Philippines Storm and Climate Change

Super typhoon Haiyan: survivors walk past a ship that lies on top of damaged homesThanks to the BBC (again), we can watch in near-real time as desperate masses of Filipinos struggle to stay alive without water, food, or health care. The “super-typhoon” that hit them is possibly the biggest storm ever recorded.

On the other side of the world, in Poland, an international conference got underway to try to negotiate about precursors to a possible agreement to someday set targets to reduce the growth of the rate at which we are adding carbon to the atmosphere. The Philippine delegate cut through all that with an emotional speech that electrified the room, linking the devastation in the Philippines to the world’s failure to prevent climate change. “We can fix this. We can stop this madness,” he pleaded. He began fasting until the conference takes effective action.

The media coverage of this storm and other recent weather destruction always warns us that no particular weather disaster can be attributed to climate change. This is technically true, but misleading. If you are sitting on the beach while the tide is rising, you will notice that some waves come up much higher on the beach than others, unpredictably, and with no relation to the tide. But over time, for certain, your picnic is going to get soaked. Same thing with planet Earth – our picnic is for certain going to be completely soaked if we continue on our current path.

People wonder if the recent weather disasters will be the “new normal.” The answer is definitely no. The new normal will be far, far worse. The trends that will play out over the next few decades have only just begun. This is just a little taste of a future that will be truly catastrophic, barring a major change in the direction of human civilization.

The massive denial about climate change that now pervades our collective consciousness is reminiscent of the “nuclear numbing” of the public during the Cold War. We were aware of such matters as nuclear war planning, but their logical consequences were too horrible to look at. So we delegated the uncomfortable core issues to experts and policy makers, who could treat the issues surgically, with acronyms and euphemisms. The nuclear freeze movement upended that arrangement, and I wish the same would happen for climate change. The experts and policy makers are not solving it. The international governance institutions are not up to the job. And, embarrassingly, my own dear United States is on the wrong side of the issue, emitting way more than its share of carbon and failing to lead the push for change, indeed even undermining the world’s feeble efforts such as the Kyoto Protocol (unratified by the USA).

Climate change is the overriding moral issue of our time. So when I say the USA is on the wrong side of the issue, I mean the wrong side of history.

[Donations to help the people in the Philippines can be made through one of these groups.]

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