Ten climate experts who are sharply divided over whether global warming is intensifying hurricanes say that this question, a focus of congressional hearings, news reports and the recent Al Gore documentary, is a distraction from “the main hurricane problem facing the United States.”

That problem, the experts said Monday in a statement, is an ongoing “lemming-like march to the sea” in the form of unabated coastal development in vulnerable places, and in the lack of changes in government policies and corporate and individual behavior that are driving the trend.

Whatever the relationship between hurricanes and climate, experts say, hurricanes are hitting the coasts, and houses should not be built in their path.

But coasts are attractive places to live, and political pressures on states and Congress tend to result in discounted insurance costs for property in harm’s way, the statement said.

The scientists added that reimbursement for losses can spur more building in the wrong places. “Federal disaster policies,” they said, “while providing obvious humanitarian benefits, also serve to promote risky behavior in the long run.”

“These demographic trends are setting us up for rapidly increasing human and economic losses from hurricane disasters, especially in this era of heightened activity,” they concluded, stressing that a storm like Hurricane Katrina or worse “was (and is) inevitable even in a stable climate.”

Full article here.