Fill in the blank in this excerpt from a statement by 10 leading climate experts:
These ________ trends are setting us up for rapidly increasing human and economic losses from hurricane disasters, especially in this era of heightened activity. Scores of scientists and engineers had warned of the threat to New Orleans….
The missing word is not “warming” or other comparable references to climate change. The missing word is…
The statement, which is signed by scientists described by the New York Times as being “sharply divided over whether global warming is intensifying hurricanes,” have put aside their differences to draw attention to the real problem: people are just plain stupid. Although they probably wouldn’t be so undiplomatic, that’s what repeatedly building homes in coastal hurricane-prone areas amounts to.
Here’s the whole thing:
As the Atlantic hurricane season gets underway, the possible influence of climate change on hurricane activity is receiving renewed attention. While the debate on this issue is of considerable scientific and societal interest and concern, it should in no event detract from the main hurricane problem facing the United States: the ever-growing concentration of population and wealth in vulnerable coastal regions. These demographic trends are setting us up for rapidly increasing human and economic losses from hurricane disasters, especially in this era of heightened activity. Scores of scientists and engineers had warned of the threat to New Orleans long before climate change was seriously considered, and a Katrina-like storm or worse was (and is) inevitable even in a stable climate.
Rapidly escalating hurricane damage in recent decades owes much to government policies that serve to subsidize risk. State regulation of insurance is captive to political pressures that hold down premiums in risky coastal areas at the expense of higher premiums in less risky places. Federal flood insurance programs likewise undercharge property owners in vulnerable areas. Federal disaster policies, while providing obvious humanitarian benefits, also serve to promote risky behavior in the long run.
We are optimistic that continued research will eventually resolve much of the current controversy over the effect of climate change on hurricanes. But the more urgent problem of our lemming-like march to the sea requires immediate and sustained attention. We call upon leaders of government and industry to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of building practices, and insurance, land use, and disaster relief policies that currently serve to promote an ever-increasing vulnerability to hurricanes.
This is such a welcome development, the likes of which was needed decades ago. I mean, come on, people. How many Army Corps engineering failures do we need before we admit that we can’t afford to defend ourselves against the worst of nature’s wrath?
Biased insurance rates, counter-productive federal disaster policies — these are the real threats to life, limb and condo on the Gulf and Eastern seaboard. And it shouldn’t take a bunch of climatologists to tell us as much. Not that I expect anything to come of this latest attempt to call a spade a spade. For that, we’d need an end to self-serving, short-term political posturing and demagoguery. But we have to start somewhere.
And, I would hasten to add, none of this means climate change won’t make things worse. It will, lack of consensus among climatologists notwithstanding. We should still be scared about the implications of our do-nothing collective stance on the subject. If anything, this new statement about the relatively minor role global warming plays in hurricane-related damage should suggest an “if you think it’s bad now” approach to coastal zone management.