When President Bush says that our economy can’t afford the Kyoto Protocol, no one ever asks him what the cost of not acting is. One of them is more storm damage, and now a new study says that hurricanes are lasting longer and are of higher intensity.
“My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in [hurricanes’] destructive potential, and–taking into account an increasing coastal population–a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the 21st century,” reports Kerry Emanuel in a paper appearing in the July 31 online edition of the journal Nature.Emanuel is an ocean climatologist at MIT. This storm strengthening is above and beyond the known multi-decade cycle of hurricane strengthening and weakening. Emanuel finds: “Hurricane and cyclone reported durations have increased by roughly 60% since 1949; average peak storm wind speeds have increased about 50% since the 1970s; sea surface temperatures have swung upwards since 1975 at rates that exceed normal swings from regular El Niño or Atlantic cycles.” Couple all this with more and more people living at the coastlines, with more and more development, and it’s a recipe for greater loss of life and greater costs to the economy. Over the next several decades that’s hundreds of billions of dollars that we’ll pay for our failure to take global climate change seriously.