by Patrick Appel
Poor people suffer more from hurricanes that swamp their cities than rich people do. There was a pretty good demonstration of this dynamic on CNN a few years ago as I recall. And there is a rather sordid moral dimension to the way [Nordhaus and Shellenberger] attempt to argue the opposite. What they are saying, in effect, is that all those poor people in New Orleans were already living squalid lives, “vulnerable” to all kinds of stuff disease, accidents, etc. so for them Katrina was no big deal. More of the same, really. The people who really suffered were the rich folks who had their nice homes wiped out.
On a global scale, yes, people in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta are a lot poorer than people in Miami Beach. But when their rice fields salt up due to rising sea levels and then slowly cave into the water until ultimately all the land they’ve owned, their only earthly possession, is gone and they’re destitute on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, they really have suffered a lot more from global warming than somebody in Miami Beach who loses their expensive beachfront home as Florida goes under, and is forced to rely on the insurance systems and public emergency assistance of the richest country in the world. The attitude towards poor people this implies that they don’t really suffer because what’s the difference between having a thatched-roof house, two rice fields and a buffalo, or being a beggar living on the streets is pretty ugly.