UN Climate Report Wrong On Hurricanes, Right On Adaptation

DALLAS (April 11, 2007) – Is human activity causing stronger, more frequent hurricanes?  A report released last week by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that this is likely the case.  Yet this finding is in direct contrast to the statement of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued after the Tropical Storm conference in November.  So which is it? Are we, or aren't we? 

"Asserting that dramatic increases in hurricane frequency and intensity will result from global warming are frequent tactics used by environmental activists to scare the public and policy makers into adopting energy reforms," said NCPA Adjunct Scholar David Legates, director of the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Delaware. "However, such assertions are at odds with the views of leading scientists with expertise in tropical storms."

According to the NCPA, the recent severe and costly hurricanes are the beginning of a completely natural, not at all unusual, multi-decadal cycle that scientists have monitored for more than 100 years.  For approximately the past 25 years, the U.S. has experienced a relative lull in hurricane activity.  Unfortunately for those living near the coasts, we are coming out of that cycle and into an active cycle like those experienced from approximately 1930 through 1950.  Indeed, in the 1940's 23 hurricanes, eight of them category 3 or higher, hit the U.S. mainland.

NCPA scholars did agree with the IPCC report on one issue, however.  Human development is contributing to the loss of coastal areas and the increased damage associated with these storms. 

According to the NCPA, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' flood control and beach restoration projects subsidize and encourage coastal development by shifting the cost of insurance and physical protection against floods from property owners to taxpayers.  From 1928 through 2001, the Corps spent $123 billion (adjusted for inflation) on flood control projects nationwide.

"What could have been merely a very bad weather event turned into a catastrophic human tragedy due to unwise development," said H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow with the NCPA.  "The government should not foster, let alone finance, development in environmentally-sensitive, highly disaster-prone areas.  Yet government is subsidizing, and therefore encouraging, building on coastal wetlands and beaches."