Global Climate Change and the Risks to Coastal Areas from Hurricanes and Rising Sea Levels: The Costs of Doing Nothing
49 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2006
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, attention has focused on a pair of threats to low-lying coastal areas. Scientists have begun a debate over the possible impact of global climate change on hurricane intensity. Some scientists take the position that recent increases in hurricane intensity in the North Atlantic are due, at least in part, to increases in sea surface temperatures caused by human-induced global climate change. Others believe that those increases are largely due to natural fluctuations in weather patterns such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. There is little debate over a second threat to coastal areas. The broad consensus of scientific opinion supports the conclusion that global climate change poses a significant risk of accelerated melting of polar ice sheets and glaciers, which in turn increases the risk of coastal flooding.
This article surveys the scientific literature on the links between global climate change and the risks of increased hurricane intensity and coastal flooding. It concludes that the scientific evidence of such links is compelling and that environmental and energy policymakers should respond by taking steps to abate the activities - primarily the emission of greenhouse gases - that are known to contribute to global climate change. The article describes a series of policy initiatives that the federal government could take but has not yet taken to contribute to global efforts to abate climate change. It also describes longstanding national environmental and energy policies that exacerbate, rather than alleviate the adverse effects of global climate change on coastal areas. Recent economic studies demonstrate that a comparison of the costs and benefits of tackling global climate change and failing to do so strongly supports taking immediate steps to address climate change, rather than further deferring such a response. Finally, the article assesses the possible impact of Katrina on the public policy debate over global climate change, and in particular, it focuses on the effects of Katrina on public opinion in the U.S. on government policies relating to global climate change.
Keywords: global climate change, global warming, Hurricane Katrina, environmental and energy policy
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