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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 09/10/2008

Freedman: Climate-Hurricane Debate Yet to Come?

By Andrew Freedman

Hurricane Ike as it approached Cuba. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA.

This hurricane season has been a destructive one for the United States, with five consecutive tropical cyclones making landfall so far, while a sixth storm -- Ike -- now threatens the Gulf Coast. If the recent past is any guide, adding such a remarkable string of tempests to the volatile atmosphere of an election year should result in a high profile debate on global climate change and severe storms.

This happened in the wake of the devastating hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, so why isn't it taking place now, when more scientific evidence has come in linking warming seas to stronger hurricanes?

Keep reading for more on the global warming and hurricane debate. For our local weather. see our full forecast.

Strangely, the political leaders and most of the environmental organizations that would ordinarily raise this issue have thus far largely held back. This has happened despite the fact that one of the storms, Hurricane Gustav, disrupted the Republican Party's convention, and despite the publication of a new study last week in the scientific journal Nature that showed that the strongest Atlantic hurricanes have become more powerful in the past 25 years.

It's neither good nor bad, in my view, that a debate on hurricanes and climate change question hasn't fully erupted, but it is intriguing because of what it may indicate about the climate change strategies of environmental groups and the presidential candidates.

First let's consider the new report that could provide political leaders and environmentalists enough justification to engage anew on this issue.

The study showed that, especially in the North Atlantic Ocean basin, the strongest hurricanes grew stronger in the past 25 years, which was consistent with warming ocean temperatures during that period. Past studies have attributed warming seas to increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

In order to avoid some of the shortcomings of previous work on the subject, authors James B. Elsner and Thomas H. Jagger of Florida State University and James P. Kossin of the University of Wisconsin relied upon satellite observations of tropical cyclone wind speeds. However, some scientists maintain that even with the new study's revised methods, tropical cyclone records remain too sparse and fraught with inaccuracies to permit the detection of a climate change signal.

Elsner, Kossin and Jagger found that winds in the strongest storms have gotten closer to each storm's "maximum potential intensity," which is the theoretical upper limit on an individual storm's strength given certain ocean and atmospheric conditions. "Our results are qualitatively consistent with the hypothesis that as the seas warm, the ocean has more energy to convert to tropical cyclone wind," the study stated.

Given this study and the occurrence of so many land-falling storms this season, it's surprising that many environmental groups and both of the presidential candidates have held back from discussing a possible link between hurricanes and climate change.

In fact, some green groups have drawn ire from the Left for being too reticent.

The energy smart blog revealed that as Hurricane Gustav headed for Louisiana, Fred Krupp, the president of Environmental Defense Fund, sent an email to other environmental leaders asking them to hold back on the global warming/hurricanes angle.

"Our first concern relates to the fact that any particular hurricane hitting Louisiana is not an example of how global warming is making everything worse," Krupp wrote. "There is recent research showing that warmer seas are increasing the average strength of hurricanes, and we should not shy away from saying that, but we must exercise extreme care in saying that Louisiana has been hit again because of global warming."

Krupp noted concerns that pushing too hard on warming could jeopardize other initiatives that Environmental Defense and others are pursuing in Louisiana, such as restoring that state's wetlands.

As Krupp well knows, environmental groups have been criticized in the past for hyping up climate change concerns by blaming extreme weather events on warming. So, as the leader of Environmental Defense, he may have been justified for being a bit, well, defensive. Furthermore, he was correct that warming may have had nothing to do with Hurricane Gustav's formation or ultimate landfall location.

Nonetheless, Krupp's email drew a harsh rebuke from Joe Romm of the progressive Center for American Progress. Romm said Krupp's message was "illustrative of the catastrophic messaging failure of the environmental community on issues of climate, government action, and energy." In addition, he accused environmentalists and progressive activists of retreating from attempts to link climate change to extreme weather of all kinds, and urged them to change course based on recent scientific studies.

In contrast to Romm's interpretation, perhaps the more accurate explanation is that most environmental groups and the two presidential candidates are focused more this year on engaging people in climate-related energy policy discussions than on global warming itself. Polls have shown that energy concerns are widespread, whereas climate change is not as much of a priority for most voters. The hurricanes/climate change issue could therefore be viewed as a distraction from what voters want leaders to address.

Also, if they use the recent hurricanes as an opportunity to discuss global warming, candidates and activists run the risk of being seen as trying to score political points off of storm victims.

But despite these reasons for holding back, with Hurricane Ike approaching and more than two months left in hurricane season, it's perhaps inevitable that another hurricanes and global warming debate will flare up this year. But who will start that conversation, and where it will lead, are unclear.

By Andrew Freedman  | September 10, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Tropical Weather  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: A Pair of Pleasant 70s
Next: Hurricane Ike and Hype Kick Into High Gear


Another hurricane expert reconsiders view -- Study says global warming not worsening hurricanes

A recent issue of Journal of Climate -- Little evidence was found that mean individual storm intensity has changed through time

I hope this answers your question. I have many more links just like those if you need them.

No need to thank me.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 10, 2008 12:23 PM | Report abuse

One reason for this year's strong hurricane season: It's a La Nina year. La Nina tends to favor the Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season.

One good way to promote global warming: Vote in McCain and Palin on Election Day. Those who are serious about saving the planet will vote Obama/Biden.

Posted by: El Bombo | September 10, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Does the fact that the Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperature is COLDER than normal have any bearing on your column/opinion/question?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 10, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Mr Q:
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and I have read several interesting exchanges over the months between you and Mr Freedman, but I am wondering if perhaps you do not realize how rude and over-bearing your comments come across on the blog.
You give the impression of waiting to 'pounce' on Mr Freedman the instant his blog is posted, and your posts in general are unfailingly filled with sarcasm and subtle acerbility. This, in itself, is taking unfair advantage of Mr Freedman; due to his professional capacity he is unable to reply in a similar tone even if he should wish it.
The scarcastic character of many of your replies over recent months is over- shadowing what should be an interesting scientific debate.

Posted by: Etta | September 10, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

While Etta makes a valid point on tone, as an independent thinker, I value the content of Mr. Q's posts, even if he is a tad snarky. He really helps to provide the opposing viewpoint to Mr. Freedman's opinions so we can all form a more well-rounded view of the issues.

Posted by: RM | September 10, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

El Bombo,

According to the latest Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology's El Nino-Southern Oscillation Update,

"El Nino - Southern Oscillation [ENSO] indicators show the climate system in an ENSO - neutral state"

see also;

Posted by: Steve Tracton | September 10, 2008 2:24 PM | Report abuse

While it is ENSO-neutral currently, a weak La Nina signal still lingers in the atmospheric circulation and therefore could be contributing, in some part, to the enhanced hurricane season we seem to be having. This will need to be investigated more once the season is over, but I suspect the La Nina-like circulation will be identified as a contributor.

Posted by: anonymous | September 10, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

West Springfield (Accotink Lake/MixingBowl) storm total 9/9/08 = 0.08"


Posted by: Bikerjohn | September 10, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

One reason for the lack of discourse on global warming this year is that both Presidential candidates agree that humans are contributing to the global rise in temps.

With agreement on the basic premise, the issue doesn't draw much attention.

Posted by: Barnaby | September 10, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

For those who don't think there is a difference between the candidates on energy policies, I suggest reading Thomas Friedman's editorial from the other day:

As he said in a TV interview, the "drill-baby-drill" chant at McCain's convention is about as progressive of an energy policy as screaming "IBM typewriters-baby-IBM typewriters." Very simple, one candidate offers forward thinking energy policies and the other candidate wants to go back to the stone age.

Posted by: election | September 10, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse


Thank you for your feedback. I already try extremely hard to compose my posts to be as polite as I can be. I will try harder in the future. But I can't make you any promises that the additional effort will bear any fruit.

Did you know that Mr. Freedman has a financial interest in convincing the public that -
1. man made climate change is real
2. we need to take action to fight man made climate change

A former D.C. resident, Andrew currently resides in Boston where is he is attending the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University as part of a dual master's degree program in climate change policy with Columbia University.

Will Mr. Freedman's degree in climate change policy be worth anything if no one believes in man made climate change, or if no one believes that it will be harmful? Perhaps, but I rather doubt it.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 10, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse

So much for trying harder eh Mr Q? I would have hate to see your last response without that additional effort.

Posted by: John - Burke | September 10, 2008 9:20 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Andrew Freedman, Capital Weather Gang | September 10, 2008 11:17 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Q: Did you ever consider that Andrew is pursuing a graduate degree in climate policy because 1) the subject is of great interest to him and 2) he has spent years studying the issue and has concluded climate change poses risks, and he would like to pursue a career in which he can contribute to policies to reduce those risks. A career in climate policy will likely be far less lucrative than being a doctor, lawyer, investment banker or any number of other professions that Andrew might have chosen to pursue. Your assertion that Andrew is in this for the money is preposterous and borders on an attack on his integrity. Andrew has always been committed to providing a reasoned appraisal of the state of climate change affairs. You may object to the lens through which he views these issues, but to imply he has financial motives for his perspective is insulting. Your comment came very close to a crossing a line, which if you come close to again, will result in termination of your posting privileges here.

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | September 11, 2008 12:25 AM | Report abuse

"Coming close??" Q's remarks are well over the line. This is not the first warning to Q. Enough - cut him off once and for all. His agenda is not to inform, but to distract from rational discussion of the real issues and questions. It's not a matter of differing opinions, but rather Q's (and others') agenda driven, closed minded, and faith based purposeful attempts to undermine the credibility of anyone (especially Andrew for unjustifiable reasons) who differs from his own dogmatic views.

Posted by: TBull | September 11, 2008 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Big Brother is watching Mr. Q.

We all are watching too.

Funny how a liberal newspaper can put the clamps down on free speach.

Shall the Old Farmer's almanac be silenced too? Or is that Dogmatic, perhaps a book of the Old Testament?

Its not that people like me close their eyes and hope for the best chotcheys. Its that we believe that

1) The misunderstanding of the sun's output and its influence has a great impact on the earth than how far I drive my car.

2) Until a reliable computer model can actual simulate cloud formation and its impact on climate, then its all just a guess.

I, too, believe that most in the climate alarmist business have a financial and prestige stake in sounding their alarm.

I am not personally insulting anyone, just making a statement. How have Al Gore's speaking fees changed since he adopted his new platform? Talk about cataclismic rising.

Posted by: PK | September 11, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Wow. I feel as if I am living in an alternate reality.

Once again I have been threatened with being banned. My crime? Posting an obvious fact in a dry, boring comment that was completely devoid of emotion and humor.

I did not say a word about Mr. Freedman's motivation in pursuing a career in climate change policy. I don't know what his motivation was and frankly, I don't care. And I don't care what lucrative careers he passed up to pursue his career in climate change policy. Why would I?

All I did was state the obvious.

I am sick and tired of the constant threats from the anonymous "Capital Weather Gang". Funny how whenever you guys threaten to ban me, you never identify yourselves individually.

I have not violated any rules. I will be registering a formal complaint with the Washington Post. Your attempted censorship and threats to ban me do not reflect well on the paper.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 11, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Q: You should assume posts from the "Capital Weather Gang" are from the CWG team leaders -- speaking on behalf of the entire CWG.

Feel free to write your letter. We have two documented cases of your name-calling ("buffoon" and "crack reporter") on this blog as well as your recent attempt to impugn Andrew's integrity. Also note the following from the user discussion guidelines ( "You further understand that we have the right, but not the obligation, to monitor submissions and we may remove content that we deem inappropriate for any reason whatsoever without consent. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site."

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | September 11, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

The expression "crack reporter" is complimentary. It means "top of the line reporter", top notch, high quality, etc...

Let me know how well the newspaper staff respond to your insistence that it is some sort of insult. I'd pay money to be in on that discussion.

I will be sure to let them know you consider that a personal insult.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 11, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Q.: You're right about the meaning of "crack reporter". our mistake. As we don't typically do investigative reporting, please excuse our misinterpretation of that term. That notwithstanding, everything else in the previous comment stands.

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | September 11, 2008 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Apology accepted.

It was not my intention to "impugn Andrew's integrity". My intent was to point out the obvious conflict of interest that Mr. Freedman has.

Just in case I need to point a conflict of interest in the future, can you please provide an example of the correct (and non integrity impugning) method of doing so?

Thank you.

As far as my unflattering opinion of Dr. Hansen, do you flag all unflattering opinions of public people, or only those you like?

For example, if I post an unflattering opinion of President Bush, would that be deemed offensive? How about an unflattering opinion of Karl Rove? Or Rush Limbaugh?

Can you provide an example of where you flagged an unflattering description of a public figure where you held a similar opinion of said figure?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 11, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Q: In the spirit of civil discourse, we make an effort to unpublish comments that resort to name calling or contain hateful speech about public figures on all sides of different issues and across the political spectrum. It's possible that we've missed a few due to the number of comments we receive, but we do make an effort to police comments.

As you long as your comments remain respectful, you are welcome to post here. We have no problem with opposing viewpoints.

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | September 11, 2008 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I commend you in your effort to further civil discourse. In that spirit, I will do my best to help you locate comments that resort to name calling or contain hateful speech about public figures. I think it is the least that all loyal readers can do.

I found a doosie here -

Look for the name JustOffended and his comments regarding Rush Limbaugh. That one somehow slipped through the cracks.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 11, 2008 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Capital Weather Gang, your assistance is needed on this thread -

There are at least four instances that I counted of people referring to others as idiot(s). One instance of someone referring to another commenter as an "ass". And one instance of someone claiming to be "Obama", which seems rather unlikely to me and is a clear violation of the rules for posting.

There are at least 7 or 8 comments that need your immediate attention. There is some down right uncivil discourse going on there.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 11, 2008 11:07 PM | Report abuse

In that same thread there is also a comment calling people who live in New Orleans "boons". Based upon the context, I am pretty certain that the commenter wasn't referring to the buffer overflow detection tool.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 11, 2008 11:46 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

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