Global Warming: Policy Changes Maybe Even Bush Would Accept

One of the issues raised by a couple Debaters in the comments was that these big hurricanes -- regardless of whether they're bigger due to global warming, a natural cycle, or some combination of both -- will inevitably cause more death and destruction now that more development has taken place in vulnerable areas.

Thanks to the Archive.org Wayback Machine, we can read the EPA's 1998 report The Regional Impacts of Climate Change, which warns of policies (including subsidies and regulations) that contribute to our environmental conditions and can hinder our ability to adapt to a changing climate. Part of what the report discusses is "inappropriate land-use zoning and/or subsidized disaster insurance, which encourage infrastructure development in areas prone to flooding or other natural disasters -- areas that could become even more vulnerable as a result of climate change."

Sound familiar?

To those Debaters who have been arguing that actively trying to combat global warming (by reducing consumption of fossil fuels, etc.) is just not economically feasible, I must ask you: Is it really that much more economical to attempt to move entire coastal communities further inland? And if not, as flooding becomes more frequent in these coastal areas, can the country afford to keep picking up the tab for reconstruction projects costing hundreds of billions of dollars?

Of course, at this point, we might not have a choice. Some say global warming -- the melting of the polar ice caps, in particular -- is irreversible. (The Burned Out Paranoid Liberal blog -- I just love that title -- offers a fairly wide-ranging post about The Tipping Point.) At the very least, it would be decades before we would start to see any noticeable result from our efforts to undo the environmental damage we've done.

This means, as German business daily Handelsblatt editorializes (English summary here), that since we've got a long wait ahead no matter what, we need to focus on taking measures that will protect people from the potential results of climate change, such as flooding, abnormally large storms, decreased crop growth and drought. All around the world, the editorial says, we need to do more to prevent building in danger zones and to establish emergency plans for flood-prone areas. Think of the massive flooding in Europe this summer -- clearly, it's not just our Gulf Coast that's having problems.

The paper also urges global action to help countries like Bangladesh, which isn't wealthy or powerful enough to handle on its own the flooding it gets now, much less the worsened conditions we can expect as sea levels rise.

The EPA report recommends "strengthening legal and institutional frameworks, removing preexisting market distortions (e.g., subsidies), correcting market failures (e.g., failure to reflect environmental damage or resource depletion in prices or inadequate economic valuation of biodiversity), and promoting public participation and education. These types of actions would adjust resource-use patterns to current environmental conditions and better prepare systems for potential future changes."

What do you think? Is that enough? Or just one tiny piece of the solution?

Found an interesting opinion or scientific report on global warming that you think I should highlight in an upcoming post? E-mail me at debate@washpost.com.

By Emily Messner |  September 30, 2005; 12:31 PM ET  | Category:  Your Take
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Wow. Everyone was so into global warming the other day... I wonder what happened? I guess no one wants to Debate on a Friday? I'm usually more up for wasting time at work on a Friday than during the rest of the week, but I guess I'm in the minority.

Maybe we need a more inflammatory topic to keep everyone going for a whole week. How about "Abortion: Good or Bad?" or perhaps, "Betty or Veronica?"

--I'll start. To the first question...neither. To the second question...both!

Have a nice weekend!

Posted by: Sonny | September 30, 2005 06:38 PM

As with everything, the key to solving this current environmental quandary is more research and study. We have to stop stifling (in the name of big business) environmental scientists willing to explore and answer our questions.

Posted by: dave | October 1, 2005 01:06 PM

Global Warming? As our accumulated knowledge informs us that the Earth has either been warming or cooling throughout its entire 4.6 billion year history the "news> that its mean (atmospheric) temperature has risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius this century must send shivers through all those who imagine that stable climatic conditions are normal or even commonplace.
Let's be smart: we need a pool of technology that will allow human society (if there is sufficient commonality of thought to justify such an optimistic term) to jump either way. We need to know how to artificially stimulate our grossly over-populated planet into Cool Mode OR Warm Mode as the need arises. The current debate resembles a discussion on whether cars should be able to turn left or right. Depends which way you want to crash! Is there any Intelligence out there? Hullo!

Posted by: Richard Clarke | October 1, 2005 10:28 PM

Global warming or not, it is certainly a wake-up call to be confronted with two successive years of catastrophic hurricane damage (and more in earlier years that we are still paying for).

Isn't it time there is a national policy developed for coastal areas, or areas prone for earthquakes, etc.? Certain predetermined coastal areas in the east, southeast and south should be zoned for return to the wildlife and day-use by swimmers, etc. A zone of no-build for one mile from the shore would not be unreasonable in some areas. Secondly, beyond that for another established distance from the shore, there should be some new design strategies with round edges to housing, etc., rather than square boxes so as to divert the shere wind velocities. Those two features alone would save the public billions of dollars over time, save incalculable lives and restore the natural habitat along our shores. To build a million dollar structure within a few feet of the shoreline in some areas that we have all observed repeatedly in recent days is pure stupidity and truly absurd. The rich are our greatest enemy in this true debacle - and it is destined to only get more pronounced in time. And then flood insurance is available to rebuild that structure at taxpayer expense! Hello!!!!

Wake up, Congress and our federal/state agencies, it is time to act - before certain sections of these washed away beach communities are rebuilt and billions spent again.

Posted by: Virgil Tacy | October 2, 2005 02:53 PM

Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions Emily. Consider these facts:

1) A recent Duke University study found that increased solar activity is responsible for at least 10-30% of the global warming measured over the past 25 years.

2) NASA scienctists have found evidence of Global warming on Mars.

3) Which of the policies you are proposing would help to reduce greenhouse emissions in the country forecasted to have the most output over the next decase -- China?

4) Over 50% of America's electicity comes from coal buring plants and about 20% for nuclear. France in contrast gets over 85% of its power from nuclear plants which produce no greenhouse gases. When will the environmentalists in the US decide to stop blocking nuclear power plants?

Posted by: Kellino | October 2, 2005 07:32 PM

At one time about 15 years ago this inquiry had been recast more generally as global change--what's it all about? That characterization opened the door to man-made, non-manmade climate change, economic, social, individual scale change. More factors were explicitly brought into the whole, most likely for the better.

The ability to understand a total earth climate picture has been heretofore impeded by growing yet so far inadequate understanding of the non-anthro or natural climate dynamics. This inadequacy has spilled over into the large scale modeling efforts--causality of global change has been arguably weakened. Such inadequacy has been especially the case at longer-than-one-year time frames beginning with such climate phenomena as El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and going up through sunspots (11 year), lunar/tidal (18.6 yr), various Atlantic and Pacific basin oscillations, Gleissberg (80 year), solar system barycenter symmetry (180 year), and more recently to the point hurricanes (1500 year, Prof Liu at Louisiana State University), up through Milankovich cycles.

Understanding past climate's manmade/not-manmade richly woven yet oft-tangled web has been accordingly obscured, especially as first the agricultural age and then the industrial age progressed. The ability to sort the total picture out well enough to predict with confidence a future climate at regional or global level has been a formidable challenge. Ultimately the total climate picture and then that part which is policy sensitive will need to come into clearer focus.

One company, Dynamic Predictables of Columbia Missouri, has made NINO3 Anomaly predictions public beginning in 1998--data ending 199804 and predicting forward through 2009.

More can be seen on the DynaPred website: http://www.dynapred.com

A AAAS symposium on "El Nino Predictability" is scheduled for February 17, 2006 in St Louis. ENSO treatment by the IPCC models, US/NOAA/Climate Prediction Center, and Dynamic Predictables will be addressed. Dynamic Predictables has indicated its intention to share publicly for the first time a key understanding as to the theory of the physics involved--back of the envelope stuff. Several examples will be provided at monthly time-step down to site-specific predictions for years in advance. Climate relevance extends to the sun as a forcing factor--rather a dynamic and not-static/constant place--and to earth system response.

Posted by: Gregg Suhler | October 4, 2005 12:20 PM

Just where does global warming fit in the list of priorities? Given that it is absolutely a key to the future of the world, is it number one on the minds of Americans?

I'm a radio Talk Show Host in New Jersey, and in the course of a normal day, it seldom is a topic. The War in Iraq, the cost of energy, the trillion dollar deficit, and the incompetence of our government all give rise to bigger complaint.

Global warming will not fully be felt for decades. Tell people that Florida will be under water, and they make jokes about having an Ohio beach-front home. It just isn't on their plate of problems, because the plate is so full as it is.

A mile from our radio station a man built a house with an indoor pool. Everything is heated by solar energy. But, that technology would put the power plants out of business, and their lobbyists are not going to let that happen.

When we get leaders who think saving the environment means more than shooting a squirrel in Texas, then we have a shot at saving this world.

Posted by: Jack Ellery | October 5, 2005 05:57 PM

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