Reply To: More extreme hurricanes due?


Just in from Dr Glen Barry, of EcoEarth:

How Many Times Must a Hurricane Come Ashore, Before You Call it Global Warming?
The Answer My Friend Is Blowing in Rita’s Wind, The Answer Depends Upon
You and Me

Earth Meanders by Dr. Glen Barry
September 23, 2005

How many monster hurricanes does it take before governments and
individuals, as a matter of prudence, start taking precautions in response
to climate change? This essay’s title is to be sung to the tune of Bob
Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”. As was the case then, the issue of climate
change is ripe for protest and social change. Anyone who spends time
outdoors and is in touch with nature and ecology can tell the climate is
changing dramatically.

Humanity must embark now upon a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
to be achieved by the year 2050. This is the best scientific estimate of
emission reductions necessary to stabilize the Earth’s climatic system in
a condition largely similar to the present, while avoiding the most
egregious catastrophic impacts of abrupt climate change. Individuals must
start changing their lifestyles and governments their policies in order to
limit and adapt to increasingly evident climate change.

As the second human intensified hurricane in a matter of weeks looms over
America’s gulf coast, it is readily apparent that humanity is witnessing
climate change of their own making. Melting glaciers and permafrost,
rising seas, deadly heatwaves and scorching droughts apparently were not
enough. More fundamentally, these dual hurricanes and other
demonstrations of climate change herald the beginning of a more systematic
collapse of key regional and global ecosystems and their processes as the
result of humans’ overbearing presence upon the Earth.

Those that say these hurricanes are the result of natural variability
point to no scientific studies. All they have to offer is their opinion,
clouded by an inability to accept that humans are capable of transforming
the Earth. On the other hand, there are decades of studies, modeling and
science that predicted stronger hurricanes as a result of global warming.
Frankly, when media ask whether the hurricanes have anything to do with
climate change, I would like more than a shrug and some platitude like “we
are not sure”. Media needs to delve more into what we do know, while
indicating where we need to learn more, thus informing the search for

Recently the journal Science published research showing that the number of
Category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide has nearly doubled over the past 35
years as global sea surface temperatures increased. Earlier a paper in
Nature revealed that major storms in the Atlantic and Pacific since the
1970s have increased in intensity by about 50 percent. The phenomenon of
warming oceans is well studied, and it is known that in the past 50 years
oceans have on average warmed by one degree Fahrenheit (about 0.5 degrees
Celsius). Indeed, a major study published mid-year in Science by a group
of Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientists found clear evidence of
human-produced warming in the world’s oceans.

The U.S. with four percent of the world’s population is responsible for a
quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, and Americans are
laggards in supporting policies to address climate change. As American
citizens are battered by these hurricanes, America has a special
responsibility to determine whether and to what degree these nearly
concurrent catastrophes are human caused. The logical place to start is
investigating further why and how gulf waters are warming.

Katrina and Rita’s demonstration of the deadly potential of human
intensified hurricanes needs an urgent response. Their ferocity would
ideally lead to the American government facing up to the threat of climate
change, and acting with strong resolve in response. Whether you accept
the preponderance of climate change evidence or not, the prudent and
responsible thing would be to launch a major scientific investigation
while starting to prepare. What will happen when oceans warm by three or
five degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 – 2.8 degrees Celsius), which is forecasted
by the end of the century? There is no strength in smug, ill-informed

And what if it is proven that human caused climate change has contributed
to these disasters? What then? Will it be life as usual? Or do
Americans in particular have the will to transform themselves? I have
often wondered whether Americans have the strength to fundamentally change
their way of being when they see they must. Somewhat similarly, we have
witnessed Russians adapting to the collapse of empire, and Germany and
Japan rebuilding after disastrous militarism. Can America peacefully
transition to a post-petroleum lifestyle starting now? We shall soon

The primary obstacle remains how to assist people to acknowledge deadly
global warming is happening and begin adjusting their lifestyles
accordingly. Further, a political space must be established that gives
politicians incentives to advocate and implement sufficient responses.
Environmental warnings at this point are more than “I told you so”. They
highlight that the impacts of climate change have moved to a new level,
and are still worsening in ways that hurt us all – environmentalists and
non-environmentalists alike.

The necessary changes are significant but not insurmountable. All Earth’s
citizens must develop a conservation ethic: less consumption, more living;
fewer things, greater meaning; more experiences, less material hassles.
The age of boundless consumption is over – we must drive, eat, house
ourselves and otherwise live more simply and in harmony with the Earth.
It is difficult to hear truth that goes against your established way of
living. But your survival depends upon acting on the Earth’s global warning
system as evident by Rita and Katrina.

Governments are failing their citizens. Leadership in a time of climate
crisis in particular means facing your biases – sifting and winnowing the
evidence to find the truth. Leadership is more than having an opinion.
It requires adapting to new scientific knowledge, doing what must be done
for the people and the Earth, even if it clashes with your rigid
worldview. It is essential that government aggressively and immediately
increase support for emission reductions, energy conservation and
renewable energy development, as a matter of utmost urgency.

Even as we do everything possible to stabilize climate change at levels
where the Earth remains livable, it is time to start preparing for climate
change impacts. And we must do so without shifting toward authoritarian
government. In addition to obvious needs such as increasing financial
support for civilian emergency response services, this will require major
investments in restoration of natural ecosystems, relocating populations
from harms way, and restructuring the economy to sustainable use of
natural capital.

Bottom line: according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will raise global
average temperatures by up to 5.8 degrees Celsius (10.4 degrees
Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. This will affect not only weather
patterns but also water resources, ecosystems and agriculture. As an
individual, you can develop and trust your own ecological intuition while
being informed by thousands of leading scientists, or your can succumb to
the vitriol of conservative pundits and a handful of oil industry funded
skeptics. Just be prepared to live – if conditions allow – with your