our climate ‘madness’

November 19, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan aftermath in the Philippines

Images of Haiyan’s destruction (above) are dreadfully similar to those of Hiroshima (below).//Haiyan photo from european pressphoto agency

Today and every day, our burning of fossil fuels traps excess energy in our atmosphere equal to that of 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. Or 16,700 Hiroshimas every hour, 278 Hiroshimas every minute.

One of those energy bombs hit the Philippines this month in the form of Supertyphoon Haiyan.

Hiroshima atomic bomb damageNo wonder, then, that photos of Haiyan’s devastation look eerily similar to those from Hiroshima. No wonder the mayor of one town said, “It was like a nuclear bomb struck us.”

Our energy imbalance is the mismatch between the solar heat the Earth absorbs and what it radiates back to space, NASA scientist James Hansen has explained. The Earth’s atmosphere is out of balance, overloaded with heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels. So, global temperatures continue to rise and our climate continues to change, creating warmer and more acidic oceans, superstorms like Haiyan, “rare and violent” tornadoes, “freak torrential” rainstorms, persistent drought, melting glaciers, disrupted seasons. 

For a second year, a deadly typhoon shattered the Philippines just as U.N. talks on a global climate treaty were opening, this year in Warsaw. For a second year, Yeb Saño, now the chief climate negotiator for the Philippines, pleaded with the world to “stop this madness” of the climate crisis, of climate inaction. He also announced that he would start fasting: “[I]n solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home and with my brother, who has not had food for the last three days, with all due respect, Mr. President, and I mean no disrespect for your kind hospitality, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate. This means I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this [meeting], until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”

Ted Glick, national campaign coordinator for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in an article published last week in Grist.org that he has joined the fast. “I woke up on Tuesday to find my mind and heart focusing on the Philippines and on Yeb Saño’s action. I was pleased to learn that [Climate Action Network] International had taken this initiative in support, and I’ve decided to join their fast in solidarity with him, eating no solid food and consuming only liquids for as long as his fast continues. Others may want to join and fast for a day, a few days or until the end of the climate conference,” said Glick, who participated in the Walk for Our Grandchildren (WFOG) over the summer. (Glick also forwarded a YouTube video of Saño’s address edited with scenes from the Philippines.)

Soon other WFOG participants had joined, for a day or longer, including walk organizer Steve Norris, Deborah Woolley in Seattle, Jenny Lisak, whose organic farm lies near fracking operations in Pennsylvania, and Jerry Stewart, who will participate in the Great Climate March from Los Angeles to the nation’s capital starting in March.

The damage from this Category 5 “hellstorm,” the strongest to make landfall ever recorded, is “unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific,” Saño said last week. Bodies are rotting in the streets and people are desperate for food, water and shelter. He didn’t know the fate of some of his relatives, and his brother was weary, hungry and “picking up bodies with his own hands.” At times tearful, he urged swift action on climate change during the talks, which end Friday

Repeating his pleas from last year’s climate talks in Doha, he said: “ ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?’ … What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. Mr. President, we can stop this madness right here in Warsaw. … We need an emergency climate pathway.”

He urged “drastic action” to “ensure that we prevent a future where supertyphoons become a way of life …  We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, counting our dead become a way of life. We simply refuse to.”

He also said he feels drawn to join climate activists “who peacefully confront those historically responsible for the current state of our climate, these selfless people who fight coal, expose themselves to freezing temperatures or block oil pipelines. In fact, we are seeing increasing frustration, and thus more increased civil disobedience. … To the youth here who constantly remind us that their future is in peril, to the climate heroes who risk their life, reputation and personal liberties to stop drilling in polar regions and to those communities standing up to unsustainable and climate-disrupting sources of energy, we stand with them. … We cannot solve climate change when we seek to spew more emissions.”

Exactly. We can’t solve climate change if we raze old-growth forests and boil out the tar sands oil and pipe it around the world. We can’t solve climate change if we drill for oil deep under the ocean floor or in the Arctic. We can’t solve climate change if Dominion gets permission to spew more emissions from a facility at Cove Point and export liquefied fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale to Asia. We can’t solve climate change if we frack with freshwater mixed with toxic chemicals for gas under Maryland’s western counties. 

We have been dismal caretakers of our planet in countless ways. Climate change and its close cousins, pollution and habitat loss, along with overfishing, have us on the verge of the sixth mass extinction. (Already, 90 percent of large fish species are effectively extinct.) We are decimating our only home, our life-support system. Our oceans are filling up with bits of plastic, derived from natural gas, while oxygen-supplying phytoplankton has dropped 40 percent since 1950.  The World Meteorological Organization says 2013 is on track to become among the warmest since records began in 1850. “All of the warmest years have been since 1998, and this year once again continues the underlying, long-term trend,”  said Michel Jarraud, the group’s secretary-general. “The coldest years now are warmer than the hottest years before 1998.” Concentrations of greenhouse gases “reached new highs in 2012, and we expect them to reach unprecedented levels yet again in 2013. This means that we are committed to a warmer future,” he said. By warmer, he means disastrous.

As Saño says, time to stop the madness.

–elisabeth hoffman



One Response to “our climate ‘madness’”

  1. Dan Helfrich said

    I agree completely; the madness of using the atmosphere as a cesspool for our fossil fuel waste has to stop. So many of us in Maryland are Philippines Islanders and don’t even know it. Thank you so much for publishing this. You should send this in a letter to the editor of the local paper.

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