What are these hurricanes telling us?

With hurricanes coming at us like bowling balls, people begin to wonder: What lane are we bowling on? Could Florida be the stopper in the return?

It is called global climate change. To judge the credibility of this concern: check your homeowner windstorm- and flood-insurance rates. Something is up, and it’s not just the wind.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does a terrific job of harnessing technologies to forecast the path of hurricanes. Tens of millions of Americans rely on its National Hurricane Center and accurate, timely science. Why aren’t Americans getting the same quality information with respect to global climate change?

The Guardian in Great Britain reports that the European environment agency “produced evidence that Europe was warming faster than expected and that the number of natural disasters had more than doubled in the past decade.” As for Asia’s record-busting number of typhoons, The New York Times quoted a scientist at Japan’s Meteorology College who blamed global warming for the upsurge. “I think the same thing is happening with regards to the hurricanes in the U.S.”

Think. The first thing you want after the storm, after you scrounge plastic sheeting so the rain won’t fall in, after the electricity is knocked out, when gasoline stations have no fuel because tankers can’t get to port, after the diapers are finished and you can’t stop sweating—is to turn on a generator that depends on gas, or fly away on a jet using aviation fuel, or make a telephone call that depends on electricity made from coal, or drink bottled water that is safe but requires delivery from factories making plastic from hydrocarbons.

The eye of a hurricane around which so many of our terrors spin is the reliance of the world economy on fossil fuels. The release of energy stored in those fuels, formed over the course of eons and released only in the past few centuries, produces gases like carbon dioxide that are the major cause of global climate change.

It is no coincidence, as reported by The New York Times on Sept. 11, that the top funders of the independent group attacking the wartime record of Sen. John Kerry are business executives from the energy and utility industries.

Here is the simplest way to know hurricanes are caused by global warming: Every special interest connected to energy production, distribution and consumption of fossil fuels has taken advantage of its unparalleled authority to influence regulations of their activities—weakening pollution controls, generating tax breaks and special treatment on energy standards. It is the equivalent of looting in Grenada after Hurricane Ivan.

This was the dismal theme of former EPA administrator Russell Train, who recently noted “how radically we have moved away from regulation based on independent findings and professional analysis of scientific, health and economic data by the responsible agency to regulation controlled by the White House and driven primarily by political considerations.” Train is a Republican who served under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Last night I awoke, startled by an anxious image from days earlier when one of our recent hurricanes was pointing our way and a traffic jam kept us from urgent tasks. A flatbed delivery truck was broken down in the middle of the road, engine overheated, its cab tipped forward, loaded with stacks of plywood needed to board up houses and apartments and stores.

All of us were driving to hardware stores to buy plywood, manufactured with electricity from hydrocarbons, hewn from forests depleted by global warming, now prevented by a broken-down truck carrying what we needed but we couldn’t obtain, keeping us from protecting our families from a hurricane strengthened by hot ocean temperatures caused by carbon emissions from the world’s growing economies, all based on oil and gas and coal.

This hurricane season, the anxiety of millions of Floridians can be measured in board feet of plywood. Now imagine a hotter world where hurricanes rage and plywood is worth gold because forests don’t grow like they used to. Who gets the plywood, then?

For those who have already made up their minds that there is good and there is evil, the feeder bands of recent hurricanes may feel like the fulfillment of God’s plan. But if our politicians continue to ignore global climate change, we will all be in harm’s way.

Global climate change is not on the desk of Tim Russert, Chris Matthews or Bill O’Reilly, either. But it should be.

Here is to hoping these hurricanes jar the angels of our better judgment from complacency.

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