Friday, September 09, 2005
Hurricanes: a scientist writes...
Q. Was Hurricane Katrina cause by global warming?
A. Probably not.
Global warming presents probably the greatest threat to the future welfare of mankind. People in the developed world must be persuaded to change their behaviour to avert a catastrophe and it sometimes seems that the only way to do this is by shocking people with dramatic events. But unsubstantiated claims don't help the cause.
Inevitably, some commentators were quick to blame climate change for Hurricane Katrina. There appears no evidence to support this view.
This essay by Robert L Korty dispels many myths. The number and frequency of hurricanes has remained remarkably stable since records began. There is a theoretical risk that global warming may cause a modest increase in the intensity of individual storms, although this is far less important than other, demographic factors.
Irresponsible behaviour by mankind is making hurricanes more dangerous, but in a different way:
These [climate] changes are dwarfed by many more immediate, largely demographic factors, which leave us susceptible to increasing damage. We have been witnessing a huge increase in insured losses in the United States, and most or all of this is due to the rapid rise in population and property development along the coast from Texas to Maine, in regions prone to hurricanes. A return to a more active period in the Atlantic means losses are certain to increase further in the years to come. Other human-instigated changes have consequences too, and Katrina illuminated several obvious examples that had a devastating impact. Draining bayous (which causes the silt left behind to compact), eliminating sand dunes, or deforesting mountains (which leaves towns at the base vulnerable to mud slides) leave coastal populations devoid of natural protections. All this remains true regardless of how much the planet warms. We remain unprepared for these storms and their aftermath at our peril.We should be sceptical of those politicians and activists who leapt to quick conclusions after Katrina. But that is no reason to support the anti-environmentalist 'contrarians' who argue we can carry on regardless.
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