IT’S only five in the morning and yet Josephine is already awake. She doesn’t mind the cold weather of December. She has to clean her vegetable garden since a lot of weeds have been growing near the crops. She needs to plant some eggplants and tomatoes, too, since what she planted previously are already dying.
“I have to wake up early since my children have to go to school before seven in the morning,” the 30-year-old mother of three and lives in Baguio District in Calinan, Davao City. “I have to cook their meals before they wake up.”
Some 500 meters away from the garden is her husband Allan, who is tilling the rice fields. It’s only two hectares but it is the source of income for the family. He is almost done with his work and soon he will be planting rice.
“My rice production has gone low,” Allan says. “I really don’t know why. I have been planting rice since I was a teenager and had been following the usual technique in raising the crop. There are instances that I have to plant a little bit late since rain has become scarce. There are also months when it keeps raining.”
Allan may not know it but he is talking about the weather pattern gone crazy. Environmentalists blame this phenomenon to climate change. “Climate change is an environmental threat unlike any the world has faced,” writes Christopher Flavin in his book, Slowing Global Warming: A Worldwide Strategy.
Climate change is caused by an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere through human activities. Greenhouse gases refer to carbon dioxide and other industrial gases.
Noel Grove, author of “Air: An Atmosphere of Uncertainty,” which appeared in National Geographic, explained for the role of carbon dioxide in heating the world: “Like panels of glass in a greenhouse, carbon dioxide allows most solar radiation to penetrate the atmosphere but prevents part of the heat radiated by land and bodies of water from escaping into space. As carbon dioxide accumulates, enough heat may be trapped to gradually warm the atmosphere.”
The World Bank lists the Philippines as one of the top 12 countries “at highest risk to climate change.” Droughts, floods, storms, rising sea levels, and greater uncertainty in agriculture were the reasons cited why the country was among included in the top list.
Of the five main threats, “the Philippines leads the list of nations that is most in danger of facing frequent and more intense storms,” says Rita T. dela Cruz, of the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report states that the changes in Southeast Asia between 2010 and 2099 are as follows: increase in temperature from 0.72 degrees Centigrade to 3.92 degrees Centigrade; change in precipitation from -2 percent to 12 percent; and global rise sea level from 18 centimeters to 59 centimeters.
For its part, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has already warned the public of extreme weather condition characterized by significant increase in hot days and warm nights, extreme rainfall activity, and significant increase in annual mean temperature.
In the last decades, the number of typhoons that entered the Philippine area of responsibility has increased from 15 to 20 per year. Tropical storms Sendong and Pablo have given Filipinos some ideas of the worst things to come. Super typhoon Yolanda, according to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II is “the new normal.”
Once a strong typhoon unleashes its fury, millions of buildings and infrastructures are destroyed and hundreds of people are killed. Much less, food production is also imperiled.
“Despite the technological advances in the second half of the 20th century, agriculture remains to be one of the most vulnerable sectors to climate change,” notes Apple Jean C. Martin in a policy advocacy.
“Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change,” the policy report of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) agrees. “Higher temperatures eventually reduce yields of desirable crops while encouraging weed and pest proliferation. Changes in precipitation patterns increase the likelihood of short-run crop failures and long-run production declines.”
“Climate change is more disastrous to the agricultural industry of the Philippines and its neighboring countries than in other parts of the world,” warned Dr. David Street of the US Argonne National Laboratory.
The Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) reported that climate change could reduce rice yields. Although its study showed that rice could benefit from higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, an increase in temperature would “nullify any yield increase.”
According to the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), about 5-7 percent decline in yield of major crops in the Philippines is attributed to climate change.
“The yield reduction is caused by heat stress, decrease in sink formation (number of spikelet per unit ground area), shortening of growing period, and increased maintenance for respiration,” said the line agency of the Department of Science and Technology.
Since 1980, the Philippines has been experiencing an increase in annual mean rainfall, and since 1990, an increase in the number of rainy days. There was also an increase in inter-annual variability of onset of rainfall in the past decades. “This erratic rainfall pattern has greatly affected the planting schedule and other activities of the farmers,” the PCARRD said.
Think globally, act locally, environmentalists urge. “Human survival and environmental preservation must always be in the forefront of our concerns,” Martin writes. “Beyond statistics, predictions, and abundant yet unconsolidated researches, climate change efforts must translate into something that would directly help the people cope with the impacts of climate change.”
And the sooner these are done, the better. “Science teaches us that if we act decisively and collectively, soon we can manage global change,” BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar surmises. “The sooner our act on this, the cheaper it will be for the country.”