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Let’s be clear – cutting CO2 emissions won’t prevent natural disasters

Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines (NOAA)

Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines (NOAA, 2013)

Blame Canada’s Carbon Complacency for the Philippine Typhoon …Anyone who thinks that this typhoon is not due to the atmospheric disruption and rising sea levels resulting from our changing climate has their head firmly planted in the comfortable soil of ignorance, ideology or both.

And so starts Kevin Grandia, President of Spake Media House, in an article on Huffington Post, 15th November, 2013. Suffice to say the rest of the article by Kevin, was about how humanity’s catastrophic use of fossil fuels caused Typhoon Haiyen, and Canada is the most aggregious of abusers of this because they have oil sands.

Now I could start a scathing rebuke of this article, but the harsh reality it, people like Kevin write this stuff all the time. Now Kevin, from his Huffington Post biography, clearly hasn’t got a scientific bone in his body, but he has lots of ‘media cred’ as evidenced by writing for Huffington Post and having a blog named in the top 25 by Time Magazine.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t give Kevin any scientific credibility – it just means he is more likely to reach the greater masses of people with his thoughts on his pet project, which is apparently, fossil fuel usage is causing catastrophic climate change. But there are lots of people like Kevin in the media – the king guru of climate journalists with no scientific credibility being Al Gore. And they all seem to believe in one thing:

If we cut our fossil fuel emissions, there will be no more devastating environmental events in this world.”

Well Kevin and all your ilk, I beg to differ.

You see, the problem with non-scientists getting on a pedestal and ranting that we need to cut our CO2 emissions to avoid the devastation of Typhoon Haiyen is just about the WORST thing you can do to prevent disasters like this in the future. The worst!

Let’s take a step back and look at what is the real tragedy in the Philippines:

  1. Input’s: Wind, rain, storm surge
  2. Target: coastal communities, poorly constructed shelters (re: housing), poorly planned locations for shelter (re: coast)
  3. Outcome: People killed as wind, rain and surging oceans all savaged the poorly constructed and poorly located housing and hurled debris at the people (or if surging ocean, bodily sucked them back out into the turbulent, debris-filled waters).
  4. Aftermath: Communication down, infrastructure (electricity, water, telephone) down, no roads, no food, pillaging by desperately hungry people, thirsty people (only desperation can force people to try and dig up the very water pipes that could give them water – in the search for water!)

And Kevin, you think the western world cutting its fossil fuel emission will prevent this type of disaster again????!!!

Fact: If the world was to cease using fossil fuels tomorrow – absolutely stops dead in its usage – in other words we find a miracle source of new energy tomorrow that requires no fossil fuels or emissions of CO2, AND (deep breath) it can use the existing infrastructure for distributing the energy, it would take anywhere between 5 years, or  20-1,000’s of years. I don’t know – there is a media reported ‘consensus’ of scientists who believe man is causing global warming” and they can’t even agree on how long CO2 stays in the atmosphere? Anyway, it doesn’t matter because either scenario doesn’t bode well for cutting CO2 emissions to save the world from devastating storms for the following reasons:

  1. If the CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by natural processes within 5 or so years, then it stands to reason that all the CO2 we’ve pumped into the atmosphere until approximately 2008 has already been sequestered by natural processes on the Earth and thus, burning fossil fuels is not exactly contributing to the warming temperatures at this time.
  2. If, on the other hand, the CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by natural processes over the next 20-2,000 years, then even if we stop burning all fossil fuel tomorrow, we have another 20-2,000 years of bad weather (if your theory is true) and that means any poorly constructed establishment for humans located in an area prone to storms is has a higher chance of being destroyed by a very strong storm and thus loss of human life etc. But to just cut our fossil fuel emissions by a ‘bit‘ to some level like in 2002 or 1999, when the world was already becoming toasty warm thanks to burning fossil fuels, is unlikely to have any effect on reducing storms – IF the storms are being caused by rising CO2 emissions.

I’m sure by now, Kevin and his ilk are thinking, “But she’s supporting our story! What is the point here?”

The point is, the storm was the catalyst. The destruction that ensued was the result of poor construction and poor planning. Disaster would have fallen the Philippines even with a storm of less strength. What’s more, until such time as plate tectonics moves the Philippines out of the sub-equatorial belt, or the islands erode away, or the islands accrete to a continent (none of which will happen for a few million years!), the Philippines will always be chancing a typhoon hitting them.

If I lived in Taclaban -or any other area which has recently been devastated by a natural disaster, I’d want to make sure that when they resurrect my town, the following happens so even if ANOTHER natural disaster comes, we won’t be destroyed again:

  1. I want poverty erased.
  2. I want to make sure my house it not made of some metal draped over a thin wood skeleton.
  3. I want the water, gas, electricity, communications etc to be built to withstand wind and rain (read how corruption at the Philippines government level has prevented the Country from being prepared despite previous natural disasters).
  4. I want community dwellings to be built that can shelter and protect those whose houses maybe lost in the event of such natural disasters.
  5. I don’t want to have to live in the flood plain/bush-fire prone forest/rive delta/tidal zone/storm surge zone anymore.
  6. I want everyone who lives in similar areas to also get upgraded shelter and infrastructure.

You see Kevin, apart from poverty, these are things we can work on NOW.

There have been a number of storms of late, for which everyone is eager to blame climate change – New Orleans (Hurricane Katrina)… New York (Hurricane Sandy)… Taclaban (Typhoon Haiyen)…. But it is interesting when you look at the Top 10 most destructive storms in the history as it turns out that based on destruction and death toll, there is only one storm in the Top 10 this century – Hurricane Katrina (2005). Maybe a second one will be added when the death toll is finally known for Typhoon Haiyen, but for now, there is just the one.

In fact, it’s quite encouraging to look at the Top 10 by death and destruction because clearly, the storms were much more devastating before the 1980’s and have been less so since. And there is a common denominator here with the early storms and the storms which had an impact in the last 30 years – with the exception of Hurricane Katrina, the areas that are most devastated by storms are those with poor infrastructure, poorly located places to live, places known for naturally occurring violent weather. Katrina was an exception – it should have survived with minor damage, but the aging levee’s gave out – and New Orleans known for decades that the levee’s needed to be beefed up to be able to withstand Grade 5 Hurricane’s, not just Grade 3 or less. So even the catastrophe in New Orleans could have been avoided with better construction.

To conclude, Kevin, I find that focusing on reducing our fossil fuel emissions is singularly the most unproductive and ineffective thing anyone can do in the face of destruction by storms. Whether the planet continues to warm because of fossil fuel use or not, the acts of nature that cause human devastation and destruction are all well within our ability to fix NOW.

We shouldn’t be living in the belief that if if our fossil fuel consumption does down, it’s will be fine to build a big house on the coast to have a view of the ocean, or a little shack in the tidal zone will be OK because it’s all that person can afford and it’s near the water’s where they go out each day to fish. I think that is giving everyone who lives in the areas prone to natural disasters false hope that they will live out their life without being impacted by a really bad natural event.

We should be adapting to the climate, whichever way it is trending, and most importantly, look at the lessons of the past most devastating storms and learn from our biggest mistake – and in every instance, it was poor construction and poor location that caused the damage. Not the storm or fossil fuel emissions -they are merely the catalyst.

Meanwhile, look up the Red Cross in your area, and donate to help get these people back on their feet.

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