A warming planet

ERNESTO F. HERRERA In a press statement, the Union of Concerned Scientists called the worlds attention to a number of extreme weather events that have been happening around the world this summer, including record flooding in Pakistan that has killed more than 1,600 people and displaced millions of others; the worst drought in Russia in decades, which has triggered wildfires and doubled the daily death rate in Moscow to about 700; and torrential rains in China, which have caused massive flooding and triggered landslides that have killed more than 3,000 people. In the US, several East Coast cities experienced record-breaking heat last month. So did our country last summer. The devastating heat, fires and floods we are seeing around the world this summer are consistent with trends that scientists say are caused by global warming, including temperature increases, increases in heavy precipitation in some parts of the world, and droughts in others, said the scientists of the UCC. According to NASA, 2010 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded. And the last decade - from 2000 through 2009 - was the hottest recorded decade since worldwide record-keeping began more than 100 years ago. While it may seem counter-intuitive, a warming planet generates more precipitation in regions that typically experience rain or snow. That is because a warmer atmosphere absorbs and retains more water from the soil and water bodies - lakes, rivers and oceans. Where storm clouds gather, the atmosphere typically has more water to dump, producing heavier-than-normal storms, the UCC said. Filipinos are, of course, no stranger to flooding and landslides. But climate change is not the only one to blame for our tragedies. It is literally and painfully obvious, most of all to the survivors of flooding and landslides that skewed public policies can also lead to the creation of disasters and the loss of lives and property. So before the next tragedy strikes our part of the world, even as we watch whats happening in Pakistan and China, we need to ask ourselves what steps we could take to prevent such calamities - and do them now. Vigorous national attention should be given to proposed reforms in public policy - to logging and mining, the rehabilitation of our rivers and waterways, the improvement of our weather forecasting. For instance, we have suffered one tragedy after another as a result of rampant logging, and yet we have done little to prevent the next tragedy. Administrations have responded in a reactive manner that did nothing to prevent further disasters. The Ormoc tragedy was followed by those in Surigao in 2003, in Aurora and Quezon provinces in 2004, in Ginasaugon, Leyte in 2006. These floods and landslides are not just natural but man-made disasters. They are rooted in poverty, corruption and environmental abuse, and for as long as we do nothing to significantly reduce these problems then history would keep on repeating itself. I dont know if Senator Loren Legarda refilled her bill for a total commercial log ban for the next 25 years, but now is the time to enact it in the new Congress. Ask the survivors of landslides and flooding. When interviewed, they all blamed loggers for what befell them. And they did not make any distinction between legal and illegal logging. As former Senator Orly Mercado said, the only difference between illegal loggers and legal loggers is that the legal loggers have political clout and thats the reason they can get the timber license agreement. Logging companies have used their legally allocated cutting permits to illegally access logs in areas outside the official limits of their permits. Enforcing partial logging bans is actually more difficult than enforcing total logging bans. To begin with, primary forests, from which absolutely no logging must be done, have not been properly or clearly identified by the government. Also, the government does not have the manpower to monitor logging activities in restricted areas. Indeed, even if they have people in these areas, theyre usually no match to the military might big-time loggers wield. Another thing is, once the timber is cut, even the stolen becomes legally clean. We know what we have to do. The really hard part is doing it. Manila Times

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