San Francisco -- 2008 is only half over and we have already seen multiple examples of the dangers people face from major storms and extreme weather. With unheard-of floods devastating communities throughout the Midwest and hundreds of fires burning in Northern California, we are repeatedly seeing calls for financial and physical rescue from natural disasters. And now hurricane season is upon us. With fresh, visceral images of past Category-5 hurricanes in our minds, many forecasters have predicted another active storm season for the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard regions.
There really can be no surprise. The World Bank Group reports the number of natural disasters is on the rise -- from around 200 per year between 1987-1997, to double that between 2000-2006. Floods are occurring more often, and affecting a larger land area than they did 20 years ago. Large scale disasters -- like the 2003 heat wave in Europe and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 -- are also happening with greater frequency. The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), the internationally recognized authority on global warming, has warned us that the carbon dioxide that's already in the atmosphere will cause the climate to change for the next 40 to 80 years and that more natural disasters are inevitable. Earlier this week, NASA's Dr. James Hansen, a recognized authority on global warming, linked this year's floods in the Midwest and wildfires in the West to global warming.
So what can we do to protect ourselves? Remember that protecting nature protects people. Development decisions directly affect our quality of life, but more than that, where we build and how we build will directly affect our health and safety. More than half the U.S. population lives near the coast. These communities, and others at risk, must prepare for the inevitable consequences of global warming.
This is why Sierra Club has partnered with PLAN!TNOW, the hurricane and storm-related disaster relief organization led by Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman. Together with PLAN!TNOW, the Sierra Club is distributing a series of Public Service Announcements designed to encourage people living in hurricane and severe storm affected areas to act now, before the next big storm hits, to reduce their risks and save lives and property. The PSAs also urge communities to protect and restore their first line of defense -- the barrier islands and wetlands that serve as buffers against storm winds and sponges to soak up storm waters.
Protecting the environment can protect people, but only if people get prepared.