Ending This Climate Madness

October 15, 2013

By Alisa Zomer

Even before the climate negotiations began this week, Typhoon Haiyan sent a message to the world – a message that is still making waves. The strength and trajectory of Typhoon Haiyan was unprecedented, even for the Philippines, an island nation that experiences more disasters than most. In response, the lead Filipino negotiator declared a fast for the duration of the climate negotiations until progress has been made to “stop this madness.”

I spent last summer in Manila, Philippines researching the policy dimension of climate change and cities, so this plea for action hits home. For decades, climate scientists have predicted an increase in storm intensity and weather extremes due to anthropogenic climate change. Yet, when this prediction becomes reality, people run to the scientists asking for the latest science and exact empirical evidence. So, does Typhoon Haiyan represent the “new normal”?

The truth is that it is extremely difficult to link specific storms to the larger climate change phenomenon. On the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies’ informal Facebook page, we engaged in a lengthy debate on the state of the science after Haiyan. One student posted a helpful metaphor that likens specific storm incidents to a baseball player hitting a home run on steroids. While drugs enhance performance, one cannot be sure that the steroids caused the home run. The same is true with climate change and specific storm events. In the case of the Philippines, understanding changing trends is key to preparing for a changing climate. And, I urge that we make better use of local experts and scientific knowledge in the Philippines to understand what is happening.

While those in Warsaw attempt to link local and global realities, the recovery effort in the Philippines struggles to address immediate needs. My roommate from Manila, Golda Hilario, is part of a rapid assessment team with Oxfam Philippines, working hard to provide relief and recovery to the areas hit by Haiyan. She writes on Facebook, “had a sip of hot coffee, and a half cup of warm noodle soup…such luxury!” and updates her family and friends with photographs of the reality on the ground. It is not the traditional sensational media of despair and destruction, but the tedious, back-breaking work of locating survivors and helping put lives back together.

As I head to Warsaw, these images accompany me as a reminder of why addressing climate change is important and what the future holds. Athena Ballesteros, climate finance expert and part of the Philippines delegation, stated in a recent article that “with every crisis comes opportunity” and collective action and responsibility is needed. I echo this sentiment and hope negotiators will break inertia and take risks.

For my part, as a Yale Climate and Energy Institute fellow, I am organizing and participating in a workshop with Yale and UNITAR on human rights, climate, and governance and presenting my research at a side-event “Implementing Article 6: New Dynamics of Climate Change, Education, & Adaptive Instruments” on Monday, November 18. Follow my coverage of #COP19 @azomer