Rita moves west across the
Gulf of Mexico in a satellite image taken Friday at 2:45 a.m. ET.
As Hurricane Rita Threatens Devastation, Scientist Blames Climate Change
Super-powerful hurricanes now hitting the United States are the "smoking
gun" of global warming, one of Britain's leading scientists believes.
The growing violence of storms such as Katrina, which wrecked New Orleans, and
Rita, now threatening Texas, is very probably caused by climate change, said Sir
John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Hurricanes
were getting more intense, just as computer models predicted they would, because
of the rising temperature of the sea, he said. "The increased intensity of
these kinds of extreme storms is very likely to be due to global warming."
In a series of outspoken comments - a thinly veiled attack on the Bush
administration, Sir John hit out at neoconservatives in the US who still deny
the reality of climate change.
Referring to the arrival of Hurricane Rita he said: "If this makes the
climate loonies in the States realise we've got a problem, some good will come
out of a truly awful situation." As he spoke, more than a million people
were fleeing north away from the coast of Texas as Rita, one of the most intense
storms on record, roared through the Gulf of Mexico. It will probably make landfall
tonight or early tomorrow near Houston, America's fourth largest city and the
centre of its oil industry. Highways leading inland from Houston were clogged
with traffic for up to 100 miles north.
There are real fears that Houston could suffer as badly from Rita just as New
Orleans suffered from Hurricane Katrina less than a month ago.
Asked what conclusion the Bush administration should draw from two hurricanes
of such high intensity hitting the US in quick succession, Sir John said: "If
what looks like is going to be a horrible mess causes the extreme sceptics about
climate change in the US to reconsider their opinion, that would be an extremely
Asked about characterizing them as "loonies", he said: "There
are a group of people in various parts of the world ... who simply don't want
to accept human activities can change climate and are changing the climate."
"I'd liken them to the people who denied that smoking causes lung cancer."
With his comments, Sir John becomes the third of the leaders of Britain's scientific
establishment to attack the US over the Bush government's determination to cast
doubt on global warming as a real phenomenon.
Sir John's comments follow and support recent research, much of it from America
itself, showing that hurricanes are getting more violent and suggesting climate
change is the cause.
A paper by US researchers, last week in the US journal Science, showed that
storms of the intensity of Hurricane Katrina have become almost twice as common
in the past 35 years.
Although the overall frequency of tropical storms worldwide has remained broadly
level since 1970, the number of extreme category 4 and 5 events has sharply
risen. In the 1970s, there was an average of about 10 category 4 and 5 hurricanes
per year but, since 1990, they have nearly doubled to an average of about 18
a year. During the same period, sea surface temperatures, among the key drivers
of hurricane intensity, have increased by an average of 0.5C (0.9F).
Sir John said: "Increasingly it looks like a smoking gun. It's
a fair conclusion to draw that global warming, caused to a substantial extent
by people, is driving increased sea surface temperatures and increasing the
violence of hurricanes."