Some recent pieces on the perennial topic of Katrina and global warming:
- In Slate, Paul Recer makes basically the same point Chip and I did in our op-ed: The science drawing a firm connection just isn’t there yet, and anyway, there are plenty more immediate concerns on which environmentalists should be focused.
- On KatrinaNoMore.com, a whole website devoted to the subject, Mike Tidwell says global warming will lead to more New Orleans-style disasters, not so much because of stronger hurricanes as because of rising sea levels.
- In The New Yorker, the inimitable Elizabeth Kolbert gets the science basically right:
The fact that climbing CO2 levels are expected to produce more storms like Katrina doesn’t mean that Katrina itself was caused by global warming. No single storm, no matter how extreme, can be accounted for in this way; weather events are a function both of factors that can be identified, like the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth and the greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere, and of factors that are stochastic, or purely random. In response to the many confused claims that were being made about the hurricane, a group of prominent climatologists posted an essay on the Web site RealClimate that asked, "Could New Orleans be the first major U.S. city ravaged by human-caused climate change?" The correct answer, they pointed out, is that this is the wrong question. The science of global warming has nothing to say about any particular hurricane (or drought or heat wave or flood), only about the larger statistical pattern.
If I have any criticism of Kolbert’s piece, it’s that she, like so many people commenting on this topic, focuses unduly on cutting CO2 emissions. But if our goal is to save lives, we could save a lot more, a lot faster, by focusing on shorter term demographic and political solutions. This is not to say that we shouldn’t cut down on greenhouse gases — we should — just that doing so should be thought of as part of a larger package of severe-weather-disaster preparation and mitigation strategies.
(And yes, I really am on paternity leave. Pretend like this post never happened.)