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A Typhoon and the Elephant in the Room


Each time a super-storm occurs – which, in case you haven't noticed, is much more often these days – we seem to focus our collective attention, if for just a moment, on climate change and the fact that we're doing very little to address what may prove to be the great challenge of this century. Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines this weekend, again has most of the world reluctantly looking at the great, big, giant elephant in the room. Let's just hope that from its devastation, we can find the will to actually do something.

Climate-change deniers will quickly point out that even scientists will acknowledge that it's near impossible to trace the cause of any one particular storm to global warming, and will then likely proceed to argue with the 97 percent of peer-reviewed scientists who believe climate change has been caused predominantly by mankind. However, years of intensifying severe weather events have made it increasingly difficult to keep a straight face while doing so, especially if you are not receiving funding from an industry with a vested interest in such denials.

However, as the planet undeniably continues to warm, the difference between sea and air temperatures increases, acting as a sort of turbo charger to cylconic storms. As ice caps melt and sea levels undeniably continue to rise, the potential devastation of storm surges at the coastlines obviously rises right along with it.

If there can be such a thing as fortuitous timing in such a horrific tradgedy, it might be the fact that it occurred while world leaders were gathering in Warsaw, Poland to try and create a more effective treaty on global warming during UN climate talks.

There is also a 29-page summary of the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's upcoming report on climate change scheduled for release in March that was just leaked to the public. The doomsday description of food, water, disease, miltary and displacement problems that top scientists predict in the near future as a result of climate change will give Warsaw attendees even more to chew on.

Given the fact that it was leaked right around the same time that the strongest recorded tropical cyclone to make landfall (with wind speeds up to 195 mph) killed somewhere around 10,000 human beings, while displacing 800,000 more and causing almost a billion dollars in damage, one would hope that world leaders could find the will and courage to finally begin making meaningful efforts to adapt to our quickly-changing global human habitat.

Of course the first problem with making serious adjustments is that it threatens greater changes in the way of life for those most responsible for increasing the greenhouse gasses that compound climate change. Meanwhile, the price for a planet ravaged by severe weather is disproportionately bore by those who have had the smallest carbon footprint, namely the poor, small, second and third world countries who are also least capable of adjusting to the changes in agriculture, water supply, fishing and disease fluctuation that come with our changing climate.

It is already estimated that rising sea-levels alone will displace millions of people and render many of the tropical coastal habitats (such as much of Miami) all but uninhabitable. Harvests for crops like wheat, rice and corn are projected to decrease by as much as 2 percent every decade, while population and food demand continue to rise. Potable water supplies continue to shrink as demand grows, though the only major attempts to do anything have been on Wall Street, where they are busily buying up public water rights and real estate near giant aquifers, predicting that it could be the next boom commodity.

If there are any historians left to chronicle our demise, they will likely be particularly critical of the here and now, a time when despite every warning sign smacking us in the face time and again, our “leaders” spent infinitely more time arguing over spending levels that amount to little more than a rounding error in our gargantuan budget, than they did on ways we might address such an infinitely more pressing issue. I hope the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan serves as a wake-up call, but I'd be lying were I to claim to be optimistic.


Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.


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