The deadly winds from Katrina had barely died down when the ill winds from the political left began to blow with Gale force. In a disgusting display of political opportunism, political hacks from Robert Kennedy, Jr., to Jurgen Tritten (Germany’s environment minister from its Green Party) to failed Presidential Candidate John Kerry, have all piped up in recent days, linking the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina to the Bush administration’s global warming policies.
Environmental alarmists have long argued that human-caused global warming is causing more more intense hurricanes and that this danger will only grow in the future absent a severe energy diet. Picking up on that theme, Kennedy, Tritten and Kerry among others are now claiming that because the Bush administration has not enacted policies like the Kyoto protocol – the international treaty for the reduction of greenhouse gasses – to restrict domestic energy use, it is partly to blame for the both the current crisis in the gulf coast and for all future storm related tragedies. Their arguments are flawed and, shamefully, they know it.
There is scant, if any, evidence linking human-caused warming to the frequency or ferocity of hurricanes.
At the 27th annual National Hurricane Conference University of Colorado atmospheric scientist, Dr. William Gray, explained that nature is responsible for hurricane cycles, not humans. Periodically changing ocean circulation patterns, he explained, led to the cycle of increasing hurricane activity that the world is currently experiencing. 2004’s above average hurricane season was part of a completely natural and normal cycle that scientists have monitored for more than 100 years. In fact, for about the past 25 years there has been a relative lull in hurricane activity in the U.S.
We have recently begun to emerge from that cycle into a more active cycle of hurricane activity like those from the 1930s through 1950s. Indeed, according to the National Hurricane Center, category 3,4 and 5 hurricane numbers peaked in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s with an average of 9 per decade. In the 1940’s alone, 23 hurricanes hit the U.S. mainland, 8 were category-3 or stronger storms. By contrast, since the 1980s when environmentalists first began to argue that humans were causing catastrophic climate change, the number of category 3 or higher hurricanes have averaged 5 per decade.
Recently, a paper by six noted tropical cyclone experts, Hurricanes and Global Warming, in the the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, made three main points. First, that no connection has been established between greenhouse gas emissions and the observed behavior of hurricanes. Second, the scientific consensus is that any future changes in hurricane intensities will likely be small and within the context of observed natural variability. And third, the politics of linking hurricanes to global warming threatens to undermine support for legitimate climate research and could result in ineffective hurricane policies.
Politics has already affected global warming research. In a publicly released “Dear Colleague” letter, Chris Landsea of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration resigned as an IPCC researcher. He felt – his words – that in his area of expertise, climate and hurricanes, the IPCC had become too politicized. In particular he cited a 2004 press conference at Harvard University – held at the height of 2004’s extremely busy hurricane season — by Kevin Trenberth, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientist, during which Trenberth linked the outbreak of intense hurricane activity to global warming.
Landsea noted that none of the speakers at the Harvard conference cited any new research in the field to support their claims. He could have gone on to point out that Trenberth’s claims contradicted the IPCC’s own findings that, “Changes in [hurricane] intensity and frequency are dominated by inter-decadal to multi-decadal variations, with no significant trends over the twentieth century evident.”
Hurricanes are costly and often deadly natural phenomena. Scientists and coastal residents have enough to worry about without irresponsible politicians making unsupported claims linking federal global warming policies and the severity of hurricanes. Global warming alarmists should be ashamed of themselves for preying on peoples’ fears, and diverting attention from the real causes — both political and natural – for the breadth of the devastation wrought by Katrina. The victims of this tragedy deserve better.