DN Editorial: Stormy future

Posted: November 15, 2013

EARLIER THIS week in Poland, the United Nations opened its 19th Framework Convention on Climate Change. Given the unimaginable devastation wrought on his country three days earlier by Typhoon Haiyan, the remarks of the delegate from the Philippines had a special resonance.

"To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of your armchair," said Naderev "Yeb" Sano. "I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian Ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods, to the Arctic, where communities grapple with the fast dwindling polar ice caps . . . "

That this was the 19th such annual event, and it's still about the "framework" of an agreement, suggests that Sano should not hold his breath.

No nation on Earth has more to fear from its climate than the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands and 98 million souls. The climate has always wrought havoc there. Now it's getting worse.

Storms have the entire Pacific Ocean to draw strength from. The Philippines sit astride shifting tectonic plates that have spawned 13 magnitude-6.0 or higher earthquakes since 2001. The latest was a magnitude-7.2 quake that struck the city of Bohol just four weeks ago and killed 222 people.

Since 2002, the Philippines have recorded 184 natural disasters, including an average of six typhoons (as hurricanes are known in the Pacific) each year. The storms are becoming more frequent and more intense. Haiyan, the 30th named storm of the 2013 Pacific season, is the most powerful typhoon ever to hit land.

Residents had been warned of the wind, but the shocking 19-foot storm surge may have swept thousands out to sea. Estimates of the dead range between 1,200 and 10,000. Thousands of people have simply disappeared.

The question here, thousands of miles away, is "So what?"

We can write checks, and should, but we've got our own natural disasters - flood, drought, tornadoes and (knock wood) the New Madrid Fault. We've got earthquakes in our hemisphere (Haiti 2010) that haven't been cleaned up yet.

Benign neglect and a succession of corrupt governments didn't build the infrastructure that might have helped mitigate the effect of Haiyan. Now, climate disasters are coming so fast that the Philippines can't catch up.

And maybe not the rest of us, either. If we're wise, the Philippines will be the canary in the global coal mine.

Without serious, sustained attention and the kind of sacrifices in lifestyle that few nations seem prepared to make, every coast will feel what the coasts of the Philippines felt. Perhaps not as violently, but every bit as surely.

Occasionally, the Daily News runs editorials from other sources. This first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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