[Marxism] Rampant development and Hurricane Katrina

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 30 07:35:50 MDT 2005


Katrina's destructive waves
An MIT global warming expert argues that the damage wrought by Atlantic 
hurricanes in the past decade has more to do with rampant development than 
a vengeful Mother Nature.

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By Katharine Mieszkowski

Aug. 30, 2005  |  Hurricane Katrina has turned New Orleans into "a 
wilderness," said one public health official, who begged evacuated 
residents not to return to the city for at least a week. Rife with 
poisonous water moccasins and fire ants, downed trees and power lines, 
without fresh drinking water, power, gas or sewage, the storm has made the 
battered and flooded city uninhabitable.

Katrina is just the latest in a rash of powerful hurricanes that have been 
pummeling the Atlantic in recent years, including a record-breaking 33 
between 1995 and 1999. It's made many wonder if global warming is bringing 
the wrath of the planet down upon all our heads. Kerry Emanuel, a professor 
of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has 
studied historical records of hurricanes around the globe, said the answer 
is yes and no.

In a recent paper, "Increasing Destructiveness of Tropical Cyclones Over 
the Past 30 Years," published in the science journal Nature, Emanuel found 
that as sea temperatures rise, the duration and intensity of hurricanes are 
going up, too.

The reason for the correlation is pretty straightforward: "Hurricanes 
derive their energy from the evaporation of sea water," Emanuel explained 
in a phone interview. "When you evaporate water from the ocean you actually 
transfer heat from the ocean to the atmosphere. A similar effect happens 
when you come out of the shower in the morning. You feel cold because water 
is evaporating from your skin, and taking heat from your body. That heat 
energy doesn't disappear." Instead, it fuels the intensity of hurricanes.

So, as global warming increases, expect hurricanes to get stronger. 
However, that doesn't mean, as some perceive, that there are actually more 
of them lately. "When we looked at the historical record, we found that the 
frequency of storms globally hasn't really changed at all," Emanuel said. 
"It's about 90 per year, plus or minus 10. The frequency globally appears 
to be steady."

The recent hurricanes in the Atlantic, Emanuel explained, represent a 
natural fluctuation. Every 20 to 30 years, since records started being kept 
in the 19th century, there have been big shifts in the frequency of 
hurricanes in the Atlantic. "For example, in the 1940s and '50s, there were 
very busy years, whereas the 1970s and '80s were very quiet years," he 
said. "And we've had a big upswing in the Atlantic beginning in about 1995. 
That's all natural."

The reason violent Atlantic hurricanes like Katrina may strike people as 
unnatural, and cause them to blame the CO2 pouring out of their neighbors' 
Hummers, is not because of their frequency but their destruction to people 
and places.

"This natural fluctuation occurs in a social environment where there is a 
huge shift in demographic trends, and this makes a big difference in 
people's perception," Emanuel said. "In the 1940s and '50s, there were lots 
of hurricanes in Florida, but there weren't lots of people there. So now 
that we're having this upswing again, it's being perceived very 
differently" -- for the simple fact that there is a lot more stuff to be 

Meteorologists performed admirably in alerting public officials to 
Katrina's rising destruction, allowing them to evacuate New Orleans and 
other Gulf Coast cities in plenty of time. But Emanuel said that other 
warnings by meteorologists have gone unheeded in past decades -- warnings 
to go easy on the housing and commercial development in areas like Florida 
that are highly at risk to Atlantic hurricanes.

"A lot of people in my business had been, even in the 1980s, warning 
anybody who would listen -- which was very few, it turned out -- that there 
was going to be this upswing in hurricanes," Emanuel said. "It's not rocket 
science. We've been building all this stuff in Florida during this lull 
that lasted 20 years. We built all this stuff, and it's waiting to get 
creamed. There's been a fantastic amount of construction. A lot of people 
have built homes on the water. And nobody really listened. And now all of 
those predictions are exactly coming true. But it doesn't have much to do 
with global warming."

To Emanuel, Katrina is not an unusual hurricane. "Not that many hurricanes 
get that powerful, but we've had hurricanes like Katrina before," he said. 
"Camille was about the same strength. Andrew was about the same strength. 
Katrina was just unfortunate, because it happened to hit a very densely 
populated area."

Ultimately, Emanuel said, it's not a vengeful Mother Nature but man's 
politics that are to blame for the destruction. As long as people insist on 
erecting homes and businesses, aided by low insurance rates and business 
lobbyists, in vulnerable areas like the Gulf Coast, there's little 
scientists can do to prevent the havoc. "I like to say that there is no 
such thing as a 100 percent natural disaster," Emanuel said. "We have to 
put stuff in harm's way for there to be a disaster, and we're very good at 
doing that, and subsidizing people who continue to do it."



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