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By Ross Gelbspan | August 30, 2005
THE HURRICANE that struck Louisiana yesterday was nicknamed Katrina by the
National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming.
When the year began with a two-foot snowfall in Los Angeles, the cause was
When 124-mile-an-hour winds shut down nuclear plants in Scandinavia
and cut power to hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland and the
United Kingdom, the driver was global warming.
When a severe drought in the Midwest dropped water levels in the
Missouri River to their lowest on record earlier this summer, the
reason was global warming.
In July, when the worst drought on record triggered wildfires in Spain
and Portugal and left water levels in France at their lowest in 30
years, the explanation was global warming.
When a lethal heat wave in Arizona kept temperatures above 110 degrees
and killed more than 20 people in one week, the culprit was global
And when the Indian city of Bombay (Mumbai) received 37 inches of rain
in one day -- killing 1,000 people and disrupting the lives of 20
million others -- the villain was global warming.
As the atmosphere warms, it generates longer droughts, more-intense
downpours, more-frequent heat waves, and more-severe storms.
Although Katrina began as a relatively small hurricane that glanced
off south Florida, it was supercharged with extraordinary intensity by
the relatively blistering sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of
The consequences are as heartbreaking as they are terrifying.
Unfortunately, very few people in America know the real name of
Hurricane Katrina because the coal and oil industries have spent
millions of dollars to keep the public in doubt about the issue.
The reason is simple: To allow the climate to stabilize requires
humanity to cut its use of coal and oil by 70 percent. That, of
course, threatens the survival of one of the largest commercial
enterprises in history.
In 1995, public utility hearings in Minnesota found that the coal
industry had paid more than $1 million to four scientists who were
public dissenters on global warming. And ExxonMobil has spent more
than $13 million since 1998 on an anti-global warming public relations
and lobbying campaign.
In 2000, big oil and big coal scored their biggest electoral victory
yet when President George W. Bush was elected president -- and
subsequently took suggestions from the industry for his climate and
As the pace of climate change accelerates, many researchers fear we have
already entered a period of irreversible runaway climate change.
Against this background, the ignorance of the American public about
global warming stands out as an indictment of the US media.
When the US press has bothered to cover the subject of global warming, it
has focused almost exclusively on its political and diplomatic aspects and
not on what the warming is doing to our agriculture, water supplies, plant
and animal life, public health, and weather.
For years, the fossil fuel industry has lobbied the media to accord
the same weight to a handful of global warming skeptics that it
accords the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
-- more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries reporting to the
Today, with the science having become even more robust -- and the
impacts as visible as the megastorm that covered much of the Gulf of
Mexico -- the press bears a share of the guilt for our self-induced
destruction with the oil and coal industries.
As a Bostonian, I am afraid that the coming winter will -- like last
winter -- be unusually short and devastatingly severe. At the
beginning of 2005, a deadly ice storm knocked out power to thousands
of people in New England and dropped a record-setting 42.2 inches of
snow on Boston.
The conventional name of the month was January. Its real name is global
Ross Gelbspan is author of 'The Heat Is On' and 'Boiling Point.'
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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