New Orleans, LA —
Sadness and Devastation on the Gulf Coast. Over the past weeks, we have been shocked and saddened by the horrific images of human misery, staggering loss of life, widespread flooding, property and environmental destruction visited upon the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina may well prove to be the worst natural disaster in American history. As efforts to help the victims and rebuild the devastated Gulf Coast move forward in the coming weeks and months, and as our hearts go out to the millions of storm victims, we must seize the moment to make sure we don't keep making the same mistakes.
While global warming does not cause hurricanes, it does increase their ferocity and the scientific community agrees that global warming will lead to more storms of this magnitude in days and decades to come. Physics teaches us that warm waters fuel hurricanes, and most scientists agree that as sea surface temperatures rise, hurricanes become more powerful.
Though originally a skeptic, MIT Researcher Kerry Emanuel discovered that the destructive power of a hurricane, the combination of wind speed and duration, shot up since 1970, a trend consistent with global warming. "I wasn't even looking for it," says Emanuel. "The trend was just so big that it stood out like a sore thumb."
Sea levels will rise, too, threatening coastal wetlands. Those wetlands provide a crucial layer of protection for the dangerous high tides and "storm surges" that occur as the eye of a hurricane moves ashore.
As we share in the sorrow of all Americans at the devastation in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, we must resolve ourselves to combat global warming. While it is not the sole factor in this horrific disaster, we know it is a factor and that knowledge is all we need to stiffen our resolve to keep marching. We must do everything in our power to ensure that storms as large and destructive as Katrina do not become regular occurrences.
Doing nothing is not an option. The costs are simply too high.