Why does it happen and why should you care?

December 5, 2006

For the past few months, our country has been at the bitter end of battering storms that wreaked havoc and deaths to a lot of our countrymen.  While many of us have accepted this as a seasonal occurence, a lot more still doesn’t comprehend why it has to be.  After such tragic events, we are almost always faced with the difficult prospect of rebuilding lives.  While we cannot discount the eagerness of fellow kababayans to help, i guess it is time to look at these events in a different perspective… something similar to the paradigm where it is better to be “a problem finder than to be a problem solver.”  Let me share an article that i hope would add clarity to what i mean here…

By Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan

“Hundreds have died.  Thousands have lost their homes.  The damage to infrastructure and business will run into the Billions.  The level of economic dislocation is massive, and continuing.  All this came from one typhoon. 

What is happening?  Put simply, the interaction between hot and cold temperatures dictates weather patterns.  As the planet surface warms, therefore, the violence of this interaction increases as well.

The well-known “hockey stick” graph of earth’s temperatures establishes, beyond doubt,that we are going through an exponential leap in global temperature.  The ever-increasing frequency of El Nino episodes further underscores this change.  The 40 Million Filipinos, who depend on agriculture for their primary source of income, know this.

Greenhouse gas is responsible for warming the planet. Among the GHGs, carbon dioxide is the main culprit.  The burning of fossil fuels, primarily oil and coal, for energy or transport are the main sources of carbon dioxide.  As the economies of the world continue to expand, so do their outputs of carbon dioxide.  This is creating the new weather patterns that plague our world.

These patterns are already clearly evident in the Northwest Pacific.  Over the last 13 years, the percentage of NW Pacific storms that developed into catastrophic Super Typhoons has risen from 17% in 1994 to 33% this year.  This information is public information.  It is on the Web.  Extreme weather is here.

In the Philippines, the peak months of the typhoon season, over the last 9 years, still seems to follow the historical pattern, i.e., July to September.  In fact, the frequency of typhoons has actually decreased.  But, frequency is not really what we should be worried about.  We should be looking at impacts.

The experience with Typhoons Milenyo and Reming establish that even a single storm of this magnitude causes sufficient dislocation and damage to erase a decade of investment and development throughout an entire region.  One storm, at the wrong place and at the worst time, can cripple a nation.

Looking at typhoon strengths, the picture is different, and frightening.  Below 930 mbars, typhoon winds normally exceed 200 kph.  I looked through the Web once again.  Specifically, I noted the number of months with storms that exhibited barometric pressure readings below a dangerous 930 mbars.  This figure seems to have suddenly increased alarmingly – over the last 4 years.  From one to two months per year in the period before the late Nineties, PAGASA data seems to show that, between 2003 and 2006, we had catastrophic typhoons up to six months per year.  Barometric pressure readings in the high to mid 800s are no longer uncommon.

Profound shifts in the planet’s weather are spawning a Sisyphean challenge whose far-reaching and persistent impacts threaten to put the global debt crisis to shame. More and more countries now find themselves trapped in a cycle of futile and interminable rehabilitation – one painful step forward, followed by three steps back.

These are new and formidable challenges the national balance sheets of the world can ill afford. There is no question that we must do whatever we can to alleviate human suffering.  Ad-hoc relief and rehabilitation initiatives, though necessary, will not solve the problem.  There simply isn’t enough money to pay for endless repair.  The National Disaster Coordinating Council is at a loss over how to respond to Billions of Pesos in calamity fund requests, when they are allowed only an annual allocation of P750 Million.

The region and the planet demand a proactive and strategic solution that effectively excises this cancer and prevent it from recurring.

Climate change has emerged as the driver of a new and sinister iteration of poverty.  Here in the Philippines, we have been paying $150,000 a day for a debt incurred to build a nuclear plant that has never produced power.  With extreme weather events, we face a similar black hole.  Billions will be spent each year simply to repair and restore productive capacity that should have been contributing to development and our national wealth.

It is becoming evident that the effects of global warming are a breeding ground for new instabilities, and inequities.  After all, some areas will be hit more severely than others.  The 35 Million Filipinos who depend on seafood as a primary source of protein will feel this more than others. Uncertainty and inequitable access to resources are oftentimes the root of new conflict.  Without stability, there can be no substantial development.  Without a manageable level of predictability, there will be less and less new investment.  Global warming is not merely an environmental or health concern, it is also the most serious political, economic and social threat that faces our country and the entire planet.

Climate change changes everything.  The effort to arrest it, therefore, should involve everyone.  A reactive approach does not solve the problem.  We must strive to manage this strategically and pro-actively.

Energy efficiency should be made a rallying cry for all sectors.  An enabling environment for renewable energy should be established and its use mainstreamed.  The Renewable Energy Bill must be passed.  Technological solutions that contribute to clean and efficient energy should be identified, promoted, widely distributed and encouraged.  All major profit-making technologies that continue to release greenhouse gas should be held accountable for the true cost of mitigation.  Mass transit should be promoted, and private transport options be made to pay for the extra privilege.  National development initiatives, and precious limited resources, should prioritize sustainable, weather-insulated activity, and align to climatological reality.  If we hope to provide a good life for our children, basic adjustments have to be made now.

For years, people throughout the world have spoken out against the injustice of foreign debt as it hamstrung developing nations.  The 33 Million Filipinos who survive on less than $2 a day have lived with this all their lives.  Global warming is equally unjust, but many times more debilitating.  Much of it is climate debt that industrialized nations have incurred on our behalf over the last century.  Whoever is to blame, this challenge can no longer be ignored.  We are all going to have pay for it, sooner or later.  Science seems to indicate that we can still manage global climate.  The sooner we act decisively on this, the cheaper it will be.

We started it.  We can stop it.  We must.”

By the way, several NGOs are already in the thick of things to source out help from wherever they could get it and extend it to the needy in whatever way possible…  time to once again reach out and offer our helping hands. 


2 Responses to “Why does it happen and why should you care?”

  1. emily Says:

    author failed to explain what a layman could do to help. Words written for educated people cannot possibly reach the people who are most affectred by the events cited in above article. These are the people who does not have internet access, does not have access to newspaper, watch only TV if wowowee is on, and would prefer to spend their money for food rather than books.

    big words does not create solutions, action does.

  2. ojiels Says:

    hello emily! thanks again for dropping by…

    The author, Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan is an active member of World Wide Fund for Nature which is a global conservation organization (please see http://www.wwf.org for more details) and has been with this organization for the longest time already. I would like to believe that he knows exactlly what he’s talking about and that he can “walk the talk” so to speak.

    From the way i understood his article, it was actually meant for those people who in one way or another, can directly influence positive changes or initiate reforms in terms of conserving this little place we call earth… such people or organizations who have the resources to initiate programs and/or educate this “not so educated people” as you so eloquently described.

    I would like to consider it as an “advocacy” at the very least. So i think that it is not entirely accurate to state that “words… cannot possible reach the people who are most affected…” Much as love moves in mysterioys ways, words can move people to action.

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