In Hurricane Season, Expanding Coastal Population is Ticking Time Bomb

Hurricane Katrina In a statement released July 25, ten climate experts called on the U.S. government and industry leaders to address the dangers associated with the rising concentration of people and development in hurricane-prone regions. While the statement acknowledges the importance of debate on the links between global warming and hurricane activity, the scientists stress the urgency of discouraging people from building in high-risk coastal areas.

Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric sciences with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the lead author of the statement, had warned even before Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf coast last August that increases in sea temperature and expanding coastal populations create a lethal combination for areas like New Orleans. Emanuel blames government policies that “subsidize” the risk of building in dangerous coastal areas for promoting practices that put people and their investments in unnecessarily precarious situations.

In the upcoming September/October issue of World Watch magazine, which focuses on the “lessons of Hurricane Katrina,” former Worldwatch Institute researcher John Young proposes that coastal development in the U.S. and elsewhere be modeled after that in Hong Kong and the Netherlands. In these countries, meticulous, long-term policies—such as restricting development, building coastal defenses, and constructing buildings on higher ground—are being enacted to prepare for rising sea levels and more intense storms.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.