Oklahoma tornado

Oklahoma is an oil state. Oklahomans vote for people like senators Inhofe and Coburn, who rail at the ‘myth’ of climate change.  After all, there are millions and millions of dollars still to earn selling oil to burn: what more evidence does a reasonable Sooner need?

People who think science is more than a political flag one can choose to wave or not, depending on whether there’s profit in it, are pretty sure that one of the effects of global warming is increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather.

I wish I believed that a just Providence sent things like today’s tornado upon people who vote for oil-whore Oklahoma Republicans.  I don’t, but could the devastation in Moore possibly give the survivors something to think about along these lines?

UPDATE (21 May):

I obviously wrote the foregoing too quickly and too elliptically.  Let me unpack it here:

The reference to a just Providence was a pointer to the repeated meme, trotted out (for example) after Katrina, that natural disasters happen to people who deserve to be punished. The reason I “wish I believed that” is that if I did, I would feel OK about the consequences, I guess even the children whose school was shredded around them.    But I don’t: I believe natural systems are ordered by an amoral, implacable, scientific reality that we understand much better by taking it seriously and being smart than by theodicy.  I believe actions like putting carbon back in the air from underground as fast as possible have consequences, consequences that fall most heavily on the least deserving: the poor people who will not have enough to eat as floods and droughts deepen and come more often, and all the children still unborn around the world who didn’t get to dance at the fossil fuel party but will still have to figure out how to live in a toasted planet – yes, and children in tornado alley who never voted for anyone.

I also believe that the time to talk about politics and how we engage with that amoral reality is while the manifestations of foolishness, especially their injustice, are salient, and that doing so shows respect and sympathy for those who suffered and died for no good reason other than the cupidity of their leadership and its wilful ignorance (or worse, putative ignorance)

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

50 thoughts on “Oklahoma tornado”

  1. Michael. Unfortunately not. It’s a worldview. When the rains stopped coming and the ancient Maya began to run out of water, they didn’t think ‘climate change’. They thought ‘the Gods must be angry with us’. Eventually they descended to civil wars and cannibalism.

    Once a mindset is set, it’s not going to change. Confirmation bias or ‘motivated reasoning’. Only data that supports the view will be accepted.

    North Carolina’s legislature was trying to outlaw any mention of climate change or rising sea levels wrt flooding, as I recall. Kind of like trying to repeal the law of gravity, or set pi = 4 (an act which was passed, apparently).

    1. Wish I could recall the name of the climate denialist pol who when someone brought up the law of gravity countered that he didn’t believe in it but instead believed that things fall because God wills them to. You just can’t argue with logic like that.

    2. Pi=4? I’ve heard of a pi=3 movement that led to some kind of legislative action, based on 2 Chron. 4:2. But I’ve never heard of pi=4.

      1. Pi=3? Pi=4??

        C’mon, you may as well quit trying to make any sense out of Pi. It’s irrational, dontcha know?

  2. “I wish I believed that a just Providence sent things like today’s tornado upon people who vote for oil-whore Oklahoma Republicans.”

    Wishing to channel Pat Robertson are we?

    1. No kidding. Yuck. Just an awful thing to say. I guess the children killed in the elementary schools were to be punished b/c a majority of their parents voted for Jim Inhofe? Unbelievable.

  3. I don’t think it’s right to indulge in these kind of reflections while the bodies of the dead are still warm. And I say that as someone who believes the majority of Oklahomans (and Americans) are profoundly misguided about the importance they attach to climate change and energy policy. Give it a week, for pity’s sake.

  4. It may be worth pointing out that Oklahoma is a very different oil state than Texas. Unlike Texas, it suffers fully from the resource curse, and is a pretty poor state, despite all the oil under the ground. This might not change the politics all that much, but they have very different economies. The Oklahoma economy is largely one of manual labor: oil and farming. The Texas economy is mostly city-slicker stuff: oil services, finance, and the like.

    1. You say “despite”, but usually resource-extraction states are the poorest, and those that have to add value by developing their brains are the wealthiest. Nigeria, Massachusetts.

    2. Oklahoma was firmly in the middle of the pack of states in education and social progress from not long after statehood to the late 1940’s. Then three pathetic, corrupt, Dexiecrap governors in a row, Johnston Murry, Turner and Gary, set the former populist state with the nation’s largest Socialist party [and KKK as well, the dark side of populism] down the toilet toward the bottom feeder status it suffers from today under Gov. Spineless and the State Lunatic Asylum.

      For a time Gov. Edmonson and Bellmon halted the decline but the “Daily Disappointment” and other pools of corporatist rot worked at tearing down anything worthwhile to enrich themselves.

      Now OK can only point and say “We rank higher than Mississippi!” Next stop is Haiti.

  5. All of the climate-change stuff aside, what about all the religious folk who claim, every time some calamity visits a place they don’t like, that it’s God’s judgement for their sinful ways? What are they saying about the tornadoes in Oklahoma, one of the most conservative and religious states in the nation? Any chance that’s God’s just punishment for the sins of the people of Oklahoma?

    1. …what about all the religious folk who claim, every time some calamity visits a place they don’t like, that it’s God’s judgement for their sinful ways? What are they saying about the tornadoes in Oklahoma, one of the most conservative and religious states in the nation?

      Give ’em time. I’m sure there were a few gays along the tornado’s flight path they will pin it on with certainty.

    2. Televangelist Pat Robertson was asked today on the ‘700 Club’ about the tornadoes that have ravaged the Midwest and killed at least twelve people.

      He said that the storms weren’t an act of God, but instead turned it around on the victims, asking, “Why did you build houses where tornadoes were apt to happen?”

      Robertson said the tornadoes may not have happened if enough victims had prayed: “If enough people were praying He would’ve intervened, you could pray, Jesus stilled the storm, you can still storms.”

      Pat Robertson Blames Tornado Victims For Not Praying

    3. Michael O’Hare’s comment is as bad or worse than any ever put out by the likes of Pat Robertson. Even in his “explanation” he says he feels okay with the consequences, even the deaths of the children whose school was shredded around them. Shameful, and hurtful to his cause.

      1. No, Howellis, you should read his explanation again; he said the exact opposite. He said he wished he belived that the damage was caused by God, because then he could be OK with it.

  6. I know a somewhat prominent climate change denier who writes and blogs about the subject. I once said to him “assume for a second that global climate change is real. What would it take to convince you? What overwhelming science, what natural catastrophes? What could cause you to shift your opinion?”

    His response? “But it’s not real, so I can’t really be convinced.”

    My friend begins with the conclusion–climate change is annoying and anti-business–and works backward from there to come up with his assertion of what’s true. His methodology is exactly the opposite of a healthy scientific method: begin with a certainty and, like Procrustes, smash the facts to fit.

  7. You think it is too bad this isn’t punishment sent by just Providence? What a nasty excuse for a human being you are.

    1. Why?

      In general, people feel better about “bad things” happening to others if they believe those others had done something wrong and the “bad things” were a natural (or supernatural) consequence. If you think you’re immune from that very natural human tendency, then you’re a fool.

      In this case, Michael *doesn’t* believe that the devastation visited on Oklahoma was a direct consequence of Oklahomans’ choosing very bad people to represent them in government. This is in contrast to, e.g., Pat Robertson, who *does* see these kinds of natural disasters as being divine retribution for the victims’ sins.

  8. O’Hare

    “I wish I believed that a just Providence sent things like today’s tornado upon people who vote for oil-whore Oklahoma Republicans.”

    You should be ashamed. At least 20 of the dead are schoolchildren. My goodness.


    An Oklahoma liberal.

  9. Every last drop if oil will be sucked out of the ground and used (mostly burned); the stuff is too useful for that not to happen. So it’s s bit unfair to blame Oklahoma for the consequences of national & global actions.

    Also, there is a reason why NSSL is located at Norman OK – just south of Moore – and a look at the 200 year tornado track history map will make that clear.


    1. So it’s s bit unfair to blame Oklahoma for the consequences of national & global actions.

      On the other hand Ok. has vastly more political power per capita than city dwellers in say California. And they use their rural overrepresentation to keep returning Inhofe to the Senate. From the Wikipedia:

      Inhofe often repeats his claim that human influenced climate change is a hoax and impossible because “God’s still up there.” And that it is “outrageous” and arrogant for people to believe human beings are “able to change what He is doing in the climate.”

      1. Sure Inhofe sucks but even if you replaced with him with a science-friendly moderate he or she would still insist that we suck erry last bit out of the ground, which I think is what Cranky is saying. Couldn’t agree with you more btw Cranky, I’ve even put my money where my mouth is… Long XOM, CVX, STO, TOT, CHK, and APA.

  10. I hope O’Hare thinks a bit, retracts this post and apologizes. While I’d like to think that O’Hare is not a monster, and has deep sympathy for the victims, this post is evidence to the contrary. It appears that his contempt for some Okla. politicians is greater than his concern for the dead and their survivors. But maybe his grief got the better of him and he vented without thinking it through.

    Besides, even if we somehow manage to enact the best possible climate policy – an effort that involves changing a lot more minds than just the Okla. congressional delegation – and results far beyond what anyone could reasonably expect, there will still be tornadoes in Oklahoma.

    A Texas liberal.

    1. The point, for those misconstruing it, is that innocent people worldwide are going to suffer immensely and die in large numbers due to the misguided human policies that drive climate change. The many thousands of future dead in Bangladesh have an analogue here in the US, and not surprisingly, not maliciously; it just another consequence of living on one planet, that the people who drive these human policies will suffer terribly too. None of the dead deserve denigration, they all should be mourned. But what does it take to change minds?

    2. The idea that, in the wake of a tragedy, we could not point out some of the potential root causes of that tragedy is ludicrous. It honors the victims to consider the ways in which they might have been failed by the policies of their politicians–we need to do better by them, and we need to prevent such things from happening again. This is doubly the case in Oklahoma because:

      a) Oklahoma’s two senators vote rigorously against environmental protections, despite the fact that the best science tells us that extreme weather events are exacerbated by climate change. Yes, tornadoes would happen without climate change. But indications are that they are made worse and more frequent by climate change.

      b) Oklahoma’s two senators perpetually vote against disaster relief when natural disasters hit other parts of the country. Suddenly, now, their own citizens have been hit by a calamity and one wonders whether they will have the foresight and empathy to change their positions for the future.

      OK’s politicians did not cause the tornadoes, obviously, and I’m sure they feel sympathy for the victims. Yet in the past they have voted for policies that would indicate the opposite.

      1. I don’t disagree with anything either of you are saying. I also have no problem with “politicizing” events that have a clear political valence, and that includes the link between global warming and severe storms. There’s no way NOT to politicize such an event – calls to refrain from politicking are just an excuse for political inaction. I still think O’Hare crossed a line, and apparently he agrees.

      2. Tornadoes have ripped through Midwest America since the formation of our planet’s ecosystem. Inference of Man-Made climate change causing severe weather or exacerbation of natural events is the fallacy of pseudo-science that pervades the know-it-alls. Yet not one shred of evidence can link the severity of weather storms to any human activity. Claims of a majority of world scientists agreeing on “global warming” continue to fall apart when looking at the past twenty years of NO CHANGE in global temperatures. Those “chicken little’s sky falling” ivory tower parasites who keep claiming that “it will get worse just you wait and see” and at every weather event “I told you so” should run for office, so the country can be run by the Boxers and Whitehouses just so the likes of O’Hare and his ilk will breed like the maggots they are.

  11. When people want to drag themselves and the rest of us into catastrophe, it’s hard to know when to be sympathetic. How much should I sympathize with the unemployed worker who voted for Bush and McCain? The anti-feminist with an unwanted pregnancy? The law-and-order Republican who gets busted for marijuana possession?

    I don’t think I have a great answer to this, but surely many victims, and not just the children, are entirely innocent of O’Hare’s indictment.

  12. Anyway, the real question is, why has Obama refrained from using the word “terror” in describing this terrifying event?

    1. Anyway, the real question is, why has Obama refrained from using the word “terror” in describing this terrifying event?

      I’ll take a stab at that one: Because the right-wing crybaby machine (AKA: the whining wurlizter) hasn’t demanded it of him.

  13. Is this meant as a subtle parody? If so, it went right over my head. If not, it seems like a serious case of ecological fallacy, aside from the inhumanity of glee at calamity experienced by others, even though some of them are political opponents. Death by natural disaster is not a form of justice. Even “Darwin Award” victims deserve sympathy.

    1. It’s neither parody nor ecological fallacy. Try reading it again. Michael says it would be comforting if we *could* believe that natural disasters are divine retribution and that the people who are victimized by such disasters somehow *deserved* it. But he *doesn’t* believe that.

      A lot of people seem to have badly misunderstood the point. Which is a good indication that the original post wasn’t well expressed.

  14. Apparently Lizz Winstead had the same idea. She tweeted:

    This tornado is in Oklahoma so clearly it has been ordered to only target conservatives

  15. From May 2012-April 2013, there were an estimated 197 EF1+ tornadoes. This is the fewest tornadoes in any 12 month period since 1954. The previous record low was 247 from June 1991-May 1992.

    1. On the other hand, there was a record high 1,050 tornadoes form June 2010-May 2011.

      1. Correct, you have shown that you can cherry pick data with the stellar likes of George “if you squint at only these years…” Wills. With hard work and corporate connections you could become an Austerity ueber Alles Harvard economist!

          1. The trend I am seeing is that there is increasing positive amplitude to the swings and the trend is toward higher rates if not a very steep one.

            When I said you were correct, I was agreeing that both of your statements were factual and illustrate the size of year to year swings. I respect that you understand the variability and trends.

            The rest of my point was that in only giving two points in a particular order, you show how the bamboozlers cherry pick any data set to say the exact opposite of the unbiased data. I did not mean to imply you would sink to their level.

  16. The entire premise of the original post (and Mr. O’Hare’s update) is that it is appropriate to blame politicians who oppose climate change legislation that Mr. O’Hare thinks is sensible when there are natural disasters of the type seen yesterday because increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are expected to cause increased frequency of “extreme weather events.”

    In other words – “Don’t accuse me of being callous and trying to score cheap political points off of a human tragedy – I’m just a brave, fact-driven truth teller.”

    The fact that actual US tornado frequency is not especially high of late throws a wrench into this line of argument. Tornado frequency has generally been higher in the last 25 years or so than it was in the 1980s, but the 1980s were a historically quiet period in terms of US tornado incidence. And in any event, since roughly 1990 there is no noticeable upward trend in tornado frequency.

    This despite the fact that roughly 1/3 of the total CO2 emitted by humans into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution has been emitted in the last 15 years. If indeed there were such a compelling link between CO2 emissions and extreme weather events that it were morally appropriate to ascribe blame to politicians for the deaths by a tornado in an area of the country that has been colloquially referred to as “tornado alley” for decades, then wouldn’t you expect to see, um, noticeably more tornadoes during a period in which there has been a MASSIVE increase in global carbon emissions? Again – the increase in cumulative CO2 emissions in the last 15 years is not modest – it is enormous. Take the total amount of CO2 that humans had put into the atmosphere up until roughly 1998. 50% more as been added in the last 15 years.

    Now – none of this should be read as attacking the idea that CO2 emissions cause general warming, or that said warming will have, on-balance, adverse consequences for humanity. But the “extreme weather events” hypothesis isn’t even remotely as well supported by the data as the warming hypothesis, and in any event even if rising CO2 levels were causing an increase in “extreme weather events” generically there is no evidence that they are causing an increase in tornado frequency specifically.

    “Reality Based” indeed.

    1. Hyperpolarized politics are more fun than building a technocratic utopia… you sir, are being a spoilsport.

  17. Dear Mr. O’Hare:
    (1) You’re a “social scientist,” not a real scientist.
    (2) A social science academic background does not qualify you to hold forth on the issue of climate change. So shut the hell up and stop compounding people’s misery.
    (3) If you believe I’m wrong, and that your background in social science somehow qualifies you not only to hold forth on the subject of climate science, but to make venomous statements regarding people who have the temerity to question certain aspects of the climate change movement, then you lend strong credence to a belief I’ve long held: that the theory of human-caused climate change leading to global catastrophe is much more deeply rooted in sociology or religion (environmentalism) than it is in hard science.
    (4) Finally, compounding people’s misery in order to advance your own little pet cause and leftist beliefs makes you little more than a pathetic, hateful tool. God help the students you corrupt every day with your pettiness. Better yet, God help the parents who are funding these students.

  18. PS, the only thing you need to “unpack” for us, to use your own pretentious “look at me, I’m a college professor!” choice of verb, is your head out of your arse.

  19. From the Wikipedia article about the Great Chicago Fire:

    “The Religious point of view said that Americans should return to a more old-fashioned way of life, and that the fire was caused by people ignoring their morals.”

    Apparently Pat Robertson didn’t invent this type of thinking.

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