Climate change and human extinction

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Climate change and human extinction--are you ready to be fossilized?


Climate change killed the dinosaurs. Will it kill us as well? Will we let it destroy the human race? This was the grim, depressing message that hung in the background of the Climate Change Forum hosted on Friday by the Philippine National Red Cross at the Manila Hotel.

"Not one dinosaur is alive today. Maybe someday it will be our fossils that another race will dig up in the future, " said Roger Bracke of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, underscoring his point that no less than extinction is faced by the human race, unless we are able to address global warming and climate change in this generation.

Bracke, however, countered the pessimistic mood of the day by saying that the human race still has an opportunity to save itself. This more hopeful view was also presented by the four other speakers in the forum.

Bracke pointed out that all peoples of the world must be involved in two types of response to the threat of climate change: mitigation and adaptation. "Prevention" is no longer possible, according to Bracke and the other experts at the forum, since climate change is already happening.

Last chance

The forum's speakers all noted the increasing number and intensity of devastating typhoons--most recently cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, which killed more than 100,000 people--as evidence that the world's climatic and weather conditions are turning deadly because of climate change.

They also reminded the audience that deadly typhoons have also hit the Philippines recently, particularly Milenyo and Reming, which left hundreds of thousands of Filipino families homeless.

World Wildlife Fund Climate and Energy Program head Naderev Saño said that "this generation the last chance for the human race" to do something and ensure that humanity stays alive in this planet. According to Saño, while most members of our generation will be dead by the time the worst effects of climate change are felt, our children will be the ones to suffer.

How will Filipinos survive climate change? Well, first of all, they have to be made aware that climate change is a problem that threatens their lives.

The easiest way to do this – as former Consultant for the Secretariats of the UN Convention on Climate Change Dr. Pak Sum Low told – is to particularize the disasters that it could cause.

Talking in the language of destruction, Pak and other experts paint this portrait of a Philippines hit by climate change: increased typhoons in Visayas, drought in Mindanao, destroyed agricultural areas in Pampanga, and higher incidence rates of dengue and malaria.

Sañom said that as polar ice caps melt due to global warming, sea levels will rise, endangering coastal and low-lying areas like Manila. He said Manila Bay would experience a sea level increase of 72 meters over 20 years. This means that from Pampanga to Nueva Ecija, farms and fishponds would be in danger of being would be inundated in saltwater.

Sañom added that Albay, which has been marked as a vulnerable area to typhoons, would be the top province at risk.

Sañom also pointed out that extreme weather conditions arising from climate change, including typhoons and severe droughts, would have social, economic and political consequences:

Ruined farmlands and fishponds would hamper crop growth and reduce food sources, typhoons would displace people, cause diseases, and limit actions in education and employment.

Thus, Saño said, while environmental protection should remain at the top of the agenda in fighting climate change, solutions to the phenomenon "must also be economic, social, moral and political."


Joyceline Goco, Climate Change Coordinator of the Environment Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, focused her lecture on the programs Philippine government is implementing in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Goco said that the Philippines is already a signatory to global agreements calling for a reduction in the "greenhouse gasses"--mostly carbon dioxide, chloroflourocarbons and methane--that are responsible for trapping heat inside the planet and raising global temperatures.

Goco said the DENR, which is tasked to oversee and activate the Clean Development Mechanism, has registered projects which would reduce methane and carbon dioxide. These projects include landfill and electricity generation initiatives. She also said that the government is also looking at alternative fuel sources in order do reduce the country's dependence on the burning of fossil fuels--oil--which are known culprits behind global warming.

Bracke however said that mitigation is not enough. "The ongoing debate about mitigation of climate change effects is highly technical. It involves making fundamental changes in the policies of governments, making costly changes in how industry operates. All of this takes time and, frankly, we're not even sure if such mitigation efforts will be successful. In the meantime, while the debate goes on, the effects of climate change are already happening to us."


A few nations and communities have already begun adapting their lifestyles to cope with the effects of climate change.

In Bangladesh, farmers have switched to raising ducks instead of chickens because the latter easily succumb to weather disturbances and immediate effects, such as floods. In Norway, houses with elevated foundations have been constructed to decrease displacement due to typhoons.

In the Philippines main body for fighting climate change, the Presidential Task Force on Climate Change, (PTFCC) headed by Department on Energy Sec. Angelo Reyes, has identified emission reduction measures and has looked into what fuel mix could be both environment and economic friendly.

The Department of Health has started work with the World Health Organization in strengthening its surveillance mechanisms for health services.

However, bringing information hatched from PTFCC's studies down to and crafting an action plan for adaptation with the communities in the barangay level remains a challenge.

Bracke said that the Red Cross is already at the forefront of efforts to prepare for disasters related to climate change. He pointed out that since the Red Cross was founded in 1919, it has already been helping people beset by natural disasters.

"The problems resulting from climate change are not new to the Red Cross. The Red Cross has been facing those challenges for a long time. However, the frequency and magnitude of those problems are unprecedented. This is why the Red Cross can no longer face these problems alone," he said.

Using a medieval analogy, Bracke said that the Red Cross can no longer be a "knight in shining armor rescuing a damsel in distress" whenever disaster strikes. He said that disaster preparedness in the face of climate change has to involve people at the grassroots level.

"The role of the Red Cross in the era of climate change will be less as a direct actor and increase as a trainor and guide to other partners who will help us adapt to climate change and respond to disasters," said Bracke.

PNRC chairman and Senator Richard Gordon gave a picture of how the PNRC plans to take climate change response to the grassroots level, through its project, dubbed "Red Cross 143".

Gordon explained how Red Cross 143 will train forty-four volunteers from each community at a barangay level. These volunteers will have training in leading communities in disaster response.

Red Cross 143 volunteers will rely on information technology like cellular phones to alert the PNRC about disasters in their localities, mobilize people for evacuation, and lead efforts to get health care, emergency supplies, rescue efforts, etc.

More work

Here in the country, concrete adaptation measures are yet to be actualized and mapped in a national axis. Some steps such as the use of bamboo stilts for houses in Pampanga as a measure against lahar flow could be replicated as an adaptation measure for climate change.

But aside from this, there is also the need to increase mobilization for actions against climate change in all sectors by raising the understanding of the said phenomenon among households. Local government units need to work closely with communities to achieve this.

In the climate change forum, the PTFCC expressed desire to enter into a partnership with the humanitarian body to strengthen its disaster response mechanisms, and to vitalize adaptation measures for all Filipinos across the country.

One can only hope that while climate change is very much in the minds of people, the PNRC and other concerned agencies will be able to mobilize Filipinos into correct action, and avert more death and destruction due to the effects of climate change.

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