Tuesday, October 4, 2005

President Bush, in his post-Hurricane Katrina address to the nation, said, “And to the extent that the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility.”

Accepting blame for the federal response is one thing, but I hope he doesn’t shoulder blame for the hurricane itself.

In a Sept. 9 speech to the National Sierra Club Convention in San Francisco, former Vice President Al Gore said Hurricane Katrina and global warming are related: “We will face a string of terrible catastrophes unless we act to prepare ourselves and deal with the underlying causes of global warming.”

Our European allies, most of whom have signed the Kyoto Protocol, have made scathing attacks on President Bush. “Katrina should be a lesson to the U.S. on global warming,” read a headline of the German magazine Der Spiegel. Jurgen Tritten, Germany’s environment minister and a Green Party member, said, “The American president is closing his eyes to the economic and human costs his land and the world economy are suffering under natural catastrophes like Katrina.”

Writing in the Boston Globe on Aug. 30, Ross Gelbspan said, “The hurricane that struck Louisiana yesterday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming.” Mr. Bush, Mr. Gelbspan said, is to blame because he took his environmental policy from “big oil and big coal.”

Major categories 3, 4 and 5 hurricanes are relatively rare. If you check out the Web site of the National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov/pastdec.shtml), you’ll find that the most active hurricane decade was 1941-50 — 24 hurricanes, 10 of them giant category 3, 4 and 5 hurricanes. Peaks for major hurricanes (categories 3, 4 5) came in the 1890s, 1930s and 1940s — an average of nine per decade.

Of the 92 giant hurricanes that struck the U.S. mainland between 1851 and 2004, there were 61 before 1950, long before global warming was an issue.

Six noted tropical cyclone experts wrote a paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society titled “Hurricanes and Global Warming.” Their three main points were: No connection has been established between greenhouse gas emissions and the observed behavior of hurricanes. The scientific consensus is that any future changes in hurricane intensities will likely be small and within the context of observed natural variability. Finally, the politics of linking hurricanes to global warming threatens to undermine support for legitimate climate research and could result in ineffective hurricane policies.

Stanley Goldenberg, a meteorologist at the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, says, “Katrina is part of a well-documented, multidecadal scale fluctuation in hurricane activity. This cycle was described in a heavily cited article printed in the journal Science in 2001.” His colleague Chris Landsea agrees, saying: “If you look at the raw hurricane data itself, there is no global warming signal. What we see instead is a strong cycling of activity. There are periods of 25 to 40 years where it’s very busy and then periods of 25 to 40 years when it’s very quiet.”

On the connection between hurricanes and global warming, Mr. Goldenberg concluded, “I speak for many hurricane climate researchers in saying such claims are nonsense.” The bottom line for Mr. Bush is that unless he’s God, he shouldn’t accept the blame for Hurricane Katrina.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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