Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation of the Philippines came as the UN’s conference on climate change kicked off in Warsaw, Poland. The Philippines’ lead negotiator, Yeb Sano, whose hometown took a direct hit from the storm, gave an emotional plea for global action on climate change, at times choking back tears, for which he received a standing ovation. If you watch Al Jazeera America, you saw the video and were as touched as I was. (If you watch MSNBC, CNN, network news or, God forbid, Fox, you saw some dog-and-pony-show bullshit on who’s running for president in America in 2016).
As Sano expressed so emotionally in his address, the Philippines have been tested not once but twice by extreme storms powered by climate change’s warming seas. He had a stark reality check for those who still deny what is so painfully obvious to everyone else in the world:
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 becomes 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.
Disasters are never natural. They are the intersection of factors other than physical. They are the accumulation of the constant breach of economic, social, and environmental thresholds. Most of the time disasters are a result of inequity and the poorest people of the world are at greatest risk because of their vulnerability and decades of maldevelopment, which I must assert is connected to the kind of pursuit of economic growth that dominates the world; the same kind of pursuit of so-called economic growth and unsustainable consumption that has altered the climate system.
What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness.
We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.
I’ve been saying for years that right-wing narcissism/xenophobia has fueled so much climate denialism in the rank-and-file: hey, the weather is nice in my hometown! Must be fine everywhere, so shut yer yaps!
And yet, every year around this time I make my annual donations to the American Red Cross, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Oxfam International, etc. related to one natural disaster or another. The fact that last year we had Hurricane Sandy and this year we’ve had two extreme typhoons just months apart should tell you something right there. Each new storm is more severe than the last; each super-storm and super-typhoon leaves more death and devastation in its wake.
I’m not sure that Sano is right. I’m not sure that we can stop this madness. Personally, I think it’s already too late. Now is the time to batten down the hatches and prepare for the consequences of our profligate ways.
But Sano is right, it is madness. And the people who suffer are usually the poorest nations of the world, the ones whose stories go uncovered by American corporate media, which is more interested in presidential politics than stories about real people.
In the meantime, people are suffering. Please consider donating to one of the groups I’ve mentioned above, or your own relief agency of choice.