Tropical depression

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By Mags Z. Maglana

The Point Being

Friday, December 20, 2013

PAPADOMAKA Dominic Gamboa, front musician of the Filipino reggae band Tropical Depression, hung up his guitar with finality the day before his 48th birthday and the day after the last full moon of 2013. He succumbed to kidney failure, ending a thirty-year musical career that urged us to "ilabas n'yo na ang kalokohan" (from the hit song "Bilog na naman ang Buwan") and got people of all ages and persuasions dancing.

In the typology of tropical cyclones, which classifies occurrences based on associated winds, tropical depressions are considered weak low pressure disturbances with maximum wind speeds of 63 kilometers per hour. Higher up on the scale are tropical storms, and finally typhoons. It has been said that Yolanda and Pablo were super typhoons.

These musings about tropical depressions were also triggered by the visit of John Kerry, United States Secretary of State, to the country. Secretary Kerry visited Tacloban City and in an on-site media briefing graphically described the effects of the typhoon. He went on to pledge additional US support in the amount of US$24.6M for the rehabilitation of Yolanda-affected areas.

But in a joint media briefing on December 17 with our very own Department of Foreign Affairs, Kerry expressed doubts about the connection between climate change and Yolanda saying “…science cannot prove that Typhoon Yolanda was specifically the result of climate change. It is not possible to make that direct linkage at this point in time, even though they are predicting greater intensity of storms, but over time a pattern will evolve, and that may become determinative.”

Kerry went on to say “Nevertheless, what we face today is sufficient to say that developed nations in the world need to take the lead in order to reduce emissions and begin to deal with this problem that lots of nations, like the Pacific Islands and others who haven’t caused anything, are feeling the consequences of.”

Whoa. What a powerful example of problematic logic, which can be summarized like this: “Yolanda was bad. Yolanda was not necessarily a result of climate change. We developed countries have to lead and begin to deal with carbon emissions. Other countries, which did not cause the problem, are feeling the effects.”

It is problematic thinking because while Kerry acknowledged the links between carbon emissions and climate change, and the culpability of developed countries, and that the effects are already being felt is recognized, Kerry -- using scientific proof as buffer --very specifically excluded Yolanda as an example of the effects of climate change. In a sense Kerry said “We developed countries are responsible for climate change. But not necessarily for Yolanda.”

The ability to be selective in application, and to fail to see connections between causes and effects appear to be part of the capacities of successful global politicians.

It is problematic because the US and other developed countries have yet to actually put their money where their mouth is with respect to climate change; that is, they have yet to commit to hardnosed measures that show that they are indeed leading and beginning to deal with climate change emissions.

I might actually copy John Kerry’s reasoning and say that medicine cannot prove that my blood pressure problems were specifically the result of my poor diet, lack of exercise, and a stressful environment; but over time a pattern will evolve and that may become determinative. Yes, that determinative pattern will become clearer to me when I am in my deathbed.

But believe it or not, Kerry’s statements actually show significantly improved thinking about climate change among politicians and scientists. In the late 1990s, the very idea of human-caused climate change was still being debated. More recently, the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) posted on its website that “Ninety-seven percent (97%) of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”

However, recognition does not necessarily translate into accountability, particularly the fiscal kind. Shortly after Yolanda, the United Nations convened a climate change conference in Warsaw, Poland called the Warsaw Climate Conference (or the 19th Conference of Parties or COP) which many activists charge ended up undermining the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) itself.

In protest, members of the Philippine delegation and other countries walked out of a consultation on loss and damage during the Warsaw Conference in the wake of the refusal of developed countries to commit to a mechanism that would compel them to finance the anti-global warming measures of developing countries.

Philippine climate change negotiator Naderev Saño said: “We had shown much flexibility in the negotiations, but it is clear that developed countries are not really prepared to help developing countries address loss and damage due to climate change.”

Saño who hails from Leyte and whose family was affected by Yolanda went on a voluntary fast during the Warsaw Conference to show solidarity with the victims of the typhoon, and vowed to continue until a“ meaningful outcome is in sight.”

In a statement posted on the Oxfam International website, NGOs and social movements who attended the 19th COP said “At the Warsaw Conference rich country governments have come with nothing to offer.”

Stepping back from all these, it would seem that developed countries like the US will not think twice about committing huge resources to post-climate disasters by way of humanitarian assistance, but will hedge and stall when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

Doing the former (emergency response) could be called being charitable; doing the latter (reducing greenhouse gas emissions and related measures to address global warming) would have been an act of upholding justice.

It seems that climate change is another arena where we are called on to work for justice -- climate justice.

The point being we should not forget Papadom’s and Tropical Depression's call in the song “Kapayapaan” – “lupang uhaw sa pag-ibig; naghihintay sa halik ng langit”. Our world, beset as it is with resource degradation and pollution, needs our care now. Politicians and scientists can debate all they want and play logicgames. But the rest of us cannot risk non-action and weak action lest the kiss of heaven would take on the magnitude of a supertyphoon.

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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on December 21, 2013.


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