Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kerry Emanuel

Kerry Emanuel is no global warming bomb thrower, so this NYT interview is the sort of thing that open-minded people ought to take seriously.

For decades, Kerry Emanuel, the meteorologist and hurricane specialist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was known as a cautious centrist on questions of global warming and hurricane ferocity.

Consequently, when he announced some statistical results, serious people took notice.
"His paper has had a fantastic impact on the policy debate," said Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford. "Emanuel's this conservative, apolitical guy, and he's saying, 'Global warming is real.' "

From the interview:
Q. Because last year's hurricane season was so intense, many people declared: "Ah, ha! Global warming!" Were they right?

A. My answer is, Not so fast. That may have been a contributor. But the fact we had such a bad season was mostly a matter of chance. On the other hand, though the number of storms globally remained nearly constant, the frequency of Atlantic storms has been rising in concert with tropical ocean temperature, probably because of global warming.

There is no doubt that in the last 20 years, the earth has been warming up. And it's warming up much too fast to ascribe to any natural process we know about.

We still don't have a good grasp of how clouds and water vapor, the two big feedbacks in the climate system, will respond to global warming. What we are seeing is a modest increase in the intensity of hurricanes.

I predicted years ago that if you warmed the tropical oceans by a degree Centigrade, you should see something on the order of a 5 percent increase in the wind speed during hurricanes. We've seen a larger increase, more like 10 percent, for an ocean temperature increase of only one-half degree Centigrade.

Q. There are scientists who say of fossil fuel consumption and global warming, We may not have all the evidence yet, but we ought to be acting as if the worst could happen. Do you agree?

A. It's always struck me as odd that this country hasn't put far more resources into research on alternative energy. Europeans are. France has managed to go 85 percent nuclear in its electrical generation. And the Europeans have gotten together to fund a major nuclear fusion project. It almost offends my pride as a U.S. scientist that we've fallen down so badly in this competition.

Q. Would you ever buy a house on the beach?

A. I'd love to! But if I could do that, I'd insist on paying for my risk. And I'd do what is now being called "the Fire Island option," which involves putting up flimsy houses that you don't mind losing to a storm. You don't insure them.