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CLIMATE CRISIS AND GLOBAL JUSTICE – by Alina Oehmen

By 28. October 2017 One Comment

THE PACIFIC ISLAND TAVULU HAS ALREADY INITIATED THE RESETTLEMENT OF 11,000 INHABITANTS DUE TO SEA-LEVEL RISE. WHEN WILL THE PHILLIPINES BE AFFECTED?

In the Philippines about 25 typhoons break out every year. That is the daily life of Filipinos. In Germany most of us cannot even imagine to be at such a risk. That is why I would like to tell you a story of a friend, A.G. Saño, a Philippine artist and climate protection advocate. He was born in 1976 and lives in

Picture 1: Mural in Duisburg Germany by A.G. Saño and Robin Meyer.
Source: A.G. Saño.

Manila, the capital of the main island Luzon. In his country he is also known as “the painter for the climate” because he creates murals about climate crisis and ecological destruction issues to make them more public (picture 1). For almost 20 years he advocates environmental and climate protection and informs about climate crisis impacts. In doing so, he has already worked together with international organisations like WWF and Greenpeace and gives presentations in schools, universities and on international conferences. This year he will also give a speech at the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn/Germany.

Most of us do certainly still remember: In 2013 one of the most powerful tropical cyclones broke out over the Philippines: “Super Typhoon Haiyan” (picture 2). With its speed of 380 kilometres per hour it killed more than 6,000 people and caused 1,700 missing and over 10,000 injured persons.[1] A.G. barely survived this catastrophe taking place in Tacloban city, the capital of Leyte island. During the typhoon crashing through the city A.G. was in a building of a hotel. “All the windows were already broken. The building was shaking and kept on shaking for almost two hours. I was pretty sure that people were dying that moment while I continued on breathing.
That’s what kept me strong.” Together with other guests of the hotel he continued waiting. But suddenly he heard a really loud rumbling sound, it was not the hill collapsing nearby, it was the water coming into the building. With its huge power it forced its way up to the third level of the building. On the streets it reached almost a height of four meters. People downstairs and outside the streets were shouting and crying.

After the typhoon was over, A.G. joined a group of volunteers retrieving victims of the catastrophe. For three days he helped carrying dead bodies and lifting them into heavy trucks. There were about 80 bodies in one truck. However, the worst part for A.G. was still not over: On the third day he found that his friend and his whole family lost their lives in the typhoon.

Contrary to the belief that typhoons increase in frequency, the crucial current development is the increase of their intensity and destructiveness. The reasons for this are rising air and ocean temperatures due to climate crisis. The warmer the air gets, the more water evaporates and the more water can be absorbed by the air. Finally, the high degree of moisture leads to the development of powerful typhoons. The situation of islands is aggravated by rising sea levels and the increased frequency of the El Niño phenomenon which additionally causes droughts on the Philippines. Otherwise, precipitation rates increase due to increasing intensity of monsoon coming from the west. Normally monsoon is a necessity for countries in Southeast Asia to bring rain for food cultivation. But during the last years it brought rather too huge amounts of water which already caused the death of many people.

Nowadays we complain about 12 million Syrians who are displaced. But we also have to consider what will happen to 103 million people living on the Philippines if they run out of fish when corals continue on dying due to rising temperatures? Or what about 30 million people living near Lake Chad in Africa which today and in future even more will be affected by water scarcity? Another point is that these days tropical cyclones get closer to the equator due to the rising temperatures. Consequently, New Zealand and Australia were hit unprecedentedly by cyclones during the last years. These are also new developments.

Besides its destructive power, typhoon Haiyan caused a high number of death due to failures of the early warning system. On average tropical typhoons take some days to develop over the Pacific and thus give time for evacuation preparations. But the priority of the government warning remained unrecognised. The people were aware about the cyclone heading for the archipelago, but the warning didn’t differ from other daily warnings about typhoons. Many people thought: “This is just another typhoon. We will come through.” Apart from this, people couldn’t assess the situation – couldn’t guess what impacts a four-meter swell might have. This was compounded by most of the evacuation centres being flooded and thus they couldn’t provide shelter for people seeking help. Moreover, the day before the typhoon hit the island, the 7th of November 2013, all the public media were full of information about a political scandal. The country was preoccupied with politics that time and the speech of the president, warning the whole country, just came out the evening before the typhoon broke out and that was too late. Of course, after the typhoon changes in the warning system became visible. People now react directly on government warnings and try immediate evacuation what will help to adopt to further natural catastrophes in future.

But while sharing his personal story, A.G. doesn’t intend scaring people but he wants to warn us, people from Europe, USA, but also from the Philippines, and to convince us to change our lifestyles. He tries to make us realise that all of us will be the ones who will be concerned. Above all, he believes in the young generation which is going to feel the impacts of the climate crisis, but which also still has the ability to change and to prevent or at least keep the crisis within a limit. Even if people in Europe maybe won’t feel the horrors of climate crisis at all or it might take 20 years, it’s a necessity to change – It’s an issue of justice. So far, people in Europe and USA currently start to realise to what extent they’re living at the expense of others – socially, ecologically and economically – changes mostly take place very slowly. What we need is to consider us as one species and not as 194 states worldwide. Because nature and therefore climate crisis impacts are crossing national borders. Simply: It’s a borderless issue.

[1] https://www.sos-kinderdoerfer.de/unsere-arbeit/hilfsprojekte/archiv/philippinen-taifun-spenden/taifun-haiyan-zahlen-und-fakten.

The Author:

My name is Alina Oehmen (23) and I study Geography in Augsburg. During my studies and in my daily life I advocate for climate and environmental protection. In doing so I am an active member of Greenpeace, we try to empower people for commitment to sustainability issues to secure our livelihoods for future generations. People living in so-called “countries of the global North” need to change their lifestyles and to stop living at the expense of others – in social, economic and ecological terms. To achieve this, we need bottom-up changes in society as well as changes on national and international policy level.