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Global Catastrophes Set to Increase Unless We Change NOW
Published on Thursday, September 8, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Global Catastrophes Set to Increase Unless We Change NOW
by Mike Hudema
 
Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans last week with winds tearing through the city at more than 150 miles per hour. According to weather experts, Katrina has the strongest central force of any recorded storm in United States history other than the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. The storm’s damage is still being calculated but it may leave over one million people in three states homeless, five million without power, and unknown numbers dead. Torrential rains inundated the coast and forced more than half a million residents to evacuate, leaving ten thousand huddling in the New Orleans Superdome. Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida have all reported deaths due to “America’s Tsunami.” Yet despite the strength of Katrina’s impact, it is only one of many natural disasters that have wreaked havoc in the past year.

In the past twelve months, the world has experienced a record number of natural atrocities. A deadly heat wave in Arizona with record-setting temperatures above 110 degrees is suspected to have killed more than 30 people. Renewed heat warnings are being issued for the region during the writing of this article. In July, the worst drought in recorded history triggered wildfires in Spain and Portugal and left water levels in France at their lowest point in 30 years. In December, the second largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph generated a tsunami that killed more than 150,000 people, making it one of the deadliest disasters in modern history. Over one thousand people died in Bombay, India when the city received 37 inches of rain in one day setting another record and bringing the state and the lives of 20 million people to a watery halt.  Hurricane Katrina is the latest of these disasters, and already, 100 people have been reported dead.  But despite everything the world has experienced this year, as Al Jolson once said, “you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.”

While it is unclear whether global warming was a factor in Hurricane Katrina, it is certain that climate change will increase such natural catastrophes. As the earth heats up, we will experience longer droughts and heat waves, resulting in more wildfires. The weather will become more extreme, producing floods and longer, more intense hurricanes. A greater potential for heat-related and pest related illnesses and deaths will exist as new bugs travel northwards. There will be increased desertification and ensuing conflicts over water. Finally, a temperature increase will disrupt natural habitats, possibly driving many plant and animal species to extinction. An increase in the frequency and size of natural disasters will undeniably be one of the consequences of climate change.

In the coming weeks politicians and news analysts will dissect Katrina’s impacts and whether the city of New Orleans was sufficiently prepared. They will ask questions about the strength of dikes, evacuation procedures and what can be done in the future. We can only hope that they will not pass over the two most important questions of them all: was Katrina the result of or influenced by global warming? And, how can we minimize the effects of global warming in the future?

The most obvious way to protect ourselves against future disasters such as Hurricane Katrina is by trying to slow the rate at which global warming is occurring, thereby preventing or minimizing its devastating consequences.  Fortunately, because global warming is the result primarily of human based activities we can do something about it.

The cars and trucks we own are one of the main drivers of global warming.  CO2 emissions (a greenhouse gas that causes global warming) from our cars and trucks make up about one-third of all U.S. CO2 emissions. American cars and light trucks consume 8.2 million barrels of oil each day. This translates to over 300 million metric tons of carbon emitted by our vehicles every year.

We can have a dramatic effect on global warming just by increasing fuel efficiency standards – a move that will also save us money at the pump.  If fuel efficiency improved to 45 miles per gallon for cars and 34 miles per gallons for light trucks, our atmosphere would be saved from millions of tons of CO2 pollution. If they moved to zero emissions the effects would be even greater.

When questions about hurricane Katrina begin to be considered, we must ensure that we also examine the issue of climate change.  If we can slow the effects of global warming, we will be able to reduce the deluge of natural disasters that are coming our way in the future.  It is essential that we find solutions now, before another larger storm is upon us.  

Mike Hudema works at the human rights organization Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org ) and is the author of “An Action a Day,” published by Between the Lines Press.

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