True “Resilience” Would Help Prevent the Next 3,420 Climate-Related Deaths, Too

This article–showing how many stupid projects have been funded in the name of homeland security in the last decade–has been making the rounds. Everyone has been pointing to its details on how few people have died in terrorist attacks.

“The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It’s basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year,” said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.

“So if your chance of being killed by a terrorist in the United States is 1 in 3.5 million, the question is, how much do you want to spend to get that down to 1 in 4.5 million?” he said.


Only 14 Americans have died in about three dozen instances of Islamic extremist terrorist plots targeted at the U.S. outside war zones since 2001 — most of them involving one or two home-grown plotters.

Returning to the National Climatic Data Center data I was looking at the other day, 3,420 people have died since 9/11 in big weather disasters:

2002: 28
2004: 168
2005: 2,002
2006: 95
2007: 22
2008: 296
2009: 26
2010: 46
2011 634 (counting 40 thus far in Irene)
Total: 3,420

Now I raise this not just to make the obvious point that we would be better off dumping some of this money into dealing with climate change, but also to make a point about the theme Obama is pushing for this year’s commemoration of 9/11: resilience.

The White House has issued detailed guidelines to government officials on how to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, with instructions to honor the memory of those who died on American soil but also to recall that Al Qaeda and other extremist groups have since carried out attacks elsewhere in the world, from Mumbai to Manila.

The White House in recent days has quietly disseminated two sets of documents. One is framed for overseas allies and their citizens and was sent to American embassies and consulates around the globe. The other includes themes for Americans here and underscores the importance of national service and what the government has done to prevent another major attack in the United States.


One significant new theme is in both sets of documents: Government officials are to warn that Americans must be prepared for another attack — and must, in response, be resilient in recovering from the loss.

“Resilience takes many forms, including the dedication and courage to move forward,” according to the guidelines for foreign audiences. “While we must never forget those who we lost, we must do more than simply remember them —we must sustain our resilience and remain united to prevent new attacks and new victims.”


Resilience is a repeated theme of the communications. “We celebrate the resilience of communities across the globe,” the foreign guidelines state.

I applaud the appeal to “resilience” in the scope of terrorism. True resilience would do far more in the event of an attack than the Zodiac dive boat, cattle nose leads and electric prods, and $750,000 terrorism fences described by the LAT.

But it’s not clear the deficit cutting obsessed Administration is talking about resilience. It’s not talking about maintaining existing bridges and building redundant ones close to key trucking routes; it’s not addressing our decrepit drinking and waste water infrastructure; it’s not done anything to fix the 1,819 high hazard potential dams in this country; it’s not addressing even the shoddy electrical grid supplying the nation’s capital.

Granted, Obama is pushing a highway bill, though early reports say it’ll be a mere fraction of the 2.2 trillion needed to shore up our nation’s infrastructure.

Not only would investing in our country’s infrastructure make us truly resilient in the event of another attack (and create jobs), but it would also help localities better withstand–or at least recover from–many (though not all) severe weather events, which will likely become more frequent in the next decade.

Given that more people have died from severe weather in this country over the last decade than terrorism (even including 9/11), we really ought to be dumping the money we have been investing in fancy dive boats in climate change instead. But barring that, we at least ought to be doing the kinds of things that will make us more resilient–to both terrorist attacks and climate disasters.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. Iolaus says:

    Articles I, IV, and V are looking kinda rickety, based on The Patriot Act and various extensions, including but not limited to the claim that the President has the right to assassinate American citizens–a claim that cannot be disputed, because it is a “state secret.” Just one example.

  2. prostratedragon says:

    Feeling a sudden death today of a teacher of mine, David Aschauer. It shouldn’t be so remarkable that when an economist’s name appears in the general news, his or her work turns out to have been of immediate currency, but it feels almost strange that such is the case here.

    I’m going to read these two again:

    Why Is Infrastructure Important? (downloadable at the link; not very mathematical)

    No abstract. As the title says.

    Is Public Expenditure Productive (pdf) (technical)

    Abstract: This paper considers the relationship between aggregate productivity and stock and flow government-spending variables. The empirical results indicate that (i) the nonmilitary public capital stock is dramatically more important in determining productivity than is either the flow of nonmilitary or military spending, (ii) military capital bears little relation to productivity, and (iii) a ‘core’ infrastructure of streets, highways, airports, mass transit, sewers, water systems, etc. has most explanatory power for productivity. The paper also suggests an important role for the net public capital stock in the ‘productivity slowdown’ of the last fifteen years.

    Aschauer’s theoretical approach looks like what Krugman and others call “freshwater” economics. Yet by some strange process, Aschauer’s results consistently argued for the importance and benefits of socially beneficial public infrastructure. He and his contributions will be missed.

  3. Bob Schacht says:

    Typo alert:
    “Now I raise this not just to make the obvious point that we would be better of dumping some of this money into dealing with climate change, but also to make a point about the theme Obama is pushing for this year’s commemoration of 9/11: resilience.”

    The first “of” should be “off”. Most people also write “to” when they mean “too” (as in “also.”)

    This message brought to you by your local Council of School Marms.

  4. Bob Schacht says:

    “…the theme Obama is pushing for this year’s commemoration of 9/11: resilience.”

    In reading the text of this announcement, it sounds a lot like an ad for Eternal War, with the subtext “Be afraid! Be very afraid!”

    What we need instead is a “Be a good neighbor” campaign. It would be about as good at discovering terrorist activities as the chosen theme, which has the effect of driving people apart and making it easier for terrorists to work in privacy.

    Bob in AZ

  5. gmoke says:

    This push for “resilience” will be another way to co-opt an outsider concept and hollow it out to prop up the existing power structure. Resilience is an interesting idea that has gotten some traction in the eco/green communities but what the Obama administration is advocating has little or nothing to do with that.

    I’ve been personally calling for a solar civil defense for years now because it makes sense, because Solar IS Civil Defense (a few square inches of PV panel can power the flashlight, radio, cell phone, and extra set of batteries we’re all supposed to have on hand in case of emergencies). So far, I haven’t been able to get much traction:

    The last thing we can expect from our existing political structures is true resilience. That would necessitate self-reliance and self-governance by the people in the street and that is not something any political party in power works to accomplish.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Resilience depends on depth of resources, including optimism and goodwill. The modern business model relies on stripping them, like a Coe Manufacturing machine peels an oak or maple into a thin strip that forms the surface of plywood. Hell, even plywood has given way to glued and pressed remnants swept from the floors of lumber mills.

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