Overshadowed by Hurricanes

As a student of drought, I can’t help but feel a little sheepishly overshadowed by hurricanes – I think it was Steve Bloom who coined the description “charismatic megaweather.”So I was happy to see none other than Jeff Masters, the Weather Underground hurricane guy, recognize drought’s importance in his review of the Al Gore movie, calling drought and reduced water supplies “the most serious climate change issue our generation is likely to face.”

While we gnash our climate wars teeth over the hurricane question, it continues to puzzle me that this – Aiguo Dai’s evidence for expanding drought as the planet warms – has gotten such relatively little attention. Not charismatic enough, I guess.

While we’re on the subject, it’s also worth noting that Jeff’s not quite on board with the “emerging consensus” yet, criticizing Gore’s handling of the hurricane question:

We are told that global warming is increasing the intensity of hurricanes, but not provided information on the great amount of uncertainty and vigorous scientific debate on this issue. Graphs showing recent record insurance losses from natural disasters are presented, but no mention is made of how increasing population and insistence on building in vulnerable areas are the predominant factors causing recent high insurance claims from disasters such as Katrina.


  1. Hi John,
    Great point. I would just add that the lack of public interest in drought parallels the lack of public interest in global warming… there is no excitement or drama in gradual change. Droughts, as you know, become severe due to persistence, not because of an event on a single day. As a journalist, I’m sure you can appreciate the difficulty of covering both global warming and drought, for this reason.

    Regarding hurricanes and insurance costs. As you know, this is a criticism lodged by Pielke Jr. almost daily. Pielke is right, of course, and this is one of my only issues with Gore’s movie. OTOH, I think Gore got the big picture stuff just right. He did a nice job providing the context of population and other pressures, which is important in this quickly changing world. His treatment of scale was also very good (e.g., timing and magnitude of present vs. past C02 rise).

  2. Thanks for the links, Dano.

    In case you are not already aware, you guys might also be interested in research going on over at OSU, with their Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database.

    Some of their work has called into question conventional wisdom that future international conflicts will be fought over water. The data are tricky to come by, but the folks at OSU seem to have done a good job documenting far more cases of international cooperation — as opposed to conflict — between nations with shared watersheds.

    Their database does not appear to say much about domestic conflicts over water rights and water privatization… but it may offer some reasons for hope for peaceful international conflict resolutions in the future, when water is recognized as a shared interest.

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