October 25, 2004

Scientists: Bush global warming stance invites stronger storms

by David Royse, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A coalition of scientists and environmentalists is putting up billboards in the crucial swing-vote region of central Florida saying President Bush doesn't understand that global warming means stronger hurricanes.

The billboards, showing a satellite image of a menacing hurricane off the state's coast, come as many in central Florida are recovering from the state's worst hurricane season in generations.

The billboards say: "Global warming equals worse hurricanes. George Bush just doesn't get it."

The billboards are being paid for in part by "Scientists and Engineers for Change," an organization that includes 10 Nobel winners and two former presidential advisers. It has been critical of Bush in the past and has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton who studies climate change, said the group wasn't contending that this summer's heavy hurricane season was caused by global warming, but that the intensity offers a warning of what future seasons might be like if something isn't done to stem the release of heat-holding greenhouse gasses.

Oppenheimer and other members of the group say that warmer climate means warmer water, which can make hurricanes stronger, and raises ocean levels, making storm surges more pronounced and dangerous.

"There's no doubt about it, Earth is warming," Oppenheimer said. "It's regrettable in my view that the Bush administration never took the science of this seriously, in fact scoffed at the science."

Officials from Bush's re-election campaign declined to comment, referring questions to the White House, which didn't immediately return a call for comment late Monday afternoon.

But in the past, administration officials have defended the president's positions on global warming, noting that he has called on voluntary reductions in greenhouse gases and a study of alternative sources of energy.

The government agency that studies long-term climate change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, takes the position that warming could lead to stronger storms.

"The strongest hurricanes in the present climate may be upstaged by even more intense hurricanes over the next century as the earth's climate is warmed by increasing levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere," NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory says on its Web site. "Although we cannot say at present whether more or fewer hurricane will occur in the future with global warming, the hurricanes that do occur near the end of the 21st century are expected to be stronger and have significantly more intense rainfall than under present day climate conditions."

Other scientists say that in theory, climate change would likely have an effect on storms, but that it's not clear what exactly it would be.

"There's other things at work there than simply warm water and warm air," said Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "The El Nino cycle ... the 20-40-year cycle that we believe exists. That's what makes it difficult to tie specific hurricane seasons to climate change or global warming."

Scientists and Engineers for Change and the environmental group Environment 2004 put up four billboards in Orlando and two in neighboring Seminole County. The two central Florida counties are part of a critical swing area that is expected to be a deciding region in Florida's presidential election. It's also putting up similar posters in Tampa.

The scientists' group has criticized the Bush administration's overall approach to science in the past, saying the administration sees research through an ideological lens.

But the new criticism takes advantage of the strong hurricane season to make a specific point about the White House's position on greenhouse gasses.

In 2001 Bush declined to sign the 1997 international climate treaty known as the Kyoto agreement. The president said the mandated reductions in industry emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases would disproportionately damage the U.S. economy in relation to other nations.

Bush has said he agrees, however, that global warming is "an issue that must be addressed," and has called for voluntary efforts to curb emissions from power plants, as well as for investment in alternative energy sources.

Kerry also opposed U.S. participation in the Kyoto treating, participating in the 95-0 Senate vote against ratifying it. But he has said he wants to restart talks on the issue to try and make the treaty more acceptable and backed mandatory emissions controls. He also has pushed for tougher auto emissions standards.

Posted by jmellicant at October 25, 2004 11:02 PM