Thursday, April 3, 2014

Humans breed killer typhoons, say some experts

The devastating ferocity of Super-typhoon “Yolanda,” which struck central Viasayas last November 8, sent many experts and scientists back to the drawing boards.

 'Ring of Fire' exposes most vulnerable spots

Thousands are dead and, for the millions of poor people who survived, the arduous task of rebuilding lives begins.

 It will take tens of billions of pesos to undertake the massive work of reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Breeding monsters

For the long haul, the tasks seem overwhelming.

Scientists believe we are breeding the monster typhoons by our wanton destruction of the environment.

The world is getting warmer, humans are causing it, and governments must take action quickly to stop it, a United Nations panel said in its report in September 2013, barely two months before Yolanda struck.

Humans cause climate change

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said it was 95 percent certain that humans were the cause of global warming. 

As a result of climate change, the panel also warned of a higher risk for heat waves, floods and droughts.

The scientific panel predicted temperatures would rise another 0.3 to 4.8 degrees Celsius (0.5-8.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century and sea levels would rise between 26 and 82 centimeters (10.4 and 32.8 inches) by 2100.

Sinking towns

Scientists had warned in an earlier report that unless we were able to keep global warming below the estimated tipping point of 2.5 degrees Celsius over the next few years, rising sea levels from melting ice will swamp 60 percent of Philippine coastal towns, where more than half the population lives.

A quick scan of the Philippine map shows that most communities ring the islands because fishermen derive their livelihood from the sea.  

Scientists believe that small island states in the oceans could go under water earlier than expected because of rapidly warming climes. 

Summer floods

In Australia, a 30-foot rise in three river systems created an inland sea the size of Germany and France, flooding 40 cities and towns and displacing some 200,000 people in 2011.

In 2010, freakish summer floods wrought havoc in China and Pakistan, while a massive summer heat wave ignited roaring forest fires in Russia, causing damage in the billions of dollars. 

These are some of the drastic effects of climate change, the UN scientists warned. Unless we are able to turn back the tide of global warming, loss of habitat and mass extinction of species may be irreversible.

We have the power

Ironically, the UN scientists noted, the world has the resources and the technology to avert climate catastrophes. It’s the political will that’s missing, observed the UN IPCC, co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, together with environmental advocate Al Gore. 

Experts say the number of people affected could double in seven years and reach as high as 200 million once the global warming tipping point is breached. 

The numbers could swell as refugees flee flooded homes, parched lands, typhoon-ravaged areas, and disaster-prone countries in Africa and Pacific island nations including the Philippines.

Hunger stalks the land

The UN climate panel estimated that from one billion to three billion people would suffer drinking water shortages by 2080 and between 200 million and 600 million would go hungry.  

The exhaustive study by some 2,500 scientists from 100 countries found that the Earth was indeed growing warmer from human-caused emissions of so-called greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal. 

These gases form a cover around the globe like a giant greenhouse, trapping the sun’s heat and increasing surface temperatures.

Fossil fuels must be curbed

Farmers along the equator will suffer decreasing crop yields due to drought, the UN panel said. 

Environmental activists and scientists said the first volume of the panel's long-awaited review, released in Stockholm, Sweden on Sept. 27, made it clearer than ever that fossil-fuel burning must be urgently curbed to limit future damage to the climate system.

In a report summary, the IPCC said it was "extremely likely" – a term meaning it was 95% convinced – that humans caused more than half the warming observed over the past 60 years. In its last report in 2007, the panel had rated its conviction at 90%.

'Alarm clock moment'

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said the report's release was "an alarm clock moment for the world."

"To steer humanity out of the high danger zone, governments must step up immediate climate action and craft an agreement in 2015 that helps to scale up" efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, she said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also urged strong action, labeling the report "yet another wakeup call.”

‘Playing with fire’

"Those who deny the science or choose excuses over action are playing with fire," he said in a statement.

The IPCC document is the first volume in a trilogy summarizing the status of global warming and its impacts. The panel has delivered four previous assessment reports in its 25-year history.

Each edition has pounded out an ever-louder drumbeat to warn that temperatures are rising and the risk to the climate system – in drought, floods, storms and rising seas – is growing.

'Ring of fire'

The panel's projections for 2100 are based on computer models of trends in heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, especially from coal, oil and gas, major energy sources today.

The Philippines is most vulnerable because it lies smack in the Pacific typhoon belt and the archipelago consists of over 7,000 islands sitting on top of the volcanic/earthquake belt called 'the ring of fire."

(Additional climate change analysis for the Philippines was supplied by the author’s management consultancy think tank; e-mail

Photo credit: Pacific "Ring of Fire,"


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