CLIMATE CHANGE: ENDING POSSIBLE APOCALYPSE

“We are encouraging all government agencies and offices and local government units to establish rainwater collection systems, protect our biological diversity, adopt energy efficiency measures, undertake tree planting and mangrove reforestation, implement ecological solid waste management, among other ways. With all these provisions under the law, the government has to take the lead. It should ensure that all agencies are given technical and financial support to cope with the warming climate. It should embark on a massive information and education campaign so that people would know the effects of climate change and their responsibility in preventing a worse scenario.” – Senator Loren Legarda

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The scene seemed to come out straight from a Hollywood movie, The Impossible, except that it didn’t happen in Thailand but in the Philippines, particularly Compostela Valley, during the time when typhoon Pablo (international name: Bopha) struck the province in 2012.  

As onrushing water held them captive, Rogelio Saging held tight his three young children with his eldest son Rudyard close behind.  His wife Violeta was also trailing them.  But the current was so strong; the water was loaded with silt, gravel, boulders and clumps of fallen trees that they almost lost their hope of surviving.  

Then, the unthinkable happened.  The parents saw how a fallen coconut tree hit the head of their third-year high school son Rudyard and carried him away from their grasp.  All was chaotic after that; they, too, were swept away by the strong current of flood.  

Around 2 in the afternoon, it was a joyful and tearful reunion as the parents had found all four children all well – except for Rudyard, who was in a very critical condition.  Rescuers had found him barely clinging to his life. Rogelio had only few precious moments to talk with his dying son before his torn and mangled body finally gave up.  

This real-life story is just a preview of what will happen in the future as more intense typhoons will hit the country. 

Respected scientists claim typhoons can hit the Philippines anytime of the year, with the months of June to September being most active, with August being the most active individual month and May the least active.

Normally, the Philippines experiences typhoons of up to 20 a year.  In recent years, stronger typhoons have become more frequent.  “The Philippines has long been particularly vulnerable to extreme weather,” reports the Climate Reality Project.  “But in recent years, the nation has suffered from even more violent storms…  And over the past decade, these tropical storms have struck the nation more often and more severely, scientists believe, because of climate change.”

Government officials contend that a destructive typhoon season costs the country two percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).  In addition, another two percent is needed to rebuild the infrastructure lost.  As such, it puts “the Philippines at least four percent in the hole each year from tropical storms,” deplored the non-profit organization founded by Nobel prize-winning Al Gore.

That’s not all, especially if agriculture is included.  As an archipelagic country, agriculture plays a vital role in providing around 30% of employment.  In 2013, agriculture contributed 10% of the country’s total GDP, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

“Recent natural disasters significantly affected crops and livestock resulted to severe loss in agricultural production including human lives,” NEDA reports in its website.  “Climate change worsens the economic situation and food security among others of the Filipinos.”

These days, climate change is already a “day-to-day problem,” observed President Rodrigo R. Duterte.  “Climate change is not a typhoon that visits your country once or twice a year,” he said in his speech during the recent Asia-Pacific Healthy Islands Conference held in Davao City.  “Climate change is a day-to-day problem.”

As such, he is wondering why the American president Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement, which the country ratified in March 2017.  “I have to fathom the reason or even the rationale of the withdrawal,” Duterte pointed out.  “Is it because it cannot work hand in hand with other nations?  Or is it because Trump would like to do it alone?”

During the virtual leaders’ summit of the recent Climate Vulnerable Forum, Duterte urged industrialized nations to help developing countries to fight climate change.  “Climate action and ambition must be shared and demonstrated by all nations,” he said in a statement released to media.  “I call on industrialized nations to significantly reduce their carbon emissions and provide assistance to developing nations in terms of finance, capacity building and technology transfers, as urged by the Paris Agreement.”

Duterte blamed industrialized countries for the current state of the world’s increasing temperature.  If these countries would not be “compelled to follow the Paris pact to reduce greenhouse emissions and keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels,” he said it would be a “farce.”

Climate change is for real and it is already happening.  American veteran journalist Bill Becker, a senior official at the US Department of Energy, wrote: “Scientists and ‘alarmists’ have warned us about this for decades, but most of us were deniers to some degree, dismissing climate change as something far away, like dark clouds on the horizon.

“Now people are calling this the ‘new normal,’ which proves they still don’t get it. There is no more “normal”. The climate will continue to change, often in unexpected ways, because of carbon pollution from decades ago. It will continue getting more violent because we are still putting that pollution in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly how bad it will be. We are not experiencing a new normal; we are experiencing the end of normalcy.”

The Philippines, with more than 7,000 islands, is one of the most vulnerable countries.  “Climate change is one of the most fundamental challenges ever to confront humanity,” the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) reminds.  “Its adverse impacts are already being seen and may intensify exponentially over time if nothing is done to reduce further emissions of greenhouse gases.

“Decisively dealing now with climate change is key to ensuring sustainable development, poverty eradication and safeguarding economic growth,” said the weather bureau, a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology.  “Scientific assessments indicate that the cost of inaction now will be more costly in the future.”

It was Dr. James E. Hansen, of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), who first raised the problem of global warming. In 1988, he told an American Senate hearing that “the greenhouse effect is changing our climate now.”

In a Reader’s Digest article, author Robert James Bidinotto, explains greenhouse effect in these words: “When sunlight warms the earth, certain gases in the lower atmosphere, acting like the glass in a greenhouse, trap some of the heart as it radiates back into space. These greenhouse gases, primarily water vapor and including carbon dioxide, methane and man-made chlorofluorocarbons, warm our planet, making life possible.”

“The global warming is very simple,” said Dr. Robert Watson, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “We are increasing emissions of greenhouse gases and thus their concentrations in the atmosphere are going up. As these concentrations increase, the temperature of the earth rises.”

“While human activities during the past century have damaged a long list of nature systems, most of these problems are local or regional in scope and can be revered in years to decades if sufficient effort is exerted,” Christopher Flavin wrote in his book, Slowing Global Warming: A Worldwide Strategy. “Changes to the earth’s atmosphere on the other hand are global and irreversible not only in our lifetimes but in our children’s and grandchildren’s as well.”

According to the fact sheet published by the Climate Change Commission (which was created under Republic Act 9729), there are two main approaches to address climate change: adaptation and mitigation.

On adaptation, the fact sheet explains: “In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities.  In natural systems, the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate.”

On mitigation, the fact sheet gives this explanation: “Technological change and change in activities that reduce resource inputs and emissions per unit of output and implementing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance sinks.”

So far, the Philippines has achieved only two types of actions in terms of levels of climate change adaptation, namely: resilience-building and climate-proofing.  This is according to Dr. Rosa T. Perez,  a research fellow at the Manila Observatory.

In resilience-building, the country has been addressing the adaptation deficit, such as to diversify livelihood activities according to the variable conditions of the place. It also ventures into crop insurance and other agricultural innovations on irrigation, as well as adapt seasonal forecasting and early warning systems to reduce the effects of disasters.

Climate-proofing, on the other hand, is adapting to incremental changes by strengthening structures and natural shields and protections. This would include upgrading drainage systems to accommodate greater runoff, adapting shorter cropping systems in areas with more frequent visits of natural disasters, and estimating periods of greater water stress and heat extremes.

Something must be done now before it is too late.  As Katherine Richardson, a climate scientist at the University of Copenhagen, puts it: “We have to act and we have to act now. We need to realize what a risk it is they are taking on behalf of their own constituents, the world’s societies and, even more importantly, future generations.”

“Without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought,” warned Chris Field, coordinating lead author of the IPCC report.