If a powerful hurricane slams the Louisiana coast during the Republican National Convention, the resonances with Katrina will be bad enough. But the storm would also showcase the GOP’s position on climate change, which is, increasingly, to deny the scientific consensus that fossil-fuel pollution contributes to a warming atmosphere and destructive weather patterns—including stronger hurricanes.
Although scientists caution that no single weather event can be attributed directly to climate change, major events such as Katrina and this summer’s drought fire up a debate that has become more incendiary in recent years as more Republican lawmakers doubt climate science.
The question of whether the GOP accepts climate science didn’t come up in 2008, when Hurricane Gustav slammed into the Gulf Coast during the party’s Minnesota convention. That’s because the nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, believed in climate change and professed a desire to solve it.
Since then, the mainstream GOP view is to deny the scientific findings that link man-made pollution to climate change, and Mitt Romney has publicly walked back his onetime position that humans contribute to warming. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has also questioned the science.
But stronger hurricanes are among the most serious consequences of climate change induced by the burning of fossil fuels (the Romney campaign favors such burning), and the Gulf Coast is likely to experience the worst effects, according to a 2012 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a 2009 report authored by 13 federal agencies.
Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has authored one of many reports on the increasing frequency of high-intensity hurricanes, said that the data link warming air and water surfaces to stronger, more devastating hurricanes.
“As the temperature of the tropical ocean increases, you see greater intensity and the frequency of intense storms goes up,” Emanuel said.
Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University and a member of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the science shows clearly that reducing oil, coal, and gas pollution could help prevent damage related to climate change. “There’s a risk, which scientists have identified, that it’s likely we’ll have more strong hurricanes, and one of the things we can do to prepare is reduce fossil-fuel emissions,” he said. “It’s just like building levees.”
Environmentalists are targeting Republicans for their views. Around Tampa, the Florida Wildlife Federation has posted billboards of prominent Republicans, such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who have acknowledged climate change as a problem and called for solutions.
“We think this is one of the most important policy issues that there is,” said Federation President Manley Fuller. “It’s treated as a partisan issue, and it should not be. The billboards remind Republicans of what well-known Republicans have said about this.”
Last week, the League of Conservation Voters launched a $1.5 million campaign to defeat five House Republicans who deny the science of climate change. The “Flat Earth Five” campaign is the first time the League has targeted a group of lawmakers explicitly because of their positions on climate.
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