This week as we remember the horrors of Ondoy from two years ago, the Philippines is again battered by another storm—typhoon Pedring. I write this column amid howling winds and a power outage (I am hoping I can finish before my computer’s battery is drained). Classes in all levels as well as government work in the National Capital Region and other danger-stricken areas have been suspended.
Just two weeks ago, Filipino environmentalist Rodne Galicha from the Haribon Foundation and Friends of the Earth Philippines talked about extreme weather patterns in his presentation for 24 Hours of Reality, an event of the Climate Reality Project founded and chaired by former United States Vice President Al Gore. The event was broadcast online to a global audience of 2.6 million.
Galicha spoke on behalf of people from the Solomon Islands who, like Filipinos, are especially vulnerable to the effects of a warming globe.
(The recorded video presentation of Hour 9, Galicha’s presentation, and the 23 other hours may be accessed through www.climaterealityproject.org)
24 Hours of Reality sought to communicate the “full truth, scope, scale and impact of the climate crisis” to mobilize global citizens to do their part. It is possible, say the organizers – just as it was possible for the Berlin Wall to come down and for people of all skin colors to live side by side in America. Gore is worried that if we do not do something today, future generations, suffering from the mess we have created, would say: “What were you thinking? Why didn’t you connect the dots?”
Galicha started his presentation by connecting all the extreme weather patterns felt all over the world to the warming of the global temperature. It is nice to imagine a world free of floods, drought, floods, heat waves and other environmental disturbances, he said. But that world is not where we are. This is the reality: Extreme weather conditions occur like never before. Storms are bigger, pour harder and more frequently. Droughts are longer and deeper. You have places where the temperature goes up to more than 50 degrees Celsius. These wreak havoc not in any particular part of the world, but everywhere. Think “new normal” is a fancy, superfluous term? Think again.
The link has been established by scientists all over the world. Galicha launched into an uncomplicated explanation of the hydrological cycle that we were all taught in grade school science, the one where water evaporates and precipitates. “As the temperature increases, the oceans evaporate more moisture into the sky,” he said.
Galicha went on citing the works of scientists: With an additional 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature, the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water rises by seven percent. Right now, there is already 4 percent more water vapor over oceans than there was 30 years ago. This is why the extremes are getting even more… well, extreme.
Galicha acknowledged the existence and the arguments of climate skeptics and outright “deniers.” For example, some United States politicians say that solar activity—not the accumulation of excess carbon and methane in the atmosphere—was responsible for global warming. He then presented findings that there was no correlation between solar activity, which has remained relatively flat over the past centuries, and the increase in temperature.
And then, skeptics also say that scientists merely rely on computer models. Galicha then showed 12 separate and distinct sets of data—from ocean air temperature to glacier volume to stratospheric air temperature—that significantly showed that humans caused global warming. Worse, skeptics say that the warming trend has stopped. Galicha then showed four major independent records all saying that the warming has not stopped—and that, in fact, it is getting worse.
In the grand scheme of things, temperatures have risen and have fallen many times before. True, but this is the first time this has happened with human civilization present. What is also scary is that this is the first time it is happening so fast.
Deniers’ favorite tool is ridicule, Galicha pointed out. Their objective is to position global warming as theory, rather than fact. But ridicule is nothing compared to a collective global effort as seen in numerous initiatives. Galicha then identified various projects from all over the world, from the installation of solar panels to the adoption of wind technology.
Then again, more needs to be done. First, speak up: Don’t let deniers win the debates. Don’t allow them to get away with ridicule. Make your voice heard in traditional and social media. Second, deepen your commitment: Make choices that lessen the energy consumed. Consider the environmental impact of items you buy. Third, don’t give up: Lobby with leaders and decision makers to prod them into action. Let them know that you will support them only if they act responsibly towards the environment.
A few days after his presentation, Galicha gamely answered my follow-up questions regarding his presentation and the climate issue in general. Some Philippine businessmen seem cool to the idea of mitigation and decreased reliance on coal-fired power plants. The idea is, why mitigate when the Philippines is a low carbon emitter anyway?
He says that the climate crisis is global and the solution is global. “While it may be right not to focus on mitigation but rather on adaptation and resiliency, we should not forget the other side of mitigation which is a call for climate justice. With this, we are not only decreasing our emission contribution but also pressuring countries to decrease theirs.”
Galicha also warns against hypocrisy. How can we ask other countries to lower their emissions when “we continue opening up coal-fired power plants, stripping our mountains for minerals to let stored carbon/methane free and transport the ores to large countries (hence, continue emitting more carbon for processing and transportation), killing vegetation and cutting trees which absorb carbon dioxide, and converting forests and agricultural lands into large monoculture plantations?” Indeed, the “present administration is caught between the issues of economy and ecology.”
Finally, does he think that the Aquino administration is committed to addressing the effects of climate change? “The Climate Change Commission has been doing its job. President Aquino MUST sign National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP). However, commitment does not end with another commitment. The present administration should learn from the failures of the Arroyo administration especially when our negotiation experts like Bernaditas Muller were rejected to participate in the Cancun negotiations. I appreciate the openness of this government to the participation of the civil society movements such as Aksyon Klima and Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.”
There is no more room for denial. The reality is that the climate problem, its consequences and dilemmas, are here to stay. The question is how well—and how soon – we can stand up to the challenge.
Manila STANDARD Today
CHASING HAPPY By Adelle Chua
September 28, 2011