Is hurricane Rita the latest bit of evidence for global warming? The Independent has no doubts if its front page today is anything to go by
Super-powerful hurricanes now hitting the United States are the “smoking gun” of global warming, one of Britain’s leading scientists believes.
The growing violence of storms such as Katrina, which wrecked New Orleans, and Rita, now threatening Texas, is very probably caused by climate change, said Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Hurricanes were getting more intense, just as computer models predicted they would, because of the rising temperature of the sea, he said. “The increased intensity of these kinds of extreme storms is very likely to be due to global warming.”
In a series of outspoken comments - a thinly veiled attack on the Bush administration, Sir John hit out at neoconservatives in the US who still deny the reality of climate change.
Referring to the arrival of Hurricane Rita he said: “If this makes the climate loonies in the States realise we’ve got a problem, some good will come out of a truly awful situation.”
Max Mayfield told a congressional panel that he believes the Atlantic Ocean is in a cycle of increased hurricane activity that parallels an increase that started in the 1940s and ended in the 1960s.
The ensuing lull lasted until 1995, then â€œitâ€™s like somebody threw a switch,â€ Mayfield said. The number and power of hurricanes increased dramatically.
Under questioning by members of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on disaster prevention and prediction, he shrugged off the notion that global warming played a role, saying instead it was a natural cycle in the Atlantic Ocean that fluctuates every 25 to 40 years.
So where does the truth lie? The BBC has a helpful and balanced appraisal of the evidence, producing a conclusion that it’s hard to argue with:
Now that climate scientists are being taken seriously, they are also under pressure to produce instant answers.
One problem is that not all of those answers exist. Another problem is that some scientists - not to mention lobby groups, environmental organisations, politicians, newspapers and commentators - will go much further in their public statements than the data allow.
With such incendiary material, that is unlikely to change; but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we would all benefit from people on both wings of the issue looking rather more to research, however laboured its progress, and rather less to screaming headlines and easy quotes.
My own view, for what it’s worth (maybe not much!) is that the case for the human impact on climate change is proven beyond reasonable doubt. The world is warming, and human beings have a lot to do with that. It is known that ocean temperatures are a factor in the formation of hurricanes — warmer water produces more and stronger hurricanes. My guess would be that what we’re seeing is global warming adding to the natural cycle of hurricane formation. Perhaps an individual hurricane can’t be linked to global warming directly.
But a warmer world inevitably means more frequent extreme weather events like Rita.