Sunday, May 30, 2004

May 31, 2004

Climate change.

Suddenly, because of a movie, so many are now talking about the greatest threat that the planet has ever faced.

The Day after Tomorrow is science fiction but global warming is real. Will the movie end up trivializing the impacts of climate change and thus increase indifference? Or will it spur more people to take action? Too early to tell.

Is reality more frightening than Hollywood? With nature there are no special effects; only consequences.

In China, up to 64 percent of glaciers are projected to disappear by 2050, putting at risk up to a quarter of China's population who are dependent on the water released from the glaciers.

Today in the Arctic, ice thickness has declined by over 40 percent and "an area larger than the Netherlands is disappearing every year." According to scientists, Arctic sea ice could melt entirely by the end of the century.

Ice cores from Svalbard glaciers in the Arctic region show that the 1900s "were by far the warmest century" in the last 800 years.

Between 1998 and 2001, the Qori Kalis glacier in Peru has retreated an average of 155 meters annually - a rate three times faster than the average yearly retreat from 1995 to 1998, and 32 times faster than the averae yearly retreat from 1963 to 1978.

Just southeast of Mount Everest, in the Himalayan Khumbu Range of Eastern Nepal, the Imja Glacier has been retreating at a rate of close to 10 meters annually. It is but one among many glaciers currently in rapid retreat. According to Syed Iqbal Hasnain of the International Commission for Snow and Ice, "Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world. If the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 is very high." Over two billion people depend on the glacier-fed flow of the rivers from the Himalayan mountains.

In the region of Patagonia, icefields have lost 42 cubic kilometers of ice every year for the last seven years - the equivalent to the volume of ten thousand large football stadiums the size of Wembley stadium.

The scientific journal Nature published this year the findings of 19 eminent biological scientists - climate change will "commit to extinction" between 18 to 35 percent of all land-based animal and plant species.

According to leading reinsurance companies such as Munich Re and Swiss Re, climate change related damages will cost $150 billion annually within a decade. The companies warn that unless action is taken today, the insurance industry could go bankrupt as extreme weather events such as storms and droughts increase in severity and frequency.

Over 20,000 people died in Europe last year as a result of an extreme heat wave.

In Alaska, average annual temperatures have risen by 5 degrees since the 1960s.

The incidence of diseases such as malaria and dengue borne by insects that thrive in warm temperatures are anticipated to register manifold increases in a number of years.

An eight-year study conducted by 100 scientists showed that in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, sea levels are projected to rise by 30 centimeters by 2030. According to another study, sea levels may rise by 30 to 70 centimeters by the end of this century. The long coastline of China forms the base for about 70 percent of its large cities, where nearly 60 percent of the national economy is located. Some studies suggest that a 30-centimeter rise in sea levels will typically result in a 30-meter retreat in shoreline. How serious will the effect be on archipelagic countries such as the Philippines?

"Climate change," said Sir David King, Chief Scientific Adviser to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, "is the most severe problem that we are facing today - more serious even than the threat of terrorism."

Great as the problem of climate change is, what is most often neglected is the fact that solutions are readily available. Solutions that, sadly, are just not being used. Solutions that can prevent climate change from taking a more deadly and unpredictable course. Solutions that are not only immediately beneficial to the environment but immensely economically advantageous as well. The global wind industry alone, for instance, has been enjoying growth rates of over 30 percent per year for the last five years.

We all know what the problem is - burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. And we know what we have to do - generate our energy from clean, safe renewable energy.

The time for indifference is over.

We should no longer tolerate the lie that the Philippine government is doing its part in fighting climate change because, it says, compared to other countries, the Philippines today supposedly has one of the highest shares of renewable energy in its total energy mix. Our government will not volunteer the fact that this is so only because the Department of Energy continues to count twigs and charcoal as "new and renewable energy."

We must demand real change, beginning with the displacement of polluting coal with clean energy.

Measurable, time-bound development of renewable energy with real and ambitious targets are needed today if we are to contribute to saving the global commons and if we wish to avoid the devastating impacts of climate change. We must demand nothing less than an energy revolution.

Taking action the day after tomorrow may well be too late. Actua ya. Act now. El dia es hoy.

The day for action is today.

1. "Scientists probe fall of Yulong glacier," Tang Min, China Daily, May 13, 2004. According to the report, the Chinese Academy of Sciences "concluded in a research report that the [glacial] shrinkage is a direct result of global warming ... There are 8,600-odd glaciers of various scales in the country's temperate zones, of which the one on the Yulong Snow Mountain is of the smallest scale and the lowest latitude, and therefore, should be the most sensitive to temperature changes. If the shrinkage of the Yulong glacier speeds up, so will a number of Chinese glaciers in the near future."
2. "Rising Sea Level Threatens Pearl River Delta," Shenzhen Daily, July 29, 2003.
3. "Global Warming Accelerates China's Sea Level Rise," Xinhua News Agency, April 12, 2002.
4. For a good introduction to glacier-related impacts, go to the impacts page of the Greenpeace climate campaign at the Greenpeace International website. Click on Svalbard and Patagonia URLs concerning recent Greenpeace expeditions.
5. For references to the Philippine Department of Energy's (DOE) laughable "renewable energy" twigs and charcoal, see the Philippine Energy Plans issued by the DOE in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. A minor Philippine irony is that Vince Perez, the man sitting today at the helm of the DOE and who is at present the most aggressive coal peddler in the country, once upon a time fashioned himself as an environmental supporter. On the other hand, beneath Perez is DOE Undersecretary Ed Manalac, a former oilman who worked as an executive of the U.S. oil industry for a number of years and who is now the biggest supporter of renewable energy in the Philippine government.

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