You Better Believe It
By Derrick Z.
27 September, 2005
As the media screams about the one-two punch of Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita, the question becomes how many more times does America
need to be knocked to the canvas before we answer the bell on global
The only talk from
our leaders is about rebuilding. In his address to the nation from a
ghostly New Orleans, President Bush said, ''When one resident of this
city who lost his home was asked by a reporter if he would relocate,
he said, 'Naw, I will rebuild but I'll build higher.' That is our vision
of the future, in this city and beyond. We will not just rebuild, we
will build higher and better."
It figures that
Bush would talk about building higher in the lowest city in the United
States, in a presidency where he has ignored the rising waters of the
planet. He said, ''Americans have never left our destiny to the whims
of nature and we will not start now."
is no better time to start understanding that nature is at the mercy
of our whimsy. Our destiny depends on it.
In this tragic season
of hurricanes, research continues to increasingly tie global warming
to an increase in the intensity of tropical storms.
One was published
last month in the journal Nature by Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric
science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Another was published
last week in the journal Science by atmospheric researchers at Georgia
Tech and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
While there has
been no increase in the actual number of storms worldwide, the Georgia
Tech/NCAR study found the number of hurricanes that reached categories
4 and 5, with winds of at least 131 miles per hour, have gone from comprising
20 percent of hurricanes in the 1970s to 35 percent today. This is with
only a half-degree centigrade rise in tropical surface water temperatures.
The percentage of
big storms in the North Atlantic has increased from 20 percent to 25
percent. The rise is much worse in the rest of the world, where millions
of less fortunate people cannot flee the coast in SUVs on interstate
In the 1970s, no
ocean basin saw more than 25 percent of hurricanes become a 4 or 5.
Today, that percentage is 34, 35, and 41 percent, respectively, in the
South Indian, East Pacific, and West Pacific oceans. The biggest jump
was in the Southwestern Pacific, from 8 percent to 25 percent.
Emanuel, who formerly
doubted that hurricane intensity was tied to global warming, said that
he was stunned when his research showed that just that half-degree rise
in tropical ocean temperatures has also seen a 50 percent rise in average
storm peak winds in the North Atlantic and East and West Pacific in
the last half century.
annual duration of storms in the North Atlantic and the western North
Pacific has shot up by 60 percent.
''I wasn't looking
for global warming," Emanuel said by cell phone in Spain where
he is conducting research on Mediterranean storms. ''But it stuck out
like a sore thumb."
thought that a half-degree rise in ocean temperatures should have resulted
in wind speeds much lower than that. Emanuel said he hoped the more
recent findings would be taken as a signal for action. The average hurricane,
he said, releases the equivalent of worldwide electrical capacity. Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita are 10 times stronger.
these new findings have drawn skepticism from scientists who cling to
past climate models and flat denials from a Bush administration that
has all but censored serious talk about global warming.
The National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration's website says, ''The strongest hurricanes
in the present climate may be upstaged by even more intense hurricanes
over the next century as the earth's climate is warmed by increasing
levels of greenhouse gases,"
But Max Mayfield,
director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, testified this week before
a Senate committee that increased hurricane activity ''is due to natural
fluctuations" and is ''not enhanced substantially by global warming."
The one-two punch
of Katrina and Rita does not yet have us reaching for the smelling salts.
We are still waiting for global warming to hit us below the belt.
2005 Boston Globe