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August 31, 2005
RFK Jr Releases Hot Gas Into The Political Atmosphere

Following on the heels of the Germans, Robert Kennedy Jr uses his science-challenged approach to also exploit Hurricane Katrina and the deaths of Americans in order to score a few political potshots at George Bush. Demonstrating the same hysterical scientific illiteracy that has characterized his scare campaign against vaccinations, Kennedy blames Mississippi governor Haley Barbour for killing his fellow citizens before their bodies have even been found, and suggests that God punished Mississippi specifically:

As Hurricane Katrina dismantles Mississippis Gulf Coast, its worth recalling the central role that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour played in derailing the Kyoto Protocol and kiboshing President Bushs iron-clad campaign promise to regulate CO2. ...

Now we are all learning what its like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which Barbour and his cronies have encouraged. Our destructive addiction has given us a catastrophic war in the Middle East and--now--Katrina is giving our nation a glimpse of the climate chaos we are bequeathing our children.

In 1998, Republican icon Pat Robertson warned that hurricanes were likely to hit communities that offended God. Perhaps it was Barbours memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast.

Even beyond the rubbish this represents, the argument itself is particularly reprehensible for its timing. Governor Barbour has no time for responding to political attacks from Democratic politicians in the middle of this disaster, a fact which Kennedy well knows. This cheap-short coward timed his screed so that Barbour wouldn't have an opportunity to respond. Instead of gleefully cheering on the destruction and loss of life as some sort of ersatz correlation-equals-causality proof, Kennedy should roll up his sleeves and start assisting the relief efforts if he wants us to take his concern about "bequeathing" our children, a ghoulish turn of phrase considering the multitudes of the dead we still presume to find in the Delta.

Besides, as Rich Lowry points out in NRO, hurricanes didn't spring into being during the era of big tailfins and conspicuous consumption:

If cable TV had existed in 1886, everyone in the U.S. might have been whipped into a hurricane panic. A record seven hurricanes made landfall that year, including a Category 4 storm that hit Texas and would have had on-the-spot cable newscasters dramatically fighting the wind to deliver their reports. All during the 1890s, reporters could have done the same along the Atlantic seaboard, as it was hammered by more powerful hurricanes than it would be in any decade except the 1950s. ...

Has global warming increased the frequency of hurricanes? One of the nation's foremost hurricane experts, William Gray, points out that if global warming is at work, cyclones should be increasing not just in the Atlantic but elsewhere, in the West Pacific, East Pacific, and the Indian Ocean. They aren't. The number of cyclones per year worldwide fluctuates pretty steadily between 80 and 100. There's actually been a small overall decline in tropical cyclones since 1995, and Atlantic hurricanes declined from 1970 to 1994, even as the globe was heating up.

It seems that Atlantic hurricanes come in spurts, or as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts it in more technical language, "a quasi-cyclic multi-decade regime that alternates between active and quiet phases." The late 1920s through the 1960s were active; the 1970s to early 1990s quiet; and since 1995 as anyone living in Florida or Gulfport, Miss., can tell you seems to be another active phase. ...

Indeed, if you adjust for population growth and skyrocketing property values, hurricanes don't appear to be any more destructive today. According to the work of Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado, of the top five most destructive storms this century, only one occurred after 1950 Hurricane Andrew in 1992. An NOAA analysis says there have been fewer Category 4 storms throughout the past 35 years than would have been expected given 20th-century averages.

These are the data points one discovers when looking at the entire historical record and operate outside of the belief that time began in 1970. It's called research, obviously a concept with which Kennedy remains unfamiliar, along with honor and a sense of timing. His efforts to play to the eco-crowd while men like Barbour and Bush work to save lives and rescue one of the jewels of American cities diminishes himself and his pet causes. Kennedy demonstrates nothing more than his status as a political hack and a moral nitwit.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 31, 2005 6:20 AM

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