Stevey Cohen, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, wants you to short New York City real estate.
He doesn’t actually say that—Stevey isn’t a broker and his statements are not a solicitation to buy or to sell etc., etc.—but he does claim that the city will soon be under water, be “battered” by hurricanes, suffer “bouts” of heat stroke, and will generally suffer under the awful burden of global warming.
Thus, the clear implication of his recent New York Daily News op-ed is that if you don’t sell now, you’ll be under water: both literally and figuratively.
Stevey doesn’t use the words “global warming” to describe our predicament. Hardly anybody does anymore, and for the obvious reason. Since it is true that the Earth’s climate has never stayed still, that it has always been in flux, it will always be true that we poor humans will suffer climate change.
To raise the alarm of “Climate change!” is, and will always be, a perfectly truthful activity. No matter what happens—and something always happens—your prediction of “change” will always be accurate. It is an enviable position to be in. However, there is a hidden danger, which I discuss below.
The switch to “climate change” from “global warming” shows the immense, overwhelming importance of words in this debate. Use “global warming” and if the temperature doesn’t go up—if, that is, it has the temerity to go down—and you could end up looking like a fool, like poor Phil “I’ve Contemplated Suicide” Jones. But use “climate change”, then let the temperature do whatever it may: for each prediction, you come out smelling like New York City tap water, the best in the world.
But not for much longer. Because Stevey says we’re going to see more situations like the 2008 flash flood in Queens, which “forced raw sewage up residents’ toilets.” This is to be contrasted with the more typical situation of Queens residents forcing raw sewage down their toilets.
And that’s “only the beginning. We can expect that hotter summers will lead to increased deaths due to heat stroke and other stresses related to the impact of heat. Those with asthma and allergies will suffer from the impact of increased pollen due to longer growing seasons.”
I don’t know if Stevey has noticed, but he’s made at least two mistakes with this prediction. First, he has strayed into the realm of the testable. Say “more heat stroke” is on the way, and if we don’t see it, then he stands the chance of a busted forecast, accompanied by loss of face. He should have said, “We might see more heat stroke cases and other increases in hospitalization.”
See what I did? I kept the alarming news about heat stroke, but I married it to the certain-to-be-true “other increases.” My prediction cannot be wrong. His can.
Which leads to mistake two, a common one. I have returned recently from a glorious week in Florida, where I sat, with many old folk, in the hot sun and watched a series of baseball games. Not one of these fans dropped dead. Similar reports of non-dead dropping came from sunny Arizona, where other Spring Training games took place.
It’s possible that sudden heat can stress people who are unused to torrid weather, but by definition, people living under the evils of global warming will not be unused to hot weather. Stevey himself says hot spells are going to increase and be common.
These mistakes illustrate the danger of the climate change-global warming nomenclature switch. Because, through a trick with words you can never be wrong, you stand the risk of forgetting why. You might look back on your series of predictions, see that they were all accurate, and come to believe that you are infallible. This can lead to an obscenely inflated sense of self of the kind found these days in the White House.
Back to shorting real estate. Stevey Cohen says that sea-level rise and floods are on the way, particularly along the parkways that lead into the city. Also, a house that has a river running through it is everywhere less valuable than a dry one.
Therefore, those who believe Stevey’s predictions should be willing to bet on it. I am willing to take their Manhattan real estate off their hands at a discount that reflects the direness of global warming predictions. Say that Battery Park will be dunked by rising seas, then apartments down there should be worthless.
I’ll pay that price, and even kick in all associated taxes and transfer fees to anybody who actually believes Cohen’s predictions.