Climate change and Katrina

by Yule Heibel on September 8, 2005

Somewhere recently I read that “The hurricane that struck Louisiana (…) was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming.” Turns out that was from an article by Ross Gelbspan in the Aug.31 edition of the Boston Globe. It’s copied on Winnipeg’s Indymedia site. Gelbspan itemises a litany of climate anomalies — from inconvenience to disaster — although none reached Katrina’s epic proportions. (Perhaps because human-caused incompetence lacked room to spread out…?)

Meanwhile, the August 31 issue of The Victoria News carried a front-page article about Dr. Terry Prowse, a University of Victoria geographer, who serves on the National Science Foundation Arctic System Science Committee, and whose findings on Arctic ice-melt were just published in the August 23 issue of Eos. Even if I grant that the newspaper reporter’s opening sentence is sensationalistic — or opportunistic, given that Katrina had just hit Louisiana, purportedly as a weaker-than-predicted disaster — he undeniably hits an anxiety homerun with this lead-in:

By the time today’s children have a mid-life crisis — around age 50 — they’ll feel the effects of dramatic climate change that will make Hurricane Katrina look like child’s play.

Katrina, child’s play?

Well, it’s not just the weather, is it? It’s also what we humans make of situations: the aftermath.

As for catastrophic climate change: the effect of the de-icing that has already begun in the Arctic will be felt by millions of people who live in coastal cities. Obviously, the ocean has a direct effect on the weather we’ll experience.

The ultimate question is whether Katrina’s power reflects human-caused global warming, or is at minimum a harbinger of the kinds of storms we can expect in a warmer world.

No single freak storm can be attributed to global climate trends. But for hurricanes to form, the surface temperature in the tropical Atlantic must exceed about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. That is more likely in a warmer world.

The best science to date suggests the frequency of hurricanes doesn’t reflect global warming. Straightforward physics, however, says their intensity might. As the seas and air warm, there is more evaporation, which fuels storms, and more energy available to pump them up. [More…]

Basically, though, the lesson I wish everyone would learn from Katrina is this: while we’re all implicated in contributing to whatever climate change is mixed into the equation that brings on Big (and Bad) Weather, we can’t fold our arms and say that social constructions are “natural,” part of nature, or a given. There’s a bit of wriggle-room here, no? We have to learn how to build and sustain just societies, because even if all hell breaks loose during emergencies, equitable societies will fare better than those wherein social darwinism is the order of the day …even if the morons calling the tune believe in fairy-tale-god-ordained creationism.

Via Shelley, links to One Good Move — just check out everything here, everything, especially Meet the Fuckers — but for purposes of climate change, absolutely don’t miss this video clip to a recent Bill Maher show that features climate change expert Stephen Schneider.

I appreciated Schneider’s frustrated comparison to “sewer” in how we use the atmosphere, especially since I live in Victoria, which uses the ocean as an open sewer (see People Opposed to Outfall Pollution [POOP Victoria]….

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