The claim that hurricanes and related natural disasters are random and human-caused climate change has nothing to do with it is patently false. According to the National Climatic Data Center, the frequency and power of Atlantic hurricanes has increased dramatically over the past thirty years, with the middle of our present decade producing some of the most damaging disasters on record. During 2004 alone, for example, Florida was struck by 4 of the 10 most costly hurricanes in US history; in the same season, Japan was hit by 10 typhoons totaling $10 billion in loses. (For a thorough account of the damages brought about by recent hurricanes, read Lester Brown's eye-opening Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.) The vastness of the Katrina tragedy in 2005 is too well documented to warrant reiteration here. Due to the increasing risk of living along the gulf and in Florida, insurance premiums in the last three years have doubled, tripled, and in some particularly storm-prone areas even increased 10-fold, making it increasingly difficult to afford living and doing business here. In a recent survey, Florida ranked #1 in America for percentage of individuals considering leaving the state (1 in 5).
Yet, even as all credible climatic models suggest an increase in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and their devastating economic toll, the administration and large parts of the Republican party continue to bury their proverbial heads in the sand. John McCain's recent fervent embrace of offshore drilling underscores this gross negligence. (More on this can be found in Ruxton's recent post on McCain's energy policies.) To slow this sort of extreme weather, we don't need more oil - we need radical new solutions. Obama's pledged $150 billion in energy initiatives certainly makes the possibility of a total energy overhaul more realistic.
The political dimensions of climate change and its role in heating the surface temperatures of oceans are highlighted by our present predicament with Gustav. Inconveniently for the GOP, the landfall of Gustav is predicted to coincide both with the three-year anniversary of Katrina and with the Republican convention in St. Paul. Just as the party faithfuls gather to salute their man (and his new running mate, the pro-Anwar-drilling Sarah Palin), residents of the same areas that were devastated by Katrina may very well be sitting in shelters listening in on the radio and trying to keep the ghosts of 2005 at bay (if they are lucky enough to be evacuated to shelters, that is). Hopefully, the irony of the moment will not be lost on them.
One wag recently said: "Today, we talk about weather when there is no other news; in the future, the weather will be the news." Unless our criminal neglect of climate change is addressed and real solutions are forged, I fear that this may be a prophetic warning.