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Deadly storms, deadly addiction: oil and coal

Deadly storms, deadly addiction

By now we all know the science: no single hurricane can be blamed on climate change, in the same way that no single cigarette can be blamed for a cancer death. But as devastating as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita may be, they are nothing compared to the devastation that climate change will wreak on our planet if governments fail to address our world's oil and coal addictions.

In the US, some people have lost everything because their government will not take urgent steps to curb global warming. Instead, American taxpayers pay for their country’s oil dependency at the petrol pump and in uninsured liabilities for extreme-weather related damages.

In the Pacific, sea levels rise and cause flooding. In Australia, we suffer drought and soaring temperatures which intensify bushfires. Yet the Howard government will not take action against climate change or lessen our coal addiction.

Global warming, caused by ever increasing consumption of fossil fuels like oil and coal, means extreme weather events are becoming more frequent.

The frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide has nearly doubled over the past 35 years, even though the total number of hurricanes, including weaker ones, has dropped since the 1990s. Katrina was a Category 4 storm when it hit land. Rita was a Category 5 on 22 September.

In the four weeks that the world's press has put a magnifying glass on Katrina and Rita, typhoons in Asia and floods in Europe and India have left ruin and death in their wake. A warming world will bring more destructive storms like Rita and Katrina, as well as increased outbreaks of malaria, the prospect of massive crop failures, desertification and sea level rise.

While everyone on the planet is at risk from global warming, impacts are felt more severely by the most vulnerable, including the sick, aged and poor. And the developing world will suffer far more than those who can afford to subsidise rebuilding.

If the evacuation of Louisiana and Texas looked difficult, imagine the entire country of Bangladesh having to flee rising waters into Pakistan. Imagine entire island nations of the Pacific having to find new homes.

"Rita and Katrina are merely warnings of what our world will look like if we fail to treat climate change as the emergency it is. They're the calm before the storm, and unless the US government wakes up to the danger and responds, we'll need an evacuation plan for planet Earth." Greenpeace International executive director, Gerd Leipold.

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