September 01, 2005

Katrina and Climate Change

Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing horrible damage to New Orleans were not caused by climate change. First of all, the reason the damage is so extensive is the flooding of the area; climate change is not responsible for New Orleans and the Mississippi River delta being extremely low-lying areas. But neither the intensity nor the frequency of the hurricanes are likely caused by climate shift.

Hurricanes were more intenses and more common in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Right now we're just swinging back to above the mean, but when we find the mean of below-average and above-average, we'll come out with: average. This is just a natural cycle of hurricanes, and historically they could be worse, with worse hurricanes coming more frequently. Let's all be thankful that's not the situation right now.

What's interesting is that one contention of environmentalists is that El Nino will worsen with global warming, but El Nino is a hurricane killer. If we wanted to stop hurricanes, global warming would actually improve our lot (assuming that it would worsen El Nino).

More annoying is that some people (such as Jürgen Trittin) are giving that stupid movie "The Day After Tomorrow" credence as a climatological model. The ridiculous science of the plot is thus:

Global warming causes the Gulf Stream to shut down. This current normally brings tropical warmth northward and makes Europe much more comfortable than it should be at its northerly latitude. The heat stays stuck in the tropics, the polar regions get colder, and the atmosphere suddenly flips over in a "superstorm." The frigid stratosphere trades places with our habitable troposphere, and in a matter of days, an ice age ensues. Temperatures drop 100 degrees an hour in Canada. Hurricanes ravage Belfast. Folks in Japan are clobbered by bowling-ball-size hailstones. If we had only listened to concerned scientists and stopped global warming when we could.

The entire plot, line for line, is simply impossible. It would require halting the rotation of the Earth, repealing the laws of thermodynamics and the law of gravity, as Patrick Michaels said in the USA Today quoted above.

Katrina had nothing to do with global warming and everything to do with the natural cycle of storms in the world. It's regrettable that it happened and that such a tremendous loss of life has ensued, but that doesn't mean we have to find a cause and a bogeyman. Blaming Katrina on Bush not signing the Kyoto Treaty is like tribal elders blaming a drought on not sacrificing enough virgins to the gods of rain. It might be satisfying to reinforce your view of the world, but it's useless for fixing anything.


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