Thursday, August 04, 2005

Global Warming and Bigger Storms
Even though the existence of global warming and its causes seem less controversial than they once were, the potential consequences of warming are still hotly debated. One of the outcomes that's been predicted for years is that continued warming will produce more frequent and more intense hurricanes and typhoons. However, this has generally been seen as a possible future event. Now a study from an MIT hurricane specialist indicates that we are already seeing this effect. Dr. Emanuel has apparently found that hurricanes in the North Atlantic doubled in total power since 1970, while North Pacific typhoons were 75% stronger. In a year with four named storms before early July and the earliest category 4 storm on record, that doesn't seem far-fetched.

Still, the study has drawn criticism from other climate scientists and must be regarded as preliminary. Dr. Emanuel's paper has appeared in Nature and will be subjected to the normal peer review. Even if some of the paper's findings are ultimately undermined, it's still sobering to contemplate that climate change might turn out to be something that my generation will experience directly. We could end up cursing our own inaction, rather than only worrying about what our descendents will say about us. That could turn out to be a good development, in a perverse way. Climate change, as an issue, has suffered from much of the same "Apres nous, le Deluge" attitude as Social Security reform and other seemingly intractable long-term problems that aren't yet full-blown crises.

Consider the insurance industry, though. It already pays more attention to climate change concerns than most other financial sectors. If a direct link were conclusively established between warming, the emissions that cause it, and the increasing insurance liabilities associated with more intense hurricanes, then the political winds around this issue might just start to shift in favor of prompt action. I'm sure this isn't the last we've heard on this subject.

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