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Planet Ark World Environment News 250,000 Katrina Evacuees Seen as 'Climate Refugees'

Date: 17-Aug-06
Country: US
Author: Timothy Gardner

The number of "climate refugees" will grow unless the world cuts the amount of greenhouse gases it releases, said Lester Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute in Washington D.C.

"What we're looking at is the potential not of displacing thousands of people, but possibly millions of people as the result of rising seas and more destructive storms in the years and decades ahead if we don't move quickly to reduce CO2 emissions," he said.

Most scientists believe greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels contribute to global warming.

More intense hurricanes are likely in the future because global warming could mean warmer sea surface temperatures, which fuel hurricane development, scientists from green group Environmental Defense said this month.

Katrina flooded New Orleans and sent a 28-foot (8.5 meter) storm surge into Mississippi and Alabama, forcing about 1 million people to evacuate to neighboring states.

In New Orleans parish, only about half of the pre-Katrina population of 437,000 had returned by the beginning of last month, according to Claritas, a private demographic data firm.

Not everyone agrees the evacuees should be considered "climate refugees." Bill O'Keefe, a board member of Washington D.C.-based think tank the George C. Marshall Institute and a consultant to the oil industry said last year's hurricanes were a result of a 20- to 30-year cycle in storm intensity.

He said Brown was taking "an extremist view, made to make a political point."

So far this year no hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic, but typhoon activity in Asia has been intense. The strongest typhoon to hit China in half a century killed more than 250, according to the official Xinhua news agency. Brown said residents of Shanghai, a city of millions, would be particularly vulnerable to any storm the strength of Katrina.

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