Author discusses his new book on effects of global warming

07/20/07 Seán Kinane
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Two years ago, Chris Mooney wrote "The Republican War on Science," a book about how the Bush administration’s positions fly in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus.

Last Sunday at Inkwood Books in Tampa, Mooney spoke about his new book,"Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics and the Battle Over Global Warming."

Mooney described the ongoing debate among scientists on whether global warming is increasing the frequency and intensity of hurricanes.

In one camp are scientists who say that recent record-breaking storms like Ioke, which hit the Central Pacific last year, and Gonu, which hit the Arabian Peninsula last month, are evidence that hurricane intensities are increasing due to global warming.

In the other camp are scientists who say that techniques for measuring intense storms are just getting better.

Here's what Mooney had to say:

“So, storms like Wilma, Monica, Ioke, Gonu, and there are others in the book, they certainly at least raise a question for all of us. And that is: is something really happening here as some of the scientists think, because these are the kinds of records they would expect to break, or is it just that we are better at measuring hurricanes now than we were in the past and if we look back, we would find a Gonu, maybe a hundred years ago, we would find an Ioke but we just couldn’t measure them back then.

"I can’t give a definitive answer to this; I haven’t crunched all the data. And one storm doesn’t prove anybody right. But, although I can’t answer this question I’m raising, I can, like the scientists did, I can reframe the question. And I’ll reframe it like this: do you doubt that anything odd is happening, or do you worry that something odd might be happening?”

The scientific debate about whether global climate change affects hurricanes is a real one. But this is in contrast to the question of whether humans are causing climate change through increasing emissions of greenhouse gas.

According to Mooney, that is no longer in question.

“Special interests in the global warming debate have completely skewed it. Essentially, you know, industry interests have been funding think tanks that would go out and muddy the scientific waters.

"But it turns out that on hurricanes, the scientific waters are muddy. So, the think tanks were doing their typical thing, and they were suddenly hurricane experts, right?

"But actually the environmental groups were stampeding ahead as if the science was much more certain than it was, and they made their own kinds of mistakes on this particular story. Much more than they do on the mainstream question of ‘is global warming caused by humans?’ which they’re right about and which industry has been trying to undermine and call into question for a long time.

"But it turns out when you get an uncertain thing like hurricanes and you want a telegenic image of global warming and you just stampede towards it, it turns out that both sides can misuse information. So I kind of tried to hold both accountable.”

The Tampa Bay region is one of the most vulnerable regions to hurricanes in the United States. Mooney read from his book about what could happen if a strong hurricane, like 2004’s Charlie, were to hit the area, even without taking into account any possible amplified effects from global warming.

“I talk about what the worst-case scenario is in this area, but this is not under a climate change scenario. I’ll just read you briefly from the book.

This is about Charlie, right? ‘Not only might Charlie grow into a major hurricane, it could strike the low-lying Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area, notorious for a vulnerability that nearly rivals that of New Orleans. A category four storm approaching the Bay at the right angle could drive a tremendous surge that would knock out bridges, flood parts of downtown Tampa under 20 feet of water and temporarily turn St. Petersburg into an island.”

A scientist has run all that out, and there’s footnotes sort of getting into much more detail about what’s been done. But what happens to that scenario if you run out global warming a hundred years? I don’t know. And I don’t know if that has been done. I think that it should be a national project to do that for all of these places.”

Those types of national projects used to be things that Americans could tackle. Mooney, who grew up in New Orleans, said that such forward-thinking solutions are needed to avoid catastrophe from hurricanes, especially considering how overdeveloped coastal regions are in the most hurricane-prone regions of the country.

“We’re not forward-looking about these kinds of problems. And it doesn’t matter if everybody who knows anything about a subject predicts a train wreck, we still just wait for a train wreck. That’s Katrina, that’s Tampa; it’s a lot of places, where we’re just like ‘OK’ wandering along. It’s not good enough.

"You know what we need? We need to become a country that we were and that we aren’t anymore: the country that actually thinks big and accomplishes gigantic things. And I don’t know why we can’t seem to do that anymore … moon, highways, new deal, war … You can do these things.

"And actually both Katrina and 9/11 generated this huge surge of people wanting to get engaged in public service in this way and we just told them, ‘go get drunk at Mardis Gras.’”

Learn More:

Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming

Inkwood Books

The Republican War on Science

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