On Dec. 12, 2000, the United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision that was judicially flawed and politically dubious, decided in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), that a recount of votes in Palm Beach County, Fla., could not go ahead, effectively making George W. Bush the President of the United States.
The world has been paying for that decision for 12 years and 11 months. The Philippines in particular paid for it again, beginning at 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 8 when Tropical Storm Haiyan slammed into the city of Tacloban in Leyte Province, killing at least 2,357 people. The Philippine Red Cross estimates that 22,000 are still unaccounted for.
George Bush began his presidency as a denier of climate change and finished it eight years later without taking any action to attempt to ameliorate the globe’s rising temperatures. He has been followed by President Barack Obama, who in addition to continuing the two foolish and reckless wars that Bush started, has largely continued this inaction. Like or dislike Al Gore he was preoccupied with climate change and determined to act on it if he had been elected President.
The world has lost 13 years in combating climate change. The United States, with the world’s biggest economy and arguably the world’s greatest influence on other nations, abdicated its responsibility.
So what we get is heart-wrenching and infuriating images of a stunned and stupefied people stumbling through the ruins of their country, without food, without shelter, without the means to bury their dead. Meanwhile, the rich, comfortable and prejudiced listen to quack scientists make spurious arguments to deny that the burning of fossil fuels has any effect on the climate, that carbon trading or taxes on energy use are too expensive to be borne by the richest nation on the planet.
As Asia Sentinel reported on Nov. 13, the commitment of the developed nations to pay for adaptation to climate change is diminishing, not rising, in the face of what are clearly rising weather calamities. A paper by Oxfam, the UK-based global aid and development charity, found that 24 developed countries have still not confirmed their climate financing to aid poor countries for 2013. “For 2014, the situation is even worse,” the report concluded.
The United Nations Talks on Climate Change have been occurring this week in Warsaw. They will run over the next two weeks in what undoubtedly will be another failed effort to get developed nations to get real about climate change.
Yeb Sano, the head of the Philippine delegation to the talks, gave a bleak and emotional speech in which he broke down in tears. He linked what he called the “staggering devastation” in his home province of Leyte to climate change and said he will fast until participants in the conference make what he called “meaningful progress.”
“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness,” he said. His words are worth quoting:
“I speak for my delegation, but I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm. I speak also for those who have been orphaned by the storm, I speak for those people now racing against time to save the survivors and alleviate the suffering of the people who have been affected. We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life. Super typhoon Haiyan, perhaps unknown to many here, made landfall in my family’s home town and the devastation is staggering. I struggle to find words even for the images we see on the news coverage, and I struggle to find words to describe how I feel about the losses. Up to this hour, I agonize waiting for word for the fate of my very own relatives. What gives me strength and great relief is that my own brother has communicated to us that he has survived the onslaught.”
Scientists – reputable ones, not the lunatic fringe– are still unsure whether warming oceans produce super typhoons. The evidence is circumstantial. But it is believed that as the density of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases like methane increases in the atmosphere, sea temperatures rise – as do sea levels, which means storm surges will rise like the one that took out Tacloban – and New York last year with Hurricane Sandy and New Orleans in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina.
Since satellite measurements began in 1993, seas have been rising annually by about 3.2 millimeters or just over one-tenth of an inch. 2013 is also on track to become one of the top 10 hottest years on record. The first nine months of the year were about 0.48 degrees centigrade warmer than average, meaning 2013 so far is tied with 2003 as the seventh hottest year since the start of measurements in 1850, according to the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization.
The International Panel on Climate Change, in its most recent report, warned that storms will get more powerful. Physics implies a connection between the temperature of the ocean and the intensity of storms and that indeed there is an upward trend in total wind energy generated by tropical storms.
There is also an element of racism in this. Largely privileged Western nations are condemning this planet to disaster while the poor and the brown suffer inordinately as the waters rise and the winds get stronger.
Those who deny climate change are living in some sort of intellectual and scientific vacuum that infuriates those of us who live in, work in or have loved ones in the island nations that are threatened by what Sano called “this madness.”
This is the last message we received from one of our family. It means “the wind is starting” in Waray, the regional dialect of Leyte.