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Forecast: Storm Warning — Preparing for Global Warming

Climate Progress is happy to introduce Bracken Hendricks. He is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP). He has a forthcoming book on climate solutions with Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) — Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy. You can read his full bio here. I first met Bracken when I was at DOE, and he was a Special Assistant to Al Gore. Then we were both on the Energy Efficiency panel of the Energy Future Coalition. Now we are both Senior Fellows at CAP. He brings a unique perspective to the energy/climate debate. Welcome, Bracken!

As we approach the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it is time to begin the work of ensuring that there will be no more climate refugees. “Forecast: Storm Warning,” a report released today by the Center for American Progress, does just that.

Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the first line of defense against fiercer hurricanes from global warming, but as the real-world impacts of climate change begin to materialize, it’s time to prepare our communities to be more disaster resilient — to reduce future damages and costs of severe storms from global warming. This will take strong federal leadership and public support.

Readers of this blog know that there is an emerging consensus among climate scientists that global warming is increasing the ferocity of hurricanes, as shown in the work of Michael Mann and Kerry Emanuel, linking increased sea surface temperatures to more severe storms. A 2006 study in Science goes even further, strongly indicating that warming may even be increasing the frequency of Category 4 and 5 storms. Many more studies are here.

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Certainly the cost of storm damage is rising, both as a result of more damaging storms, but also from the migration of ever increasing numbers of American’s to coastal communities in hurricane alley. In 1999 average insured losses from hurricanes cost $2.7 billion, by 2005 that number had skyrocketed to $57.2 billion. And today, 12% of the US population — or 34.9 million people — live along the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts, while over half of Americans live within striking distance of disastrous hurricanes. CAP has long championed work on global warming preparedness to focus on the immediate threat of climate change and to draw attention to the potential dislocation of billions of people around the globe.

Today’s CAP report, “Forecast: Storm Warning”, launched by a panel of experts including Orange County Florida’s Republican Mayor Crotty, lays out a plan for investing in community level preparedness and mitigation efforts that make communities stronger and more responsive to natural disasters, with a special eye toward the impacts of changing climate. This report by lead authors Jane Bullock, former FEMA chief of staff to James Lee Witt and Kit Batten, Director of Environmental Programs at CAP among others, looks closely at the successful track record of the community based mitigation efforts of FEMA’s Project IMPACT of the 1990’s, which created $4 of value in avoided damages for every $1 invested, yet was slashed by the Bush Administration. The report’s recommendations include establishing an agency directly accountable for preparing for global warming impacts and reducing the harms of natural disaster, as well as strong federal leadership and support for community based mitigation partnership along with state government, non-profits, and business.

It is not just hurricanes that endanger Americans, but as record floods, droughts, and wildfires are encircling the planet, it is clear that climate change demands that American’s prepare to make our communities safer and more resistant to the impacts of global warming. In the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Dean, and as this hurricane season intensifies, hopefully our national leaders are listening to this critical call to action.