The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Suzi Emmerling




Hurricane Bill - Another Sign of the Spiraling Cost of Inaction on Global Warming?

The soaring number of presidential disaster declarations reflects the growing economic, social, and environmental harms from global warming.


Hurricane Bill is gathering strength in the Atlantic, and is "poised to grow into a major storm" later this week. It could hit the East Coast as a Category 3 storm with 121 mile-per-hour winds. Meanwhile, "hot, dry winds and high temperatures continued to fan wildfires across California yesterday." Recent wildfires in California have burned over 100,000 acres.

These events have a common thread. The ferocity of tropical storms
and spread of wildfires will increase as the planet warms. There's a
growing body of scientific evidence that global warming has already
harmed the United States. And the soaring number of presidential
disaster declarations reflects the growing economic, social, and
environmental harms from global warming.

Since 1969, presidential disaster declarations for floods, storms,
and wildfires rose by 43 percent. An increase in human fatalities,
property damage, and disrupted business has accompanied these
disasters, as reflected in the spiking cost of insured losses from catastrophes,
which totaled around $3 billion in 1980 and has since risen to more
than $70 billion (in 2005 dollars) in 2005. The most recent report by scientists with the International Panel on Climate Change shows that the predicted increase in natural disasters is indeed already unfolding.

The average number of presidential disaster declarations
per month in office steadily rose, beginning with President Ronald
Reagan . His relatively low rate of declarations may have reflected
his antigovernment philosophy--he may have been more hesitant to use
this authority since he generally opposed government involvement for
many purposes. After Reagan, the rate of declarations increased
steadily from President George H.W. Bush through President George W.
Bush. And President Barack Obama has a higher rate still, even though
this data is from his first five months in office in 2009, including eight declared disasters
in June alone. These trends should serve as another catalyst for
action by the Senate this fall as it debates the American Clean Energy
and Security Act.

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