(Posted by Oliver on behalf of Roger)
Our research suggests that the answer to this question is a clear “No!”
With the IPCC reporting that greenhouse gas concentrations can be stabilized at an extremely small cost relative to global GDP, why should advocacy press right up to the scientific frontier where claims are most vigorously contested and knowledge most uncertain? The case for mitigation is already strong without invoking hurricane damages.
And consider this: even if we simply assume that greenhouse gases have a large and immediate impact on hurricane intensities, there is little that mitigation efforts can do anyway to stem the ever-growing economic toll associated with hurricanes.
The reason for this fact is the inexorable development of coastal locations putting more people and wealth into harms way.
I have just had a paper accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society , to appear in a special issue on climate change and urban areas. In the paper I examine the relative role of human-caused climate change and development for future damages under a wide range of scenarios. And under every scenario the most important factor for addressing future damages is adaptive in nature. I conclude the paper as follows:
This paper finds that under a wide range of assumptions about future growth in wealth and population, and about the effects of human-caused climate change, in every case there is far greater potential to affect future losses by focusing attention on the societal conditions that generate vulnerability to losses. Efforts to modulate tropical cyclone intensities through climate stabilization policies have extremely limited potential to reduce future losses. This conclusion is robust across assumptions, even unrealistic assumptions about the timing and magnitude of emissions reductions policies on tropical cyclone behavior.The importance of the societal factors increases with the time horizon.
This does not mean that climate stabilization policies do not make sense or that policy makers should ignore influences of human-caused climate change on tropical cyclone behavior. It does mean that efforts to justify emissions reductions based on future tropical cyclone damages are misleading at best, given that available alternatives have far greater potential to achieve reductions in damage. The most effective policies in the face of tropical cyclones have been and will continue to be adaptive in nature, and thus should play a prominent role in any comprehensive approach to climate policy.
So as hurricane season approaches, advocates for action on climate mitigation would be well served by playing to their strengths and avoiding using hurricanes to promote their cause. However, I’d bet that the images of storm-spawned death and destruction are far too tempting for some. If so, that would be a shame because it would distract from a case for mitigation that is already plenty solid.
A pre-publication version of my paper can be found at the link below.
Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2007 (accepted). Future Economic Damage from Tropical
Cyclones: Sensitivities to Societal and Climate Changes, Proceedings of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. (PDF)
Posted by Oliver on behalf of Roger Pielke Jr.