, we face a risk of death! ;-)


    The conversion of human lives to the money isn't really the main point I was trying to convey because it's not an issue in most of these considerations. The typical "dangerous activities" lead both to financial damages as well as some risk for the loss of human lives, and those two are typically proportional to each other with a coefficient that doesn't "wildly" vary.


    Still, human lives are precious but if one compared them to financial losses, I can't imagine someone defending a conversion factor that would imply that Sandy's deadly impact on human lives was worse than the financial impact. If the financial damages are of order $20 billion and there are 40 dead people, one would have to say that the price of a human life is half a billion dollars for these two things to be on par. A human life is extremely precious but it simply sometimes ends – and if usually starts rather easily – and because a human almost never creates values comparable to half a billion dollars during his or her lifetime, it's a stretch to assume that the price of a human life is comparable to half a billion dollars.


    I know that such considerations sound extremely repulsive and I am not thrilled to think about these things too rationally either but some reasoning of this sort simply has to be done if we want our societies to avoid some super-dogmatic and utterly irrational behavior that would lead not only to a huge waste of financial resources but, indirectly, to lots of deaths, anyway. America clearly values the human life more than some third-world countries - it can afford to do so because it's richer (it's unnecessary to pretend that this feature of America is due to its moral superiority; perhaps it's moral superiority but this kind of moral superiority almost inevitably comes together with the wealth) but even America must have and has some limits. I am sure that in order to save one human life, or increase the chances of doing so, America wouldn't demolish all skyscrapers in Manhattan, or something like that.


    So one may say that the policies meant to preserve the human lives in Sandy-like situations may already be a bit excessive today. You know, there are millions of articles on Sandy but if 40 people died, it's pretty much the same number as the number of Czech citizens killed by the methanol in beverages in a recent month or two. And Czechia is a 30 times smaller nation than the U.S.! Of course we also adopted policies to stop the dying - not necessarily optimal policies, but people feel the urge to act - but again, even several human lives simply can't be claimed to be infinitely valuable, i.e. to justify *any* action, however expensive.

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  3. Thanks for the answer,

    I agree with what you write here, and of course one cannot put an infinite price on human life, one would only end up frustrated and with self contradictory arguments. Maybe I reacted too quickly and strongly, its just that in a way it is sometimes so easy to resort to money arguments and it can be misleading, I guess that's all I tried to say. But you never did mention if you read about the petrodollar system, and the hypothesis that it may have been a motivator. Is that because you believe it is untrue?

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  4. I believe Sandy has caused a marked improvement to the background of your website.

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  5. Hi, I could not see the last part of your answer until now. I do not try to demonize oil or fossil fuels, I simply tried to point to some of the injustice which happen in our world which are related to oil. Its no different from any other resource, some are greedy and some will be exploited, it would happen in a world without oil as well. It always happens to some extent. So I certainly don't label oil as immoral, its existence is indeed fortunate for modern society as I actually wrote. But I do not understand why you view the currency one trade in as irrelevant history, I don't think it is irrelevant. Why would the US guarantee Saudi Arabia (back in the 70ies) military support if they agreed to trade their oil in the US dollar if there was no benefit for the US. Of course they would not. The argument that it does have an effect is very simple. If you want to buy oil from someone trading the oil in dollars you need to obtain dollars, this in turn creates a demand for dollars on the international markets. Now if the need for oil continue to rise or the price of oil continue to rise slightly the demand for dollars will continue and it will enable the US to export considerable amounts without the negative impact this would normally have on a country. In other words it becomes easier to remain rich even if their exports would suggest otherwise. That is the argument, and while it can be argued how much this really matters I do not believe it's just an empty and inconsequential political gesture. While countries who manage their own currency can just print money it is the markets which decide the value of their money on the international playing field and having the world use your money is definitely an advantage. Furthermore it is beneficial to the US directly when oil can be bought for their own currency as they control it, but that is probably less "controversial".

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  6. To clarify when I wrote "enable the US to export considerable amounts", I meant that they can export considerable amounts of dollars, that is they can import more actual stuff (real value) than they export, because there is a consistent demand for their money regardless.

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  7. Hello Luboš,

    as for our previous discussion on Sandy's non-event non-record storm. We surely live in defferent worlds. Regarding Sandy, here are some statistics:

    1.) "In technical terms, Sandy contains the most integrated kinetic energy of any storm in history – meaning if you add up all of the total energy contained in her incredibly large area of tropical-storm-force winds, as well as her smaller area of hurricane-force winds, there has never been a tropical cyclone in history that has contained more overall sheer power." http://blogs.kxan.com/2012/10/28/hurricane-sandy-the-most-energetic-storm-in-history/

    2.) It had record breaking low pressure as well as


    3.) record breaking storm surge (which was a combination of increasing sea level rise, Moon position, and low pressure)

    4.) Sandy went through abnormaly warm water for this time of year, which were 5° F higher than 30-year average

    5.) as for the track of the hurricane - it was pushed to the coast by blocking event over Greenland, which is more probable to happen with arctic sea ice decline.

    But I know you don't care about the arctic sea ice decline, since it cannot have any significant impact on anything, just as sis the case for CO2 :-)



    Cheers,


    Alexander

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  8. Dear Alexander,


    your methodology only shows that you are always changing the rules of the game during the game, in order to find something that helps your obsession - obsession of a little kid from the kindergarten who loves to scare himself and others by hiding himself in the closet.


    And your other numerical data are just totally wrong. Let me start with the mutating methodology.

    By all previous measures, Sandy was an average storm and a near-minimal hurricane. The conventional most inclusive measure of the strength of a storm has been the Accumulated Cyclone Energy, ACE, whose unit is kt^2 (times day, but they don't indicate it), not Joules, and Sandy was modest, 4th largest in the 2012 season and average in the history books,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Atlantic_hurricane_season#Accumulated_Cyclone_Energy_.28ACE.29

    It's demagogical to measure the energy of a storm by Joules by including the energy seen in whatever region you decide to include to the storm - which is really just a human convention. If you took any other storm and included a large area around it and winds in this area and their energy, you would also get a large number of Joules.

    Sandy surely didn't have the record-breaking low pressure, by far. It was an average storm in this respect. The minimal pressure was 940 hPa, see

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Atlantic_hurricane_season

    right upper corner. That's very close to the normal atmospheric pressure relatively to what powerful storms have been doing. Hurricane Wilma 2005, for example had the minimum pressure of 882 hPa, which is almost twice as large a depression from the atmospheric pressure

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Wilma

    and there have been many even stronger hurricanes. All your other "data" are rubbish as well. I can't debunk every lie you write down because you spend your whole life by inventing, writing, and spreading lies and you're not important enough for me to follow every step of yours.



    LM

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  9. Strangely all that integrated kinetic energy didn't amount to much when you are 150 miles inland from the coast.

    http://www.collegian.psu.edu/archive/2012/10/31/pdf/10-31-12-daily.pdf (page 3)

    Sandy causes minimal damage locally
    BY KELLY GIBSON
    COLLEGIAN STAFF WRITER

    While Superstorm Sandy has
    left destruction in its path after
    tearing through cities such as
    New York, and Atlantic City,
    N.J., State College and the Penn
    State University Park campus
    have experienced minimal
    damages.

    Communication Coordinator
    for Penn State’s Office of
    Physical Plant Paul Ruskin
    said that he hasn’t heard of a
    lot of damages, and that only
    one leakage problem has been
    reported thus far.

    The Sackett Building, which
    serves as the academic building
    for the department of Civil and
    Environmental Engineering,
    is currently experiencing
    leakage in its roof, Ruskin
    said
    .

    Maybe that's why we need to stick with conventions and definitions with historical significance, instead of inventing new terms to suit political causes and headline writers.

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  10. There are a lot of inland areas with the power knocked off illustrated on this Google Crisis map.

    http://google.org/crisismap/2012-sandy



    But I wonder, because of the lack of damage in the middle of Pennsylvania, if these power outages are caused by wind turbine failures, or built in cut off safety features, rather than downed power lines?

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  11. I don't think there would be any circumstance in which half a billion dollars would be needed to save someone's life, but if there were, it's at least plausible that an individual with a half-billion dollars would be willing to spend it to save a member of his family. I think people confuse this with the circumstance of society's spending a lot of money on something, such as pollution control, which (supposedly) would save the lives of many unidentifiable others, and which would cost far less than a half-billion per life saved, such as the EPA's $7.9 million (the price EPA puts on a human life). They don't see why $7.9 million is OK, but (say) $8 million is not. (I'm not suggesting that I myself see it.)

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