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Invitation to suicide

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CEBU CITY — “Christmas left and New Year just started,” the profusely sweating gentleman griped, as we queued at the muggy pharmacy. “Then why does it feel like summer?”

Indeed, it is blistering summer in what should normally be cool January. Most Filipinos haven’t kept track of what the climate change meeting in Cancun discussed. But many are puzzled. Why didn’t they have to bundle up for Misa de Gallo?

Dust off those sweaters in February instead. Global warming has shifted what used to our coolest time by a good two months. The National Academy of Science reveals an incremental increase of heat even in the 1990s.

Just after this Christmas, World Meteorological Organization stated that that “2010 will probably be among the three warmest years on record”. The years 2001 through 2010 will go into the books as “the warmest decade ever”.

Temperature spikes triggered more “frequent and extreme weather events, from snow blizzards in the US East Coast to more typhoons from the Pacific, and droughts in South Asia.

In the Philippines, warming of sea water, stemming from El Niño episodes, unleashed coral bleaching on a scale that has staggered marine biologists. El Nido reefs once had 60-70 percent coral cover that supported flourishing marine life. But the 1997-1998 El Niño bleached coral cover down down to five to 10 percent.

Up to now, El Nido has not fully recovered after the devastating coral bleaching event. “Nationwide, the 1998 coral bleaching event decreased live coral cover by as much as 49 percent.

The sea surface temperature in Bolinao, Pangasinan, ranged between 34.1 °C to 34.9 °C. That savaged clusters of giant clams. “ The altered chemistry of warmed sea water also trigger algal blooms. The resulting “red tides”caused red tides, as well as fish kills.

That is devastating for a country where more than half (51.8 percent) of fishing households live below the poverty line, former NEDA chair Cielito Habito pointed out. That’s double the “overall national poverty incidence ( 26.9 percent).

“Fishermen in Western Visayas and Mindanao are generally poorer compared to those in other regions,” adds Ateneo de Manila’s Roehlano Briones.

One of the more significant studies is Global Climatic Risk Index of 2011. Compiled annually over the last 19 years, it reveals the Philippines ranks seventh, among 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Drawn up by Germanwatch, the list wedges the Philippines between Haiti on one end, and the Dominican Republic on the other. We are among the top 10 countries most exposed to disastrous climate change impacts.

CRI analysis is anchored on “quantified impacts of extreme weather events”.The list is confined to countries that signed up with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Over almost two decades, the Philippines suffered an average of 821 deaths yearly. Climate-related damages ratcheted to US$ 684 million. The index reveals the country suffered the maximum deaths from extreme weather conditions in 1991. Maximum damage was inflicted in 2008.

The Philippines landed in the top 10 of climate risk index since 2006. Other countries dubbed as “most vulnerable“ include Bangladesh, Myanmar, Honduras, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Haiti, India, Dominican Republic, and China.

The index supplements the 2007 Greenpeace report The Philippines: A Climate Hotspot. It forecasts sea-level rises and pinpoints 64 out of the 81 provinces as vulnerable. A “conservative one-metre rise in sea level could compel 1.5 million Filipinos to seek higher ground.”

Sulu and Palawan are pinpointed as the two most exposed provinces. Others are Northern Samar, Zamboanga Sibugay, Basilan, Cebu, Davao, Bohol, Camarines Sur, and Quezon.

From an international perspective, “ocean swelling” could well swamp countries Tuvalu and Nauru in the South Pacific and Mali in Africa. “Sea level rise is so terrifying, people just don’t want to think about it,” says Marshall Islands Jorelik Tibon.

The earth’s polar caps and other frozen areas, meanwhile, are in retreat. But the thinning Arctic sea ice does not explain why the world’s major cities — New York, London and Frankfurt — shiver through colder winters.

Turn our attention instead to the snow in Siberia, suggests Judah Cohen in New York Times. Seasonal snow cover increased across high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Siberia.

’The high topography of Asia, the jet stream, the sun’s energy pushes cold air south from the Arctic on the east side of the Rockies. Cold air from Siberia spills south into East Asia and even southwestward into Europe.

“That is why the Eastern United States, Northern Europe and East Asia have experienced extraordinarily snowy and cold winters since the turn of this century,” even as the globe warms.

Filipino politicians don’t think about such issues for different reasons. Most are ecological illiterates. This intellectual bankruptcy explains a dearth of local initiatives. It is an invitation to suicide.

“The sheer number of people being dessicated, drowned, or displaced,” Worldwatch Institute cautions, “stresses the need for understanding that ecological issues are central to the future of human life.”

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