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Perceived disaster risk vs. actual disaster risk


ScienceNostalgia101
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Every year the subject comes up again.

 

"Another natural disaster in that state? Why don't they just move?"

 

I'll try to avoid singling out specific individual states any more than necessary. But the public supports the decision to live in even the most disaster-prone of regions by, through their elected officials, sending tax dollars to these locations after a disaster without making the money contingent upon, let's say, the decision not to spend it on rebuilding but on relocation to a safer region.

 

However, not all natural disasters are equal, in lives lost or dollars cost. New England's blizzards bury cars, but if the economy of a town within it were set up to enable people to stay home under such circumstances; which it turned out was necessary to manage pandemics anyway; this could be manageable in a mostly non-lethal way with material damage kept to a reasonable minimum. The west coast's wildfires can kill you in your home, and avoiding that predicament requires dangerous evacuation along narrow stretches of road... and widening the roads could lead to more traffic deaths if they encouraged more people to drive. The deep south's hurricanes and tornadoes could kill you in your home, although in their case at least the efficiency of such a warm humid climate for farming purposes makes relatively more sense of the decision to live there... and relatively less of why so many people who have no intentions of becoming farmers choose to live there and use its land for purposes other than farming.

 

I do not wish to come across as having all the answers, which I get the impression is how similar threads of mine were perceived recently. I do, however, wish to ask whether the funding reflects tradeoffs more valid than meet the eye, or merely a reluctance on the part of the public to do anything that could come across as "favouritism" to some regions over others.

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54 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

Every year the subject comes up again.

 

"Another natural disaster in that state? Why don't they just move?"

Is the point here that people make stupid arguments? Why does one have to respond to them?

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Well, for starters, such people vote.

 

But also, I was trying to argue a more nuanced case, in that neither the argument itself nor people's reflexive "but every place gets natural disasters" reaction necessarily captures the nuances of the issue... nor, to be fair, might my responses to either of these. Obviously the latter speaks for a larger fraction of voters, given who they elect after they fund relief without attaching it to any condition of relocation, so it is the latter that I was attempting to challenge more so.

Edited by ScienceNostalgia101
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4 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

But the public supports the decision to live in even the most disaster-prone of regions by, through their elected officials, sending tax dollars to these locations after a disaster without making the money contingent upon, let's say, the decision not to spend it on rebuilding but on relocation to a safer region.

That is not really true. Near me for example you can no longer get building permits for homes in flood plains. You can still live there, but if there is a flood you cannot rebuild.

I'd say the government is already doing exactly what you are proposing. The only debate is where to put in the restrictions and to what extent. You cannot reasonably stop people from living in all areas that are prone to one disaster or another as that is a significant portion of the country. In large part it means decisions have to be made by the people who supply the funding in coordination with the people they wish to control. Each situation is unique and needs a unique solution.

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This reminds me a little bit of a recent idiotic argument I saw about sea levels rising - that if that happened, people would just sell their houses. But, of course, that ignores the obvious question:  who would buy them?

As the OP points out, we have disasters just about everywhere. So the question of why don't they move raises at least two issues: who's going to buy their homes, and where are they going to move to?

If they live in such a disaster-riddled area that nobody would want to live there, who will buy their home?

And since just about every area is prone to some sort of disaster, how can they move to a safe area?

 

The other problem with "Another natural disaster in that state?" is that disasters usually don't hit a whole state, and so the people involved in one disaster are probably not the ones impacted by the next one. It's a fallacious argument.

 

You don't want to live on the gulf or Florida coast, because of hurricanes? Who does fishing and shipping?

Don't want to live in tornado alley? Who does our farming? 

Don't want to live in an earthquake zone, or be near wildfires, or snowstorms? What regions do we have left?

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16 minutes ago, swansont said:

This reminds me a little bit of a recent idiotic argument I saw about sea levels rising - that if that happened, people would just sell their houses. But, of course, that ignores the obvious question:  who would buy them?

As the OP points out, we have disasters just about everywhere. So the question of why don't they move raises at least two issues: who's going to buy their homes, and where are they going to move to?

If they live in such a disaster-riddled area that nobody would want to live there, who will buy their home?

And since just about every area is prone to some sort of disaster, how can they move to a safe area?

 

The other problem with "Another natural disaster in that state?" is that disasters usually don't hit a whole state, and so the people involved in one disaster are probably not the ones impacted by the next one. It's a fallacious argument.

 

You don't want to live on the gulf or Florida coast, because of hurricanes? Who does fishing and shipping?

Don't want to live in tornado alley? Who does our farming? 

Don't want to live in an earthquake zone, or be near wildfires, or snowstorms? What regions do we have left?

You could try Britain, but since brexit you've got fook all chance of that...

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1 hour ago, swansont said:

And since just about every area is prone to some sort of disaster, how can they move to a safe area?

This overlaps with another criticism I have with the idea, namely: the ability to predict/forecast which regions are stable and safe is rapidly shrinking as climate change rapidly advances. Just because a region is meteorologically inactive/less volatile today doesn’t mean it will remain so tomorrow. 

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Being known as a place that is free from disasters could lead to disaster if too many people from disaster prone regions try and move there. Walls and fences and border patrols can only do so much. In a trade connected and dependent world the problems of one region can and will impact other regions . But conversely, assistance from other parts of the world can flow back to alleviate that - if only to prevent the spread.

Edited by Ken Fabian
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On 12/26/2020 at 5:18 PM, Ken Fabian said:

Being known as a place that is free from disasters could lead to disaster if too many people from disaster prone regions try and move there. Walls and fences and border patrols can only do so much. In a trade connected and dependent world the problems of one region can and will impact other regions . But conversely, assistance from other parts of the world can flow back to alleviate that - if only to prevent the spread.

What if the "assistance" is counterproductive? What if the country that is "assisted" only screws things up anyway? (Masks sent to Wuhan failing to prevent coronavirus from spreading to the rest of the world come to mind.) No one can protect the entire world, that's why we have borders in the first place.

 

So, regarding, zapatos' earlier point, the question then becomes whether those "building permits" are biased toward disaster-proneness as perceived by the voters, instead of disaster-proneness in and of itself. Seeing as how the public often compares New England's blizzards to the west coast's fires and deep south's hurricanes and heat waves, depsite blizzards being less costly or deadly (especially if you stay home) I would think there is some sort of bias at play here, be it the golden mean fallacy or just some evolutionary holdover from when blizzards were a lot more deadly to our ancestors than they were to us.

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43 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

New England's blizzards to the west coast's fires and deep south's hurricanes and heat waves, depsite blizzards being less costly or deadly

You need to make factual statements, backed by sources, and not just assert things.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/216831/fatalities-due-to-natural-disasters-in-the-united-states/

Thus also shows your perceived risk is greater than the actual risk, in terms of fatalities.

Do you have a citation that shows blizzards are less costly than other events, or are you making that up, too?

 

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24 minutes ago, swansont said:

You need to make factual statements, backed by sources, and not just assert things.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/216831/fatalities-due-to-natural-disasters-in-the-united-states/

Well, I'm going by stats from the NWS themselves.

 

weather_fatalities.jpg

 

Certainly the USA is getting better at saving people from warm-weather-related disasters than they used to be, while "winter" and "cold" seem to give conflicting results, but overall the ones related to warm weather (lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, and heat) are still generally more severe.

 

Floods could happen in just about any state, but I would presume warmer weather, associated with higher water vapour concentrations (unless one's in the desert) would in turn carry worse potential for heavier rain and more severe flooding. But even apart from flooding, warm-weather disasters are associated with more casualties than cold-weather ones. Which makes sense; you can stay home and wear a coat during a blizzard. I can't think of anything one could wear during a tornado at home that would help you survive. Air pillows may help with the initial impact, but they won't help you find your way out of the debris.

 

 

Quote

Do you have a citation that shows blizzards are less costly than other events, or are you making that up, too?

Objection, your honour, that question assumes facts not in evidence.

 

https://www.riskmanagementmonitor.com/flurry-down-economics-the-real-cost-of-blizzards/

 

nat_disaster_losses_in_the_us_14.gif

Not sure why sources differ on whether severe thunderstorms or winter storms are more deadly, but even sources claiming winter storms to be deadlier still claim them to be less destructive. This makes reasonable sense; there are more ways to at least somewhat improve your odds of surviving an EF5 tornado than to prevent your house from being damaged by one.

 

What, might I ask, were you expecting? For me to have jumped into this topic without ever having looked into this before in my life?

Edited by ScienceNostalgia101
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31 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

Certainly the USA is getting better at saving people from warm-weather-related disasters than they used to be, while "winter" and "cold" seem to give conflicting results, but overall the ones related to warm weather (lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, and heat) are still generally more severe.

...

Floods could happen in just about any state, but I would presume warmer weather, associated with higher water vapour concentrations (unless one's in the desert) would in turn carry worse potential for heavier rain and more severe flooding.

But you had not lumped these together, until you had to justify your claim.

 

31 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

Objection, your honour, that question assumes facts not in evidence.

That was the problem. You had not presented evidence. 

31 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

 

https://www.riskmanagementmonitor.com/flurry-down-economics-the-real-cost-of-blizzards/

 

nat_disaster_losses_in_the_us_14.gif

Not sure why sources differ on whether severe thunderstorms or winter storms are more deadly, but even sources claiming winter storms to be deadlier still claim them to be less destructive. This makes reasonable sense; there are more ways to improve your odds of surviving an EF5 tornado than to prevent your house from being damaged by one.

So winter storms are, in fact, responsible for greater losses than wildfires, and heat. More than double. And in this data set, far more fatalities.

 

31 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

What, might I ask, were you expecting? For me to have jumped into this topic without ever having looked into this before in my life?

Given that you were wrong about several elements, it’s not clear you did. 

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I looked into NWS statistics on this years ago for a project for school. Why else did you think I recalled where to find them so quickly?

 

In California's case in particular the risk is for less reason. The quasi-Mediterranean climate does not lend itself to farming as well as the deep south's humid subtropical climate does. Hence more water use for irrigation than other uses and all the "who will farm our crops" responses one typically hears when people ask why southerners stay in the south.

 

As well, Californians, to evacuate their wildfires, get on the road to get out of the way, and this releases CO2 into the atmosphere; as does the forest fire itself. (A squandered opportunity, I might add, to figure out how to design infrastructure that could harness the immense energy released by these fires.) This is a ticking time bomb for worse casualties if the next wildfire corresponds with, let's say, a traffic jam along an evacuation route. New Englanders could survive their blizzards the same way everyone else could've survived a pandemic; by staying home; if they were willing to and their employers would let them.

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51 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

I looked into NWS statistics on this years ago for a project for school. Why else did you think I recalled where to find them so quickly?

How long did it take to find the data that showed blizzards cost more than wildfires?

51 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

In California's case in particular the risk is for less reason. The quasi-Mediterranean climate does not lend itself to farming as well as the deep south's humid subtropical climate does. Hence more water use for irrigation than other uses and all the "who will farm our crops" responses one typically hears when people ask why southerners stay in the south.

It’s more than that, though; it depends on the crops you grow. California grows water-intensive crops, like alfalfa, rice and almonds. If they grew more crops that needed less water instead, I’m guessing they’d use less water.

https://fruitgrowers.com/what-california-crops-use-the-most-water/

And that’s basically the objection to your threads - you present a narrative that’s poorly sourced, and simplistic, and one that ignores important (and sometimes contradictory) detail.

 

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I don't recall how long it took to find the one on blizzards, but I wasn't expecting to find it quickly, hence posting the NWS one first and the other one later.

 

The relevant point for the purposes of California is that people choose to live there, threats to life safety be damned, even if it means growing; as you put it, rice, alfalfa, and almonds there; instead of in more suitable states for growing them.

 

As if on cue, Cracked.com has recently mentioned another solution for disaster-prone regions:

 

761828.jpg?v=0

 

So you have these homes on top of support beams such that floods don't actually enter and water-damage the home. Not only did buyers reject them, so in a way so did voters by not, let's say, subsidizing them through taxes on non-dome-homes, so that people who want to assume the risk by buying a more "normal" looking home at least have to pay up front for the tax dollars that would be sent their way once the flood hit.

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4 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

I don't recall how long it took to find the one on blizzards, but I wasn't expecting to find it quickly, hence posting the NWS one first and the other one later.

 

The relevant point for the purposes of California is that people choose to live there, threats to life safety be damned, even if it means growing; as you put it, rice, alfalfa, and almonds there; instead of in more suitable states for growing them.

 

As if on cue, Cracked.com has recently mentioned another solution for disaster-prone regions:

 

761828.jpg?v=0

 

So you have these homes on top of support beams such that floods don't actually enter and water-damage the home. Not only did buyers reject them, so in a way so did voters by not, let's say, subsidizing them through taxes on non-dome-homes, so that people who want to assume the risk by buying a more "normal" looking home at least have to pay up front for the tax dollars that would be sent their way once the flood hit.

You're missing the point of your own thread, it's not about whether or not our shelter's can survive regional disasters, it's about our food security.

There's no point in being warm and cosy in the face of a hurricane, blizzard or fire if one starves after the fact.

Regional disaster's will have global effects, if the crops aren't protected.

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13 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

The relevant point for the purposes of California is that people choose to live there, threats to life safety be damned, even if it means growing; as you put it, rice, alfalfa, and almonds there; instead of in more suitable states for growing them.

What is the threat, though? You make this assertion, but it’s a narrative, not an objective fact. A few dozen deaths a year from any cause is way, way down on the list of causes, but you make it sound like everyone is dropping dead from disasters.

Earthquake-prone areas like California have building codes to mitigate risk and damage. Just like we do for other potential dangers.

A lot of people live in California because other factors outweigh the tiny risk from earthquakes. Not “threats to life safety be damned” which is your concoction.

 

People grow water-intensive crops in California because they can. If water rights/regulation changed, they would likely grow something else, because most farmers are not terminally dim.

 

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Who's going to impose those regulations on California, then?

 

I don't think the farmers are dim, but I do think their customers are somewhat in denial about how much of a burden getting this stuff from California places on the environment. If it were that they didn't care at all, they wouldn't even bother to tell Californians to stop watering their lawns or stuff like that.

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