EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the October 10, 2005, issue of National Review.
For years, I have been concerned that a major hurricane strike on New Orleans could provoke legislation on global warming that will do absolutely nothing about tropical cyclones, but harm the U.S. economy for decades. We began seeing the shape of things to come when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed that Katrina’s severity was related to President Bush’s reluctance to cap carbon-dioxide emissions, and Hillary Clinton declared she wanted to establish a commission to investigate the government’s response to the hurricane.
Hurricane Katrina’s magnitude was not changed by global warming. In fact, despite a hundred news stories to the contrary, it’s not at all clear that any such warming will result in more frequent, let alone more intense, tropical cyclones. Take, for example, the recent rise in hurricane frequency in the Atlantic Basin; it’s as if we have returned to the 1930s, ’50s, and ’60s, when storm activity reached a ferocious height before settling down for several decades.
Keep in mind, however, that there are some differences between now and then. Today’s hurricanes tend to concentrate in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, whereas in mid-century they repeatedly struck the Atlantic coast–all the way to Canada. This is worth noting because, in a warming world, simple reasoning predicts that activity should have moved north, not south. Obviously things are not so simple with hurricanes and climate change…
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