By Henrylito D. Tacio
Geird Leipold, international executive director of Greenpeace, pointed out: “Climate change is the biggest environmental issue because it threatens to be disastrous. It will not only directly affect our climate. It will severely affect human beings and the ecosystem. We will have millions of people suffering from it.” To which UN weapons inspector Hanx Blix adds, “I’m more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict.”
Signs are everywhere. In the Philippines, typhoons and persisting weather disturbances are now a common reality even a few weeks before Christmas. In 2004, some experts blamed the erratic climatic condition for the series of landslides and floods that wrought death and destruction in the central and southern Philippines. The disasters killed more than 200 people on the islands of Panaon, Leyte, Mindanao and Bohol shortly before Christmas.
“I believe that the weather-related disasters we are having are due to global climate change,” noted Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III, executive director of the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Marine and Aquatic Research and Development. “The unusual heavy rains we are experiencing are an indication of this. I am not a meteorologist but I think a holistic and comprehensive study is needed to integrate all of the influencing factors so we can come up with a realistic and rational rain-induced disaster mitigation and preparedness program.”
For years, scientists have wondered if global warming – spurred by the burning of fossil fuels – would worsen severe weather events such as hurricanes, drought and tornadoes. Now, a high-resolution computer model shows that during a future global warming, the winds of western Pacific typhoons might blow up to 12 percent faster than present-day storms.
If global warming persists, it could breed rougher, tougher typhoons in the western Pacific, according to Thomas R. Knutson and two colleagues in a report which appeared in the journal ‘Science.’ The western Pacific, they explained, could be ravaged by a nastier generation of the torrential windstorms, gushing gales faster than the worst hurricanes on record.
In the Philippines, a super typhoon left Bicol a totally-wrecked province recently. Just a few days before Christmas, people were complaining of “being warm” instead of “being cold.” “December is usually the month when we invite our relatives and friends abroad to come home for a visit because the weather is supposed to be perfect; temperature is just right; humidity is not a problem; heavy rains and typhoons are completely unheard of,” commented Dr. Rafael R. Castillo, a medical columnist for a national daily.
Global warming refers to an increase in average global temperatures, which in turn cause climate change. “To completely understand why global warming happens, it is important to know that our atmosphere, which is made up of gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide as well as water vapor, has a profound influence on Earth’s surface temperature,” explains the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C.
Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane absorb heat, thus reducing the amount that escapes back to space. “As the atmosphere absorbs heat energy,” Worldwatch notes, “it warms the oceans and the surface of the Earth. This process is called the greenhouse effect. Without this effect, the Earth’s atmosphere would average about 50 degrees Fahrenheit colder, making it impossible to sustain life on Earth. Rising levels of heat absorbing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase global temperatures (called global warming).”
Carbon dioxide – released when we burn fossil fuels to produce electricity, use gasoline in our cars, or switch on our natural gas stoves for cooking – has been singled out as the biggest factor in changing the Earth’s climatic conditions.
Since 1750, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 31 per cent — from 280 parts per million (ppm) to about 367 ppm today. Even if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are eventually stabilized at quite modest concentrations, sea levels will continue to rise “for more than 1,000 years,” said Jason Lowe of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in the United Kingdom.
Although people may adapt to gradual climate change, the effects of extreme rain and flooding are often broad, devastating, and costly to society. Landslides, avalanches, and flooding damage infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and buildings, and hurt agricultural productivity because of lost crops and soil erosion. Disaster relief often requires enormous funding, and the loss of human life may also be high.
Already, climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of natural disasters and the trend is likely to continue, according to a report compiled by Pier Vellings and Willem van Verseveld of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the Vrije University in Amsterdam. The report says global temperatures will increase, sea levels will rise, and few places in the world will be spared an increase in violent rainstorms, droughts, tropical cyclones and other climatic disruptions.
“On the basis of a systematic analysis of observed changes in average temperature, precipitation patterns and intensity, sea level, snow and ice cover, ocean and atmosphere circulation patterns, and ecosystems behavior, we conclude with reasonable confidence that we are now experiencing the first effects of the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” the two researchers pointed out. “At least part of the observed changes should be attributed to human-induced climate change. This implies that at least part of the damage caused by weather extremes is due to human-induced climate change.”
“Global warming is more disastrous to the agricultural industry of the Philippines and its neighboring Asian countries than in other parts of the world,” said Dr. David Street of the US Argonne National Laboratory.
In a bid to slow global warming, scientists have suggested the curtailment of fossil fuels to reduce carbon dioxide emission. Global warming could also be slowed down, they believed, by curbing the rate of deforestation and increasing carbon sinks through the help of oceans which extract carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into carbonates.
Think globally; act locally, so they say. “We can pledge to do our part to conserve energy and pollute less,” the Worldwatch suggests. “Whether at home, on our commute to work or school, or at the store, there are things we can do to lessen our impact on climate change.”
“The issue is not stopping global warming – this will almost certainly not be possible within most of our lifetimes,” notes Worldwatch’s Christopher Flavin. “Rather, the challenge is to slow the production of greenhouse gases immediately, so as to avoid the most sudden and catastrophic climate changes. If trends continue unabated, only radical, draconian measures would be sufficient to save the climate later on.” — ###