An essay by posted on Arianna Huffington’s site got my attention this morning. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., makes comments that are truly outrageous. In particular, he links Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s efforts to dissuade the Bush administration from adopting the Kyoto protocols to the hurricane destruction in his state. For those who wish to see for themselves, here is the link to the whole story: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-f-kennedy-jr/afor-they-that-sow-the-_b_6396.html. For the rest of you, here is an excerpt:
“Now we are all learning what it’s like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which Barbour and his cronies have encouraged. Our destructive addiction has given us a catastrophic war in the Middle East and--now--Katrina is giving our nation a glimpse of the climate chaos we are bequeathing our children. In 1998, Republican icon Pat Robertson warned that hurricanes were likely to hit communities that offended God. Perhaps it was Barbour’s memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast.”
I am mystified on several levels. First, I am not aware of any evidence that CO2 levels have changed all that much in the past two or three decades, let alone the past four years. Even if these levels did change, what possible impact could the Bush Administration’s failure to support the Kyoto treaty in 2001 have on the global environment in the short span of four years? It should be noted that in 1997, the Senate passed a resolution 95-0 against the type of agreement that was to be negotiated in Kyoto. Thus, quite a few democrats and republicans in the senate at that time apparently thought this was a bad idea. (Query: Are their natural disasters still coming?)
Second, the link between global warming and hurricanes has yet to be made. I have not fully researched hurricane formation, but I would expect that multiple factors contribute to their formation. For example, there is evidence that the development of El Nino has an impact on hurricane formation. However, El Nino is known as an “anomalous” warming of Pacific waters. See Bove et. al., Effect of El Nino on U.S. Landfalling of Hurricanes, Revisited (1998). That means we don’t know what causes El Nino, and we have lots left to learn. Leaping to a conclusion that using fossil fuels (at the urging of Haley Barbour and his energy-company clients, no doubt!) causes not only more hurricanes, but also wars, strains the imagination.
Third, in the larger scheme of things, it is not even clear that there is a long term increase in the number of hurricanes affecting the U.S. NOAA maintains a listing of hurricanes on its website. There does seem to be a modest increase in recent years, but who knows what the longer term trends really are.
Finally, the last point about Katrina’s omniscience in singling out Haley Barbour is really over the top. Maybe he was trying to be funny, but I don’t think the good folks in that part of the country who are suffering would find it so. I certainly don’t.
P.S. I sure hope that Governors Vilsack (IA) and Heineman (NE) haven’t written any memos that will anger Nature.
PPS. Where does one get the kind of analytical training that Rep. Kennedy had? Though he is a lawyer who graduated from a fine law school, one must wonder whether he ever read the Palzgraff case in first-year torts.