The concept of a climate disruption tax is actually hugely important. Why? Because climate change is costing us more than trying to avoid climate change ever would, but unfortunately, this troubling little bit of economics is somehow constantly overlooked in the climate debates. We always hear about how much it will cost to transition away from fossil fuels and to slow deforestation. But the costs of inaction rarely stick in the discussion.
These studies and reports are written about, blogged, tweeted, and sometimes cited, but they haven’t managed to nudge their way into the mainstream climate conversation. The costs often seem too far off, too theoretical–a problem for another time.
Which is why any clever new way of framing climate-related costs should be celebrated and spread far and why. Over on Switchboard, Lashof and Stevenson are onto something.
ALBERTOISEARLIEST-FORMINGTROPICALSTORMINTHEATLANTICBASINSINCEANAIN 2003. THISISALSOTHEFIRSTTIMETHAT A TROPICALSTORMHASFORMEDBEFORETHEOFFICIALSTARTOFTHEHURRICANESEASONINBOTHTHEATLANTICANDEASTPACIFICBASINS.
2003 was a busy season; and following on the record heat of March, a strong hurricane season wouldn’t be so very surprising. Or would it?
The truth is that heat isn’t the only thing that influences hurricanes, and this year, the pre-season hurricane forecasts are sort of all over the place. Some are predicting an above-average season, some a below average season; it all seems to centrally depend on whether or not El Nino kicks in. This global weather pattern tends to suppress hurricanes in the Atlantic, though it can be rocket fuel for them in the Pacific.
The current El Nino forecast, from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, says we’re in what are called “ENSO neutral” conditions and those are expected to persist through summer. After that, it’s fifty-fifty whether we’ve got El Nino or a continuance of neutral conditions.
So far, NOAA has not yet released its much anticipated May 2012 Atlantic hurricane forecast, which hopefully will make more sense of this and other variables. I’d expect that any day now.
In the event of a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane (with winds up to or exceeding 155 miles per hour), it’s possible that only those crow’s nests [of lakefront houses] would remain above the water level. Such a storm, plowing over the lake, could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2 or Category 3 storm (with winds up to about 110 miles per hour and a storm surge up to 12 feet). Soon the geographical “bowl” of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops—terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris.
Afterwards, the article was passed around furiously and I was hailed for having some sort of deep insight. I didn’t: The danger was staggeringly obvious and I was only channeling what many experts at the time knew.
This has been a year of dramatic disasters and weather extremes. From tornadoes to droughts to heat waves, the U.S. has been battered.
Unfortunately, the hurricane season that’s about to get firing may not go any easier on us.
Nobody can say in advance where storms are form to strike or whether they are going to make landfall—but everything is lining up for there to be a lot of them in the Atlantic region, and some very strong ones. As you can see from the figure here, we’re just starting the climb towards the peak of the season, which occurs on September 10.
Sea surface temperatures in the main development region for Atlantic hurricanes (pictured above for the Gulf) are the third hottest they’ve been on record. Everything is lining up for there to be a lot of action: 9-10 hurricanes, and 3-5 major ones, NOAA predicts. There have already been 5 tropical storms, but that’s child’s play compared with what’s likely coming.
Our own Chris Mooney was honored this week at the 89th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society. He won the 2009 Louis J. Battan Author’s Award for Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming, dubbed “an accurate and comprehensive overview of the evolving debate on the impacts of global warming on hurricanes that illustrates the complexities of this significant scientific problem.” It’s a compelling book that successfully provides an interesting and honest account of the history of storms and climate science, while taking a serious looks at the players and politics involved.
While there is no apparent connection between warming and an increase in the number of hurricanes, there is a growing literature – including some half-dozen peer-reviewed studies – which find that warmer surface waters generate more powerful and destructive hurricanes.
It is certainly only coincidence that two recent events–the deadly Category 4 landfall of Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh and the release of the UNIPCC's 2007 synthesis report–have so closely coincided.
But if we take them together–the story of pain and grief in a low-lying region on the one hand; the careful words of scientists on the other–it seems impossible not to attempt a still grander synthesis.
A new study published by Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Peter Webster of Georgia Institute of Technology has found that the number of hurricanes in the past 100 years has doubled. Altered wind patterns and rising surface sea temperatures (SST's) caused by global warming are the culprits. The team studied hurricane frequency from 1900 to 2005 and found 3 distinct periods in which hurricane activity increased sharply and then stabilized.
Here's a short Wired piece adding some balance to an earlier Wall Street Journal article that dismisses climate change as an influencer of hurricane intensity.
The WSJ piece is also worth the read. It's interesting to see Bill (if-I-haven't-observed-it-with-my-own-eyes, -it's-not-happening) Gray tie himself up in knots, predicting more hurricanes of higher intensity but denying that climate change could be a contributing factor.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.