Hurricane Katrina's third anniversary is in two weeks, Aug. 29th. In another preemptive strike, albeit a PR one this time, President Bush is going down to New Orleans to tout progress. His prepared remarks say that much work remains to be done, and no doubt that's true. While the Gulf Coast's long-term health remains in question, we know for sure that Bush's vision for the area doesn't include protecting it by halting climate change. Should it? Should he be concluding that no matter how many resources we pump into the Bayou, it won't be secure until global warming is arrested?
The question is a complex one. One thing we know for sure is that hurricanes, which are dependent on warm water temperatures, were coming onto shore and reeking havoc long before the internal combustion engine was in production. We also know that although North America has dealt with a horrific string of bad storms--with Katrina as the headliner--in other parts of the world hurricane frequency is actually on the decline. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we know from high school physics that science is not very good at taking an uncontrolled event and attributing a direct cause to it, even if the link seems obvious.
Pew says we'd be in error to draw a direct link between global warming and the ferocity and frequency of hurricanes:
So, although we cannot be certain global warming intensified Katrina per se, it clearly has created circumstances under which powerful storms are more likely to occur at this point in history (and in the future) than they were in the past. Moreover, it would be scientifically unsound to conclude that Katrina was not intensified by global warming. A reasonable assessment of the science suggests that we will face similar events again and that powerful storms are likely to happen more often than we have been accustomed to in the past.
The thing about global warming though (and what gives me cause for optimism in the fight to outfox it) is that it exposes so many of our other environmental and social problems. Even if Katrina wasn't directly fueled by a warming climate, it was made worse by wetland loss, deforestation and a large concentrated population of poor people. Those are problems that must be dealt with to fix the climate, and those are problems Bush should address when he speaks to New Orleans’ recovery. This is about more than rebuilding buildings and streets, much like lowering gas prices is about more than the price at the pump. The problems are systemic and need systemic solutions. Brownie is gone. Chertoff is offstage. Only Bush remains. Can he make the connection? Judging by his remarks, no.