Sunday, July 31, 2005

Warm enough for you?

If you're a hurricane dreaming of power and a place in history, it just might be. As AP put it on Sunday:
Is global warming making hurricanes more ferocious? New research suggests the answer is yes.

Scientists call the findings both surprising and "alarming" because they suggest global warming is influencing storms now - rather than in the distant future. ...

The analysis by climatologist Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows for the first time that major storms spinning in both the Atlantic and the Pacific since the 1970s have increased in duration and intensity by about 50 percent.

These trends are closely linked to increases in the average temperatures of the ocean surface and also correspond to increases in global average atmospheric temperatures during the same period.
There are several "buts" here, including that some researchers have questioned Emanuel's methods, noting for example that he
did not consider wind speed information from some powerful storms in the 1950s and 1960s because the details of those storms are inconsistent.
Trying to account for such inconsistencies involves what's called "bias removal." It's a common, accepted practice. However, Christopher Landsea, a research meteorologist at NOAA, says Emanuel's bias removal goes too far: It's "large or larger than the global warming signal itself." That is, Landsea (What a great name for a NOAA researcher!) says, Emanuel pushed his data further than is justified.

So if a reconsideration of earlier storms concludes they were stronger than previously thought, the effect Emanuel detected might disappear. What's more, there is also the fact that hurricanes are affected by natural cyclical variations in the waters of the Atlantic. Emanuel surely allowed for that, but there can be a legitimate dispute over whether the degree of allowance was the correct one.

Still, a significant point is that
Emanuel reached his conclusions by analyzing data collected from actual storms rather than using computer models to predict future storm behavior. ...

Emanuel analyzed records of storm measurements made by aircraft and satellites since the 1950s. He found the amount of energy released in these storms in both the North Atlantic and the North Pacific oceans has increased, especially since the mid-1970s.
The increase in intensity tracked well with an increase in ocean surface temperatures, a result of global warming that is predicted to cause more violent storms because they draw on the warm water to build strength. And
[t]his year marked the first time on record that the Atlantic spawned four named storms by early July, as well as the earliest category 4 storm on record. Hurricanes are ranked on an intensity scale of 1 to 5.
Meanwhile, six nations - Australia, China, India, South Korea, Japan and the United States - announced this past Thursday that they've inked a meaningless, bogus PR exercise in CYA intended to dodge doing anything at all about global warming.

Of course, they didn't put it that way, they claimed this was a dramatic new step to tackle an important issue blah blah blah, but that's the meaning.

The pact promotes using "new technologies" to deal with climate change - but it includes no new financial commitments and no targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. In short, it's an endorsement of the status quo of dance, dodge, deny, and delay.
Australia and the United States are the only two developed nations not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and experts say the pact is likely to be used by them to deflect pressure to accept future versions of the protocol.

"They want to say 'Leave us alone, we're already doing something'," says Jeff Fiedler, a climate-policy specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.
After all, they figure, the real bad effects of global warming are supposed to be developing slowly over the next 50-100 years. By the time it gets really bad, they'll be dead - but they're collecting campaign contributions from equally to-be-dead-by-then corporate executives and fat cats in the here and now. It's really no contest, is it?

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