Re: [xmca] The New Yorker on Katrina and global warming

From: Wolff-Michael Roth (
Date: Mon Sep 12 2005 - 09:07:10 PDT

I have been glancing at all the emails in respect to Katrina on this
list, and with one ear followed television coverage in the news. I
have not yet heard any reference to another hurricane, Camille.

When I was living in southern Mississippi from 85-88, EVERYONE was
talking about Camille. I was shown where in Biloxi and/or other
towns, for example, all the houses where washed away--I was
astonished to see that the entire coast was built up again without
barriers, as if there was no possibility for another devastating
storm to hit the coast.

History might have taught something


On 12-Sep-05, at 7:46 AM, David Preiss wrote:

> by Elizabeth Kolbert
> Issue of 2005-09-19
> Posted 2005-09-12
> The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, founded in
> 1871 and
> headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, bills itself as the “oldest
> association of state officials” in the country. Every three months,
> its
> members, who include the chief insurance regulators of all fifty
> states plus
> the District of Columbia, hold a four-day meeting to discuss issues of
> common concern. The association’s fall, 2005, meeting was scheduled
> for this
> past weekend, and, in addition to seminars on such perennial
> favorites as
> “Property Casualty Reinsurance” and “Receivership and Insolvency,” the
> event’s planners had organized a session on a new topic: global
> warming.
> Given recent events in Louisiana and Mississippi, a session on
> weather-related disasters would surely have been well attended.
> Unfortunately for the association, the meeting was booked into the
> Sheraton
> in downtown New Orleans.
> Katrina was so destructive—whole towns and cities devastated, and
> their
> traditions swept away—that anyone who would presume to comment on
> it has a
> heavy burden. A disaster of this magnitude seems to demand not
> dispassionate
> analysis but simple human empathy. To use it as an occasion to
> point out the
> folly of U.S. energy policy, as, for example, the German environmental
> minister, Jürgen Trittin, did, is to invite the charge of
> insensitivity, or
> even worse. “The American president shuts his eyes to the economic
> and human
> damage that the failure to protect the climate inflicts on his
> country and
> the world economy through natural catastrophes like Katrina,”
> Trittin wrote
> in the Frankfurter Rundschau. An editor for the London Times online
> accused
> Trittin of “intellectual looting,” while the Web version of Der
> Spiegel
> announced “another low point for transatlantic relations—and set
> off by a
> German minister. How pathetic.” But, callous as it may seem to say so,
> America’s consumption of fossil fuels and catastrophes like Katrina
> are
> indeed connected.
> Though hurricanes are, in their details, extremely complicated,
> basically
> they all draw their energy from the same source: the warm surface
> waters of
> the ocean. This is why they form only in the tropics, and during
> the season
> when sea surface temperatures are highest. It follows that if sea
> surface
> temperatures increase—as they have been doing—then the amount of
> energy
> available to hurricanes will grow. In general, climate scientists
> predict
> that climbing CO2 levels will lead to an increase in the intensity of
> hurricanes, though not in hurricane frequency. (This increase will be
> superimposed on any natural cycles of hurricane activity.)
> Meanwhile, as sea
> levels rise—water expands as it warms—storm surges, like the one that
> breached the levees in New Orleans, will inevitably become more
> dangerous.
> In a paper published in Nature just a few weeks before Katrina
> struck, a
> researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported that
> wind-speed measurements made by planes flying through tropical
> storms showed
> that the “potential destructiveness” of such storms had “increased
> markedly”
> since the nineteen-seventies, right in line with rising sea surface
> temperatures.
> 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.
> For obvious reasons, this larger pattern is also of deep interest
> to the
> insurance industry. In June, the Association of British Insurers
> issued a
> report forecasting that, owing to climate change, losses from
> hurricanes in
> the U.S., typhoons in Japan, and windstorms in Europe were likely to
> increase by more than sixty per cent in the coming decades. (The
> report
> calculated that insured losses from extreme storms—those expected
> to occur
> only once every hundred to two hundred and fifty years—could rise
> to as much
> as a hundred and fifty billion dollars.) The figures did not take into
> account the expected increase in the number and wealth of people
> living in
> storm-prone areas; correcting for such increases, the losses are
> likely to
> be several hundred per cent higher. A report issued last week,
> which was
> supposed to have been presented at the National Association of
> Insurance
> Commissioners’ meeting in New Orleans, noted that, even before
> Katrina,
> catastrophic weather-related losses in the U.S. had been rising
> “significantly faster than premiums, population, or economic growth.”
> Since President Bush announced that the country was withdrawing
> from the
> Kyoto Protocol, in March, 2001, the Administration has offered a
> variety of
> excuses for why the U.S., which produces nearly a quarter of the
> world’s
> greenhouse-gas emissions, can’t be expected to cut back. On the one
> hand,
> Administration officials have insisted that the science of global
> warming is
> inconclusive; on the other, they’ve cited this same science to
> argue that
> the steps demanded by Kyoto are not rigorously enough thought out.
> As the
> rest of the world has adopted Kyoto—earlier this year, the treaty
> became
> binding on the hundred and forty nations that had ratified it—these
> arguments have become increasingly indefensible, and the President has
> fallen back on what one suspects was his real objection all along:
> complying
> with the agreement would be expensive. “The Kyoto treaty didn’t
> suit our
> needs,” Bush blurted out during a British-television interview a
> couple of
> months ago. As Katrina indicates, this argument, too, is empty.
> It’s not
> acting to curb greenhouse-gas emissions that’s likely to prove too
> costly;
> it’s doing nothing.
> David Preiss
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---
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> Pontificia Universidad Católica de <> Chile
> Escuela de Psicología
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> Chile
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