Superstorm Haiyan: ‘A Climate Nightmare’ in the Philippines
“I am deeply concerned that the scale of our actions is still insufficient to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. People now face and fear the wrath of a warming planet.”
There was reason for alarm in Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s words to the UN Climate Conference in Warsaw, Poland. The conference began just two days after the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall hit the Philippines, leaving a trail of devastation.
Rather than presume to tell you about Typhoon Haiyan and its terrible toll, I would like to excerpt from the address made by the Philippines lead negotiator at the Warsaw Conference, Yeb Sano. His words are an eloquent testimony to the resiliency of the human spirit, and a clear challenge to each and every one of us to rouse ourselves from any complacency we may have regarding this profound crisis of our moment in history.
Here are Yeb’s words:
With an apparent cruel twist of fate, my country is being tested by this hellstorm called Super Typhoon Haiyan, which has been described by experts as the strongest typhoon that has ever made landfall in the course of recorded human history. It was so strong that if there was a Category 6, it would have fallen squarely in that box. Up to this hour, we remain uncertain as to the full extent of the devastation. The initial assessments show that Haiyan left a wake of massive devastation that is unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific, affecting 2/3 of the Philippines, with about half a million people now rendered homeless, and with scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of a tsunami, with a vast wasteland of mud and debris and dead bodies
Despite the massive efforts that my country had exerted in preparing for the onslaught of this monster of a storm, it was just a force too powerful, and even as a nation familiar with storms, Super Typhoon Haiyan was nothing we have ever experienced before, or perhaps nothing that any country has ever experienced before.
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. 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; to the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, and the Nile where lives and livelihoods are drowned; to the hills of Central America that confronts similar monstrous hurricanes; to the vast savannas of Africa, where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water become scarce. Not to forget the massive hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard of North America. And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.
The science has given us a picture that has become much more in focus. The IPCC report on climate change and extreme events underscored the risks associated with changes in the patterns as well as frequency of extreme weather events. Science tells us that, simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms. As the Earth warms up, that would include the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the Philippines will increase the intensity of typhoons and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm.
This will have profound implications on many of our communities, especially those who struggle against the twin challenges of the development crisis and the climate change crisis. Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change.
Superstorm Haiyan is a climate nightmare—carbon pollution is driving more frequent and intense storms which are devastating vulnerable communities. New realities require new politics, I urge you to stop the sad tradition of feet-dragging on commitments to cut pollution, and breaking promises on finance. We must acknowledge the new climate reality, and put forward a new system to help us manage the risks and deal with the losses to which we cannot adjust. I call on you to stand with the Filipino people by taking major steps forward on these issues at the Warsaw climate talks. The question that will determine our survival is: Can humanity rise to the occasion? I still believe we can.
Here in the United States, the Dominican Sisters’ Conference has made a serious commitment to study and reflection on the phenomenon of global climate change, in an effort to refine our responses—as individuals, congregations, and as a national conference. We do so guided by these words from the Dominican Sisters’ Conference Mission Statement:
Acting both globally and locally, the Dominican Sisters’ Conference places the transforming grace of the Dominican charism at the service of our world and Church, especially in responding to the cry of the poor, and to the urgent need to preserve Earth’s integrity.
As we prepare to celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving, let us continue to be mindful of the plight of the people of the Philippines, and grateful for the conditions of relative peace and calm that make it possible for us to engage in deep prayer and reflection on what might be our contribution to the common good of Earth and her Peoples in the light of this terrible tragedy. And in order to do this with integrity, perhaps we need to pray that the transforming grace of the Dominican charism will touch our own lives more deeply.