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Juan Cole, Informed Comment: Hurricanes and Global Warming

Hurricanes and Global Warming
by Juan Cole, August 26, 2011

With the approach of Hurricane Irene, climate activists are reminding us that more intensive hurricanes are produced by warmer water, so that global warming over time will increase the severity and frequency of storms. This is true, and it is frightening. Some climate scientists even think we need a “level 6″ category for new, fiercer storms.

Climate is extremely complex, so that global warming won’t proceed in a straight line, something that helps the skeptics (most of whom are motivated by secret payments from large corporations or are under influence of same).

Right now, the Atlantic is in a warm cycle of 10 to 15 years. During the warm cycle, hurricanes are more frequent and more powerful. The warm cycle this time is slightly warmer, because the average surface temperature of the earth and its oceans has increased over the past century. Thus it is true global warming contributed to Irene’s wrath. But climate change activists should be careful to acknowledge the contribution of the warming cycle.

After the warming cycle, the Atlantic will turn cooler. Global warming may mean it won’t turn as cool as it otherwise would, but the cooling will nevertheless make for less dramatic hurricane seasons for a while in the 2020s. Climate change can only be measured over decades, not by individual events or even short patterns.

In other global warming news, a new study shows that weather cycles appear to correlate with increased violence in tropical countries. If the El Nino/ La Nina correlation holds up, it is a horrifying harbinger for what is likely to happen in those countries during the coming century of higher temperatures produced, not just cyclically, but by long-term warming produced by dumping masses of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The problem is accelerating in danger and urgency. US carbon emissions were up by 4 percent in the past year, in part because of increased use of coal. That should be a hanging crime. I hope some lawsuits over climate change damage eventually get traction, whether domestically (as happened eventually with smoking) or internationally, at the WTO or GATT. Americans respond to property issues.

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