Aug 23, 2009

'cane, 'cane, go away

Governor Charlie Crist of Florida brought to light a persistent paradox in Republican orthodoxy. He suggested that a prayer he tucked into Jerusalem's famous Western Wall is protecting Florida from hurricanes. The notion that a piece of paper placed in a holy wall can control weather over the Atlantic Ocean is far more fanciful than the idea that billions of tons of carbon gases can change the climate.
If you are willing to believe prayers can deflect hurricanes, trigger El Nino conditions and otherwise defend Florida from global weather, how can you pretend rising sea temperatures will not impact the climate? Crist is not a hypocrite, however; he is concerned about climate change.
Crist campaigned on a pledge to respect and understand the science, and he backed it up by supporting cap-and-trade and renewable energy initiatives, but he has come under attack from his own party since then. He promised to host a climate conference for States but has wavered, blaming lack of a sponsor.
Taking credit for Hurricane Bill's northerly course is Crist attempting to regain favor among the anti-science wing of the Republican party. Those who can not understand how massive carbon build-up can change the climate have nothing to stop them from believing prayer protects Florida from hurricanes. For Republicans, their ignorance is a weakness to exploit.
As for science, Bill's development and course were accurately predicted. Models used to guess how strong a storm will grow on its way across the Atlantic are also used to guess how hurricane activity will change as the oceans slowly warm. Hurricanes are not the mystery they once were. They result from changes in ocean and air currents which occur as the Earth enters northern summer. How much a given storm strengthens depends on wind conditions in the upper atmosphere. High shear, prevalent in El Nino years, weakens Atlantic storms, and that has been the dominant factor during this year's hurricane season.
It's a shame Crist did not seek more balance between the hopefulness of prayer and the reality of science in discussing Hurricane Bill. While he might wish to take credit for Bill's northerly path, he surely does not want the blame for the death of a 7-year-old girl in Maine nor the property damage in Nova Scotia. If it is fair for Crist to say his prayer is protecting Florida, then perhaps the death of a swimmer in Florida in rough waters churned up by the hurricane is a warning from God not to pander to the faithful for votes.