View Full Version : Environment, Climate and Wildlife

06-22-2013, 11:44 AM
I noticed we don't have a thread on environmental issues yet. Post away.

06-22-2013, 11:45 AM
Double whammy

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:16 pm | Friday, June 21st, 2013

The Philippines was hit by a double whammy a few days ago.

One was the report by the World Bank saying that the Philippines is at increasing risk of massive storms due to climate change and global warming, as South Asia and Southeast Asia are projected to “heat up” in the next few years. The report projected that typhoons will increase in intensity to Category 4 and 5, with the cities of Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta, Manila and Yangon among those likely to be most affected, the devastation particularly severe in the coastal areas.

“If the world warms by two degrees Celsius, it will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat-waves, and more intense cyclones. In the near-term, climate change, which is already unfolding, could greatly harm the lives and the hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the Earth’s temperature,” warned the report.

The second piece of bad news didn’t have the same apocalyptic ring, but it was troubling nonetheless in light of the WB report. Nathaniel Servando, the administrator of the weather bureau Pagasa, confirmed in a text message to officer-in-charge Vicente Malano that he has resigned his post after serving the agency for 23 years. Servando, 48, had been on leave from his job for health reasons, but last Thursday he formalized his absence by availing himself of optional retirement. He is said to have accepted a teaching post in Qatar with a salary vastly higher than the gross monthly pay of P68,428 plus P2,000 cost-of-living allowance that he received at Pagasa.

And so it goes on—the continuing flight of the Philippines’ best scientific minds for better opportunities abroad, even as it faces overwhelming developmental problems that require their expertise—from deforestation and the loss of natural resources to flooding, urban sprawl, the lack of public health and the meager state of technological and social safeguards against natural disasters.

Can one fault Servando for leaving? His children are said to be in college; his wife is a teacher by profession but runs a sari-sari store in their house. Unconfirmed reports said Servando was lured to work in the Middle East with a promised salary of P600,000. “If you get an offer for that kind of pay, perhaps you would bite, too,” said Malano. “Even our doctors are taking nursing courses to go abroad. They sacrifice being doctors to become nurses.”

According to the Philippine Weathermen Employees Association (PWEA), more than 20 forecasters and employees in other divisions of Pagasa have left for better-paying jobs overseas in the last 10 years. President Aquino finesses that number by saying that only five have left the agency since year 2000, and only three under his watch. In any case, he said, there is no cause for worry because Pagasa has just hired 37 new meteorologists and more are expected.

The President misses the point. The likes of Servando, with his 23-year experience in the field (he was a weather specialist for 10 years, then chief of the weather forecasting division and later deputy administrator for research and development of Pagasa), are a valuable resource that new graduates and trainees would be hard put to match. Also, mere personnel replenishment will not solve the woes that have long plagued Pagasa, whether the inadequate equipment it has had to make do with, or the perennial bureaucratic difficulties it has had to endure to receive proper attention and funding from the government.

Last August, at the height of Typhoon “Helen,” Pagasa employees startled the public when they conducted a lightning rally to press for the release of unpaid benefits, which, it turned out, had been suspended since March. The move jolted Malacañang and Congress to work to increase the salaries of Pagasa employees, and to embed their benefits in the annual budget instead of being sourced from the savings of the agency and the Department of Science and Technology.

That’s not the end of it. This year, the employees’ benefits were delayed again, revealed PWEA head Mon Agustin. “Our hazard and longevity benefits haven’t been given since January this year.”

It’s the same old story, with the beleaguered workers, many of them highly trained, some even with master’s degrees, still scrounging around for the respect they deserve for work that directly impacts the lives of all Filipinos. The departure of Servando et al. isn’t Pagasa’s loss alone, but also the nation’s.

06-22-2013, 11:54 AM
Tarsier found in Manila Golf

By Jaymee T. Gamil

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:19 am | Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

As if finding squirrels weren’t unusual enough in highly urbanized Metro Manila, the posh Manila Golf and Country Club in Forbes Park, Makati City, on Friday yielded another out-of-place creature: a tarsier.

The tarsier, one of the smallest known primates in the world, was found by the golf club’s caddies before noon on Friday, general manager San Agustin Albina told the Inquirer in a phone interview. The saucer-eyed creature was found clinging to the low-lying branches of a tamarind tree near the caddies’ barracks, he added.

Though squirrels have become regular residents in trees within the country club, it was the first time a tarsier has been found in the premises, the club official said.

“It was my first time to see one and I didn’t even see it in Bohol (where tarsiers are usually found) but here ,” an amused Albina said.

He said they had no idea how the creature got into the golf club but surmised that it could have escaped from neighboring residences where it might have been kept as a pet.

It might have climbed a tree but was chased down to the lower branches by the squirrels, Albina said. “The caddies decided to capture the tarsier before the squirrels or stray cats could hurt it,” he added.


Albina said they immediately called the the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (DENR-PAWB) to take custody of the animal.

“It seems healthy, but we don’t know what to feed it. We [waited] for the PAWB, who could take care of it better,” Albina said of the creature that had sat quietly inside a cardboard box lined with netting before the PAWB picked it up.

PAWB official Theresa Mundita Lim promptly sent veterinarian Esteven Toledo to examine the tiny primate after Sen. Loren Legarda called her up for assistance.

“First, it will need a health check,” Lim said of the tarsier. “We’ll have to find out if it’s healthy and in good condition. And if it’s healthy, then it will be transported and possibly reintroduced to the wild.”

Lim said the PAWB would also have to determine if the tarsier was a Philippine species and investigate how it got to Forbes Park.

“There’s no way it could have gotten there on its own,” she said, adding that a tourist might have smuggled out the creature and decided to keep it as a pet, and that it might have escaped.

Tarsiers can leap from tree to tree but are not known to travel long distances, Lim said.


The DENR-PAWB veterinarian, who came early evening Friday to pick up the tarsier, echoed Lim’s view, saying there was no known tarsier population in Metro Manila. “We believe someone living in Forbes Park [could] have been keeping it and that it escaped,” Toledo said.

But the DENR also noted that a baby tarsier was spotted at singer Jose Mari Chan’s house in Forbes Park a month ago, but that it had died by the time the agency came to retrieve it.

Toledo said that keeping wildlife is illegal, except among registered breeders and wildlife farms. He added that keeping tarsiers as pets is highly unadvisable because “they are highly strung and sensitive.”

Because the tarsier “had already undergone enough stress,” including during transport, Toledo said the DENR-PAWB was careful not to touch it any further. It was kept in a box during transport to prevent further handling,” the veterinarian said.

Though they could not handle the creature to determine if it was male or female, Toledo said it was an adult and seemed alert.

But the vet declined to state categorically if the tarsier was healthy, saying it will be examined over the weekend. “We have to check first because it could be malnourished,” Toledo said. [I]With a report from DJ Yap

Sam Miguel
06-24-2013, 08:32 AM
Bunker fuel fouls up Pasig River

By Nancy C. Carvajal

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:03 am | Monday, June 24th, 2013

Thousands of liters of bunker fuel supposedly released on Saturday night from a storage tank at a small depot in Sta. Ana, Manila, caused panic among residents as gas fumes wafted through the densely populated area, according to a City Hall official.

Four people were hospitalized after experiencing “difficulty in breathing” apparently caused by the strong smell, according to Rick de Guzman, chief of staff of Mayor Alfredo Lim.

De Guzman, one of the first to respond to the incident, said among those taken to the hospital was a 2-month-old infant, who was briefly placed in an intensive care unit. “They are now OK and have been discharged from the hospital,” he said.

At least 3,000 liters of gas flowed into the Pasig River, based on information from the Coast Guard, said City Administrator Jay Marzan.

Malacañang sounded unperturbed by the gas spill that reportedly happened close to President Aquino’s residence in Bahay Pangarap inside the compound of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

“We will let the PSG assess that. [They are] aware of the situation,” Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, said when asked if the spill posed any danger to President Aquino.

3-meter-tall tanks

De Guzman said the gas spill happened in a compound at 2657 Old Panadero Street along the Pasig River near the Lambingan Bridge.

He said the compound, which served as a depot, occupied an area of at least 2,000 square meters. It had four 3-meter-tall storage tanks for bunker fuel.

No evacuation took place as the source of the fumes was immediately located and its further spread stopped, he added.

Supt. Remigio Sedanto, Sta. Ana Police commander, said investigation showed the spill came from one of the storage tanks with a busted pipe. The valve of the tank that caused the spill had been closed, he said.

Four depot workers were taken in for questioning and 17 others will be interviewed to shed light on the incident, Sedanto said. He identified the four workers as Eddie Bitonio, Ronaldo Vidania, Juner Intal and Benjie Binggot.

Inspectors wearing masks arrive at the spill site. RICHARD A. REYES

Sedanto also said that among the things police were investigating was why responding Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) personnel and policemen were not immediately allowed to enter the compound.

“They had to climb the fence to enter the compound,” Sedanto said.

Sabotage angle

Elmar Malapitan, lawyer for Teresita Enriquez, owner of the depot Larraine Marketing, said the “sabotage angle” was also being looked into. Enriquez is abroad, he said.

“A labor dispute is ongoing and there could be a sabotage,” Malapitan said. He said the owners were ready to face an investigation.

Sedanto said that when the police arrived in the area, the compound was deserted but oil tanker trucks were parked outside it. The area was far from the area in Pandacan that houses the depots of three big oil companies, he added.

No-smoking area

Marzan said the BFP and Philippine Coast Guard personnel were wearing antifire gear and oxygen masks when they inspected the storage tank suspected to be the source of the gas.

He said a no-smoking area had been declared over a 100-meter radius near the compound and authorities had closed the streets leading to the place.

A new leak from the same bunker was observed Sunday morning, but Marzan said “we decided to empty the bunker to ensure no more gas could come out.”

Alleged violations

Marzan said city authorities had noted “a lot” of violations of regulations in the management of the depot.

“From safety and environment. It depends. We haven’t seen the permit that they applied for,” he said.

Marzan said gas had also drifted toward the Pasig River, but the Coast Guard put up oil booms to stop the spread of the spill.

Personnel from the Laguna Lake Development Authority and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had arrived at the scene to investigate, he said.

As far as Taft Avenue

Police records showed that residents started to smell the strong gas odor at 10 p.m. Soon, complaints about the strong odor began pouring into the police station.

Based on the calls, the strong smell reached as far as Taft Avenue.

Coast Guard personnel were then immediately dispatched along the Pasig River to look for the source of the gas leak.—With a report from TJ A. Burgonio

Sam Miguel
06-24-2013, 10:11 AM
Reef grounding: SC orders US to explain

By Edu Punay

(The Philippine Star) | Updated June 24, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) has acted on the petition filed by a multisectoral group in April seeking higher penalties for and criminal prosecution of US Navy officers and crew of the USS Guardian, which ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last January.

The SC has asked the US government to answer the petition that named as respondents Scott Swift, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, and Mark Rice, commanding officer of the Guardian.

A member of the high court confirmed to The STAR over the weekend that a letter has been sent to the US embassy in Manila for this purpose.

“The US embassy has been notified that they must file a comment on the petition, among others, to pay a fine for the destruction of the World Heritage Site and for illegal entry into a protected site,” the insider said.

The insider, who asked not be named, said the US government’s response would serve as a test case if the US will even pay attention to it or invoke international treaties or laws,” the source stressed.

Apart from the US embassy, the SC also sought comments from Malacañang, Cabinet members and officials of the military to the petition for writ of Kalikasan filed by two Catholic bishops, environmentalists, activists and lawyers.

The SC, however, did not immediately issue a temporary environment protection order (TEPO) on the UNESCO world heritage site sought by petitioners.

The month-long recess of justices intended for writing of decisions delayed the action on the case. The high court resumed session last June 4.

In a 90-page petition filed last April 17, the group asked the SC to assess the damage caused to the reef by the grounding of the Guardian.

Apart from issuance of the writ and TEPO, they also sought a determination of the fine to be imposed on the US Navy and the prosecution of the officers of the Guardian.

Petitioners are also asking the SC to order a stop to US war games and port calls by US ships in the absence of clear guidelines on environmental protection under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The filing came exactly three months after the USS Guardian, a minesweeper of the US Navy, got stuck in the corals in Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO heritage site.

The last section of the ship was removed last March 29 and more than 2,000 square meters of reef were assessed to have been damaged by the warship.

This is the first time foreign troops have been named respondents in a petition for writ of Kalikasan.

The petition cited, in general, the violation of the right to a balanced and healthful ecology and Republic Act No. 10067 (Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009).

The petitioners include Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr., Bishop-Emeritus of Caloocan; Frances Quimpo, Clemente Bautista Jr. of Kalikasan-Pne; Maria Carolina Araullo and Renato Reyes Jr. of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan); Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares; Roland Simbulan of Junk VFA Movement; Teresita Perez; Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino; Peter Gonzales of Pamalakaya; Giovanni Tapang, Agham; Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno; Joan May Salvador, Gabriela; Jose Enrique Africa; Theresa Concepcion; Mary Joan Guan; Nestor Baguinon, and public interest lawyer Edsel Tupaz.

Bayan, together with other petitioners, are seeking a fine for the US that is 12 times the initial estimate of the Philippine government.

Comparing valuations in the 2009 grounding of the USS Port Royal in Hawaii, the petitioners said the just and reasonable compensation for the damage to Tubbataha is between $16.8 million and $27 million, a far cry from the $1.4 million Philippine government estimate.

Four years ago under similar circumstances, they said the US Navy paid the state of Hawaii a total of $15 million for restoration and settlement for damage to an Oahu reef, which while larger than Tubbataha, has not been identified as a world heritage site.

Petitioners pointed out Tubbataha’s biodiversity concentration is 2.3 times more than that of the Hawaii reef.

As for their call for prosecution, petitioners said the US Navy cannot invoke immunity under the VFA.

They also believe that the US war games and port calls by US warships pose a threat to the environment, especially since there are no clear guidelines under the VFA.

Sam Miguel
06-24-2013, 10:12 AM
Beach collapses in Zambales; Army securing shoreline

By Czeriza Valencia

(The Philippine Star) | Updated June 24, 2013 - 1:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The beach of Puerto del Mar in Candelaria, Zambales collapsed Saturday afternoon, possibly due to soil erosion caused by strong tidal waves, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) said yesterday.

MGB director Leo Jasareno said the incident occurred at around 4:30 p.m.

Around 80 to 100 meters of shoreline slumped to a depth of two meters. As a result of the phenomenon, the sea moved about 10 meters facing land, Jasareno said in a telephone interview.

There were no fatalities reported.

“This is a natural phenomenon. There may have been soil erosion because of the strength of the tidal waves or there may be a sinkhole,” Jasareno said.

He said an eight-man team composed of MGB geologists was expected to arrive at site yesterday to determine the exact cause of the slump.

“We will also be determining if the same phenomenon is occurring in nearby areas,” he said.

Jasareno noted that there are no magnetite mining operations in the area.

Swimming is temporarily prohibited on the beach.

Meanwhile, a shore protection project of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in La Union saved the coastal village of Barangay Pilar from being totally wiped out.

At least 15 hectares of the total land area of the village were submerged due to strong waves caused by storm surges and typhoons in the past, according to Councilor Protacio Cabueñas.

But with the completion of the P36-million shore protection project of the DPWH, it is expected that portions of the village’s total area will be restored.

Cabueñas said the sinking of Barangay Pilar started after a sand mining company left the area in the late 1970s.

“Some of our constituents have transferred to nearby barangay Santiago because there’s no more space to build houses in Pilar,” he said. - With Jun Elias

Sam Miguel
06-24-2013, 10:14 AM
Does your mayor know the town’s geohazards?


By Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 24, 2013 - 12:00am

Whether he’s old or new in the job, your mayor should know the geohazards in your town or city. That’s his duty. The law tasks him with preparing for floods, landslides, and other adverse geological conditions. If he goofs, and constituents lose lives and property, sue him for criminal dereliction and civil damages.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) gives each mayor at the start of his term hard and soft copies of your locale’s geohazards map. It then convenes them, with the help of the governor, to teach how to read the map. Scaled 1:50,000 centimeters (500 meters), the topography is color-coded. Mayors must pay special attention to the areas shaded red, the most landslide-prone, and purple, the most flood-prone.

(The maps are also in the MGB website: www.mgb.gov.ph/lhmp.aspx. Director Leo Jasareno’s agency is preparing more detailed ones, scaled 1:10,000 cm., for distribution next year.)

Landslides occur due to natural terrain or manmade faults, usually quarrying, mining, or carelessness. Like, the 1999 fall of Cherry Hill Subdivision down the mountainside of Antipolo, Rizal, that killed 59 persons and injured 32, was the developer and city hall’s fault. The firm had erected 379 houses with weak concrete footings, on steep, unstable slopes, and ignored telling earth slippage that started five months prior. The city engineer had approved the subdivision plan and sloppy construction. Such were basic ingredients for disaster during downpours.

Negligence also caused the 2011 trash-slide in Asin, Tuba, Benguet, in which dozens of homes were crushed and six residents were buried alive. For years the residents had been begging adjacent Baguio City to close down the garbage dump on the shared boundary atop the hill. For, the Solid Waste Management Act already forbade dumping, and cities and provinces were supposed to shift to sanitary landfilling. City hall ignored the law of gravity, and the residents’ pleas. At the height of a typhoon, the dump’s riprap wall gave way, unleashing thousands of tons of garbage onto the village below. The homeowners, with Tuba and Benguet officials, have sued Baguio.

Jasareno recounts the worse case of Barangay Kingking, Pantukan, Compostela Valley. Thousands of illegal cliff-side miners were triggering frequent rockslides onto their own family dwellings below. Two such slides had killed dozens in 2011. Still, they defied orders from authorities to stop. Another slide struck in 2012; more people killed. The local officials had the temerity to deflate the casualty count, even though the stench of decomposing flesh pervaded for weeks from under the rubble. The national government has sued them.

Floods are also mostly manmade. Global warming has caused ocean waters to rise around the Equator, thus threatening coastal villages. Meantime, in- and highlanders clog the waterways with trash, silt, and even construction. A governor in Central Luzon was blamed for destructive rain floods due to fish pens choking the rivers, including by his wife’s family. (I have long been decrying the erection of an apartment row on a creek packed with earth inside Doña Carmen Subdivision, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.)

The MGB recommends to the mayors two options: adaptation or relocation. Either the local execs build floodways, dredge rivers, build strong enough retaining walls and levees, and stop haphazard mining, or they remove their constituents from harm’s way. Jasareno laments that some mayors live by the motto, “To see is to believe”: they wait for disaster to strike before thinking of prevention and mitigation. Such was the case of massive destruction in Surigao, Davao, and Compostela Valley by Typhoon Pablo (international name Bopha) last December. The mayors knew that typhoons, though unusual, already were visiting Mindanao – one had struck only a year before – yet paid no heed to the MGB’s flood and landslide warnings.

* * *

Congratulations: OJ Mariano, awarded outstanding male lead performer in a musical, by the 2012 Philstage Awards for the Performing Arts, for his role in Ballet Philippines’ “Rama, Hari”; and

Atty. Dennis B. Funa, law book author, professor of law, and constitutionalist, on his appointment as Insurance Commission deputy.

* * *

Two of many reactions to my piece, “Lack of experts slowing down government projects” (Gotcha, 21 June 2013):

Ramon Quebral: “The Mines and Geosciences Bureau will lose its senior geologists under the ‘rationalization plan’ that Budget Sec. Abad is implementing. And they say geo-hazards and disaster management are the top priorities? What they do is not what they say. Only six out of 18 supervising geologists will be left. These are experts in whom previous administrations invested by overseas study and training.”

Daniel B. Valdez: “The reason for the dearth of technical experts for infra projects is their underpayment. Probably strict compliance with the administration’s ‘tuwid na daan (straight path)’ worked against the pursuit of the projects. Considerable reduction of perks (commissions, percentages) may have discouraged those entering the government service from the private sector with those in mind. I recall the Makati Business Club suggesting that ‘a little corruption is necessary.’ Although contrary to President Aquino’s view, that may be true. It should be noted that the Anti-Graft Act penalizes only contracts that are ‘grossly disadvantageous to the government.’ What of those which are simply disadvantageous?”

* * *

Sam Miguel
06-24-2013, 10:15 AM
Kerry: US, India need to tackle global warming

By Deb Riechmann

(Associated Press) | Updated June 24, 2013 - 7:08am

NEW DELHI — US Secretary of State John Kerry on yesterday urged fast-growing India to work with the United States on global warming before it's too late. "The irreversible climate challenge is speeding towards us, crying out for a global solution, " he said.

Kerry spoke on climate change in a speech in New Delhi, the second stop on his two-week swing through the Mideast and Asia, just two days before President Barack Obama is to unveil his long-awaited plan for the United States on the issue.

"The world's largest democracy and its oldest one must do more together, uniting not as a threat to anyone, not as a counterweight to a region or some other countries, but as partners building a strong, smart future in a critical age," Kerry said in a reference to how India is often viewed as a counterbalance to China.

People consulting with White House officials on Obama's plan say they expect the president to put forth regulations on heat-trapping gases emitted by coal-fired power plants that are already running. Environmental groups have been pleading with Obama to take that step, but the administration has said it's focused first on controls on new power plants.

More than half of India's power comes from coal and while the US has emission issues of its own, it wants to see India and other nations in the region rely less on old, coal generation facilities. The US is backing a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline that would bring energy to a power-starved region.

Speaking at a convention center to a crowd of several hundred businessmen, students and others, Kerry noted that federal scientists in May reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million — a level never before experienced by man.

"When the desert is creeping into East Africa, and ever more scarce resources push farmers and herders into deadly conflict ... then this is a matter of shared security for all of us. ... When the Himalayan glaciers are receding, threatening the very supply of water to almost a billion people, we all need to do better," he said.

During his first trip to India as secretary of state, the top US diplomat was expected to discuss a myriad of other topics, including enhancing security in the region and prospects for finding a political resolution to the war in Afghanistan.

As NATO troops leave, India fears the country could fall into the hands of a Taliban-led regime, endangering many of India's interests there. Kerry reassured India, which has invested more than $2 billion to reconstruct Afghanistan, that the US commitment to the Afghan people will not end at the close of next year when NATO-led combat troops complete their withdrawal.

In meetings before Kerry heads to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the US expects Indian officials will want to query Kerry about prospects for peace talks with the Taliban. US talks were scheduled to begin in coming days, but a last-minute diplomatic rift over how the Taliban rolled out their new political office in Doha, Qatar, has threatened to scuttle the talks.

"Obviously, we are very realistic about the difficulties of making progress. Making peace is never easy, and a final settlement may be long in coming," he said.

"And let me be clear: Any political settlement must result in the Taliban breaking ties with al-Qaeda, renouncing violence and accepting the Afghan constitution, including its protections for all Afghans, women and men. Afghanistan cannot again become a safe haven for international terrorism."

Kerry also spoke about India's archrival, Pakistan.

There is widespread hope that Pakistan's new President Nawaz Sharif will try to improve relations with its Indian neighbor, thus reducing the chance of a fourth major war between the nuclear-armed foes.

But India has been frustrated by Pakistan's failure to crack down on Islamic extremists, which have strong historical links with Pakistani intelligence. Kerry called on Pakistan to continue normalizing trade relations with Pakistan. "Just last year, bilateral trade increased 21 percent," he said.

Washington wants New Delhi to speed up economic reform to increase US business and trade opportunities with India. In the past decade, bilateral trade has increased five-fold, but Kerry is expected to share the concerns of the US business community about trade and about other problems American businessmen are facing in India.

More than 150 US lawmakers teamed up with American business groups last week to press the Obama administration to further press India to ease policies they claim are bad for American exports, jobs and innovation.

Sam Miguel
06-25-2013, 09:08 AM
‘Right’ disaster?

By Juan L. Mercado

Philippine Daily Inquirer

8:06 pm | Monday, June 24th, 2013

The window to ease the impacts of global warming is closing more rapidly than earlier estimated, says the World Bank in a study released last Wednesday. Sea level surges will double as mountain glaciers melt. They’ll interlock with intense storms inflicting deaths and damage.

What happens when, in the words of the study, “rainfall becomes more sporadic and, in rainy season, even more intense”? Inquirer’s Michael Tan sketches a graphic answer from “Emong,” this season’s first storm.

“Monday night, I broke my own record of airport commuting ordeals, clocking 13 hours to get from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to my home in San Juan. I left Naia at about 5:30 p.m. in a taxi.” By 8 p.m., Tan was still stuck in Makati. At 11 p.m., he gave up and took a hotel room. “I finally got home at 6:30 a.m. the next day.”

Hindi ka nag-iisa, supporters of political prisoner Ninoy Aquino used to say. Thousands were also stranded. Storm “Fabian” lurks around the corner. And rainy season’s end is still 17 or more typhoons away.

Among seven cities, Manila is second most at risk from climate change, reports the 2013 Climate Change Vulnerability Index, which studied 197 countries. Others are: Dhaka, Bangkok, Yangon, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh and Calcutta.

Rising sea levels could uproot 13.6 million Filipinos by 2050, the Asian Development Bank projected in an earlier study titled “Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific.” Three typhoons, in as many years, lashed Mindanao. The island used to reel from a wayward storm every 17 years or so.

World leaders are committed to curb greenhouse emissions and tamp down temperature increases to about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, (2 degrees Celsius). There are concerns “that temperatures will soar to 5 degrees Celsius over a century,” the 2012 World Bank study noted.

The 2013 study, therefore, narrowed the focus on the next few years. The heaviest impact will slam parts of Asia most prone to flooding and harsh tropical storms, it warned. Bangkok could be swamped by floods in 2030. Hanoi’s just-built new flood control systems are obsolete. Rising ocean temperatures and saltwater intrusion into rivers could ruin local fisheries. Fish is a key source of protein for the people of Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Countries must redo earlier estimates. A projected 20-centimeter sea-level rise here over the next 40 years is an obsolete projection. This threat still runs “along the Pacific seaboard: from Samar to eastern Mindanao,” Wendy Clavano wrote in “Environmental Science for Social Change.” Only it is more severe.

The high-risk provinces flank Lingayen Gulf, Camotes Sea, Guimaras Strait, waters along Sibuyan and central Sulu, plus bays in Iligan, Lamon and Bislig. Chances of Manila flooding yearly rose to 65 percent, and Davao’s to 90 percent, estimates Clavano, a Cornell University PhD holder. “Rising sea level took a back seat because increased flooding had a more immediate effect.”

This issue is a major stumbling block to alleviating global poverty, warned World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Progress of the last 20 years could be set back if nations must divert scarce resources to recover from storms and natural disasters. Those funds are needed in health, education and other services.

The bank will provide loans for Asian countries to cope with inevitable climate shifts. It prods agribusinesses to focus “on how major crops can be altered to live with less water, hotter temperatures.” Support is given for crop science and genetics. Will scientists win the race to produce drought-resistant varieties of corn and other plants—or lose to mass hunger, say in Sub-Saharan Africa? A “magic bullet” may prove elusive.

In a report released Friday in Nairobi, the UN Environment Programme said that the private sector’s future will hinge on its ability to develop goods and services that reduce impacts from sea levels to emissions of harmful chemicals.

“GEO-5 for Business: Impacts of a Changing Environment on the Corporate Sector” notes significant business opportunities for greener urban construction and retrofits. These are in cities where 60 percent of infrastructure still has to be built. Markets for organic food and beverages expanded by 10 to 20 percent yearly during the last decade. Companies certified as sustainable food producers can also tap into growing customer demand.

Eight out of 10 Filipinos say they “personally experienced” climate change impacts over the last three years, Social Weather Stations found in a survey conducted March 19-22, 2013. The affected proportions were highest in the National Capital Region (91 percent). Luzon had 87 percent; the Visayas, 84 percent; and Mindanao, 78 percent.

Many survey respondents say they have to fully understand climate change’s impacts. Thirty-seven percent participated in at least one effort to reduce risks resulting from climate change (e.g., contacted civil society organizations, gave donations, etc.). And 63 percent said they did not do anything.

At a Bonn meeting last week, Bangladesh said its cities plan to adapt to more water. It allocated $470 million to grow forests on the coastal belt and build multistory shelters to house cyclone victims. Thailand awarded bids for flood management. “Solutions to the problem of rising seas are being studied.”

Cebu is the most ecologically brittle of Philippine cities. Debate swirls around Rep. Tomas Osmeña’s becoming barangay captain. That would wedge him into the city council—and place him in position to harass reelected Mayor Mike Rama.

“We are on the verge of a global transformation,” billionaire David Rockefeller said. “All we need is the right major crisis.” Is this it?

Sam Miguel
06-25-2013, 09:20 AM
Metro threatens Phantom Planter with arrest if he tends his Dupont Circle station flowers

By Robert McCartney

Published: June 23 E-mail the writer

Quirky garden artist Henry Docter has been surreptitiously planting flowers in public places on four continents since 1979. His unauthorized beautification efforts have frequently aroused surprise and delight — but never a problem until this month, when he ran afoul of Washington’s Metro transit system.

Metro threatened Docter with “arrest, fines and imprisonment” if he dared to weed, water or otherwise tend to more than 1,000 morning glories and other flowers whose seeds he planted in 176 barren flower boxes alongside the top stretch of the north escalators at the Dupont Circle station.

Metro said it’s only concerned about safety. The boxes are set in steep, cobblestoned inclines, so Metro fears that Docter could hurt himself or others if he fell.

That doesn’t impress the man who calls himself the Phantom Planter. He said Metro is exaggerating the risk. He’s had little difficulty walking up and down two narrow service ramps to get to the boxes since he started planting there in October.

In addition, Docter has told Metro that he’s willing to use a harness as Metro workers do. He’d sign a liability waiver saying he wouldn’t sue Metro if he’s hurt.

“I’ve never gotten in trouble for planting flowers,” Docter, 52, said last week. “Never has anyone overreacted with such an absence of common sense.”

Docter spoke in the first interview in which he openly discussed 34 years of clandestine horticulture. The District resident estimated that he’s planted more than 40,000 flowers in spots ranging from the Israeli Embassy and Navy Memorial in the District to faraway locales, including Argentina, Spain and Cambodia.

He has newspaper clips to support his account. The Israeli Embassy acknowledged that it has tolerated his plantings in security barriers on the street for four years.

“I’m not denying that I’m a little nuts,” Docter said. He calls his plantings a form of performance art, saying, “Flowers are nature’s way of affirming how beautiful life can be.”

Docter is a husband, a father of two and — when he’s not sneaking out to garden — a part-time lawyer, children’s book author and collage artist. He was student government president at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda (Class of 1978) and is the son of well-known District community activist Charles Docter.

Henry Docter has gone public partly to rally community support in the face of Metro’s warning. He seems to be succeeding: A Web petition he launched last week has drawn more than 800 signatures. (It’s reachable via letmyflowersgrow.com.) Neighborhood activists are planning a meeting in July to try to work out a compromise with Metro.

When I was interviewing Docter on Friday at the Dupont Circle station, a passerby guessed that he was the planter and enthusiastically praised his action.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Mike Stirratt, 43, who lives nearby, told Docter. “That seems incredibly unfair that they would prosecute you for doing something to help the neighborhood.”

Ironically, Metro wouldn’t have known about Docter’s act if he hadn’t sent it a polite letter June 3 describing how he’d planted the flowers a week earlier. His letter said he’d like to continue caring for them.

“In retrospect, it was a mistake to ask for permission,” Docter said last week. “After I planted the seeds, they sprouted very quickly. I kind of panicked and got concerned they would interpret it as a weed and destroy it.”

It’s clear that Metro wasn’t paying much attention. In October, Docter planted 150 daffodils and tulips in the same boxes. After they bloomed and died, he pruned the spent flowers and turned down and secured the leaves for future vitality.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said that round of gardening apparently slipped under the radar. “It’s sort of beyond the scope of what you would imagine some private citizen would do,” he said.

Stessel also conceded that Metro’s real estate department might have gone too far with its June 11 “cease and desist” letter to Docter.

“The word ‘imprisonment’ is one we probably would have omitted had it originated in our general counsel’s office,” Stessel said.

Metro’s position now is that it wants to work with the community to find a solution that’s affordable, sustainable and safe. It’s not clear if that’s going to include Docter. He told me he’d do the work for $1 a year if Metro wanted to hire him and make it all official.

Docter is respecting Metro’s order but frets about the plants.

“The heat has returned, and I already noticed some of the leaves are wilting,” he said. “Every day that passes without water means the plants will not be as strong when they begin blooming in August.”

Metro had best act quickly. If the flowers die, its bureaucrats are going to look even more foolish than they do already.

Sam Miguel
06-25-2013, 09:34 AM
Carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012, IEA report says

By Steven Mufson

Published: June 10 E-mail the writer

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatons in 2012, setting a record and putting the planet on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals, the International Energy Agency said in a report scheduled to be issued Monday.

The agency said continuing that pace could mean a temperature increase over pre-industrial times of as much as 5.3 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), which IEA chief economist Fatih Birol warned “would be a disaster for all countries.”

“This puts us on a difficult and dangerous trajectory,” Birol said. “If we don’t do anything between now and 2020, it will be very difficult because there will be a lot of carbon already in the atmosphere and the energy infrastructure will be locked in.”

The energy sector accounts for more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions, so “energy has a crucial role to play in tackling climate change,” the IEA said. Its report urged nations to take four steps, including aggressive energy-efficiency measures, by 2015 to keep alive any hope of limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius.

The United States was one of the few relatively bright spots in the report. Switches from coal to shale gas accounted for about half the nation’s 3.8 percent drop in energy-related emissions, which fell for the fourth time in the past five years, dipping to a level last seen in the 1990s. The other factors were a mild winter, declining demand for gasoline and diesel, and the increasing use of renewable energy.

Emissions also fell in Europe.

But they rose 3.8 percent in China. That was one of the slowest increases in the past decade, and half of 2011’s rate of increase. The level of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity generation has fallen about 17 percent. But China remains the largest contributor of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with about a quarter of global emissions.

Japan’s emissions jumped 5.8 percent as the country imported and burned large amounts of liquefied natural gas and coal to compensate for the loss of electricity production from nuclear plants that have been idle since a tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.

Emissions also climbed in developing countries outside the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, especially in the oil-rich Middle East, where fuel prices are heavily subsidized.

“What I believe is that climate change is slipping down in the political agenda in many countries even though the scientific evidence about climate change continues to mount,” Birol said.

The IEA mapped a way for countries and companies to contain increases in global temperatures. It urged them to implement aggressive energy-efficiency measures; limit the output of inefficient coal plants and mandate that all future coal plants be highly efficient supercritical ones; reduce the release of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) in oil and gas operations; and phase out fossil-fuel subsidies.

The agency estimated that the release of natural gas, or methane, during upstream oil and gas operations accounted for about half of all methane emissions by the oil and gas industry. Large, aging pipeline networks in Europe, Russia and the United States also account for a large amount, the IEA said.

The IEA also warned that the reductions in carbon dioxide released in the United States would be hard to duplicate because natural gas prices were unusually low in 2012 and coal might regain some market share as gas prices rise.

Notwithstanding the Fukushima accident, Birol said nuclear energy remains “a very important option to fight against climate change.” The report also urged the pursuit of carbon capture and storage methods.

Sam Miguel
06-26-2013, 08:50 AM
No, it’s not summer again; it’s monsoon break

By DJ Yap

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:16 am | Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Feels like summer again? It’s called a “monsoon break,” said weather forecasters on Tuesday’s hot and sunny weather despite the onset of the rainy season.

Except in Mindanao, where a new low-pressure area (LPA) appears to be forming again, the country is expected to have clear skies in the next few days due to the weak southwest monsoon with only isolated rain showers, forecasters of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said.

“Right now, we’re on a monsoon break, so the skies are probably going to be clear in the next few days, except for isolated rains in Luzon and Visayas,” he said.

A monsoon break is not unusual and can last for weeks, he said.

But Pagasa forecaster Jori Loiz said the agency is keeping an eye on gathering winds over southern Mindanao. If it turns into an LPA, there’s a chance it would move up and pull the southwest monsoon back, Loiz said.

“It’s only Mindanao that’s now experiencing a lot of rains,” Loiz said.

Even so, Pagasa issued a thunderstorm advisory over Metro Manila Tuesday afternoon after it detected thick clouds approaching the metropolis.

Based on the weather bureau’s outlook for Wednesday, Mindanao will experience cloudy skies with light to moderate rain showers and thunderstorms.

Metro Manila and the rest of the country will be partly cloudy to at times cloudy with isolated rain showers or thunderstorms mostly in the afternoon or evening.

Light to moderate winds blowing from the east to southeast will prevail over Luzon and Visayas and the winds coming from the east to northeast will prevail over Mindanao, Pagasa said.

Coastal waters throughout the archipelago will be slight to moderate, it added.

Sam Miguel
06-26-2013, 08:50 AM
Manila Golf tarsier doing well, says exec

By DJ Yap

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:15 am | Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Apparently active and in good health, the tarsier found at the Manila Golf Club in Makati City will to be flown to Bohol this week, where it will be placed in a semicaptive environment, according to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB).

PAWB director Theresa Mundita Lim said the tiny primate, which was found perched on the branch of a tamarind tree at the golf course located inside the posh Forbes Park, was showing no sign of stress and was eating well.

“It’s active at night and it’s eating. At first they just fed it insects that they caught outside, like crickets. But they now feed it mealworm to ensure it’s hygienic,” Lim told the Inquirer.

She said the tarsier was shy and did not appear to be used to human handlers. “This is a good sign because it means it probably was not in the company of humans for long,” she said.

This increases the viability of reintroducing the tarsier into the wild. Lim said they would take a DNA sample to check first if it was really a Philippine tarsier, although its characteristics were similar to the Bohol species.

Lim said the tarsier would be temporarily placed in a “semicaptive” environment while they study its chances of surviving if reintroduced to its natural habitat.

She said Metro Manila police were still investigating how the creature found its way to the Makati golf course. She earlier said the owner, once found, would be charged with illegal possession of an endangered species under the Wildlife Act.

There are no registered owners of tarsier in Metro Manila, but there are some from Bohol.

Sam Miguel
06-27-2013, 10:25 AM
Golf course tarsier dies

By Rhodina Villanueva

(The Philippine Star) | Updated June 27, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The tarsier found resting in a tree at the Manila Golf Club in Makati City last week died yesterday afternoon.

The nocturnal creature was discovered dead in its cage at the Ninoy Aquino Wildlife Rescue Center in Quezon City.

Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) Director Theresa Mundita Lim said they would subject the tarsier to necropsy to find out the cause of death.

She said the tarsier had appeared healthy when it was turned over to the PAWB.

It had shown no signs of stress and was eating well in its cage, Lim added.

“If this did not happen, we planned to bring it to Bohol for its possible reintroduction to the wild. But because of this development, we’ll have to check first what happened to the animal,” she said.

The PAWB official said an investigation is ongoing to determine who brought the tarsier to the city.

Lim said the one responsible for transporting the tarsier faces charges for violating the Wildlife Act.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued an Administrative Order to protect and conserve the Philippine tarsier, classified as an endangered species.

Sam Miguel
06-27-2013, 10:27 AM
Water is a free gift of Mother Nature


By Federico D. Pascual Jr.

(The Philippine Star) | Updated June 27, 2013 - 12:00am

FREE GIFT: In this highly commercialized world, most people seem to have forgotten that water, like air, is a free gift of Nature.

We inhabitants of this Earth should not be made to pay for the water we drink – as we must not pay for the air we breathe. Both items are free gifts of God (or of Mother Nature, to those who do not believe in Him).

So why do we consumers pay for the water coming out of our faucets? The answer, I think, is that we are actually not paying for the water but for the service, and the consequent value-added of having the water processed and home-delivered to us.

Having natural water, as the main raw material, priced at zero should then make a big difference in computing costs.

* * *

PAY FOR SERVICE: For billing purposes, it seems that the most practical way of measuring the processing and handling costs is to base them on the volume of the water delivered.

Pursuing the same reasoning, we do not – or should not – pay for the spring water sold in bottles and similar containers.

We pay instead for the work done in processing and delivering the water whose retail price is based on the size or capacity of the containers.

We do not really pay for the natural water itself but for the “water service” and the value added. For simplicity, the price is based on the volume delivered.

* * *

OXYGEN, NOT AIR: We have mentioned the parallel case of air, another free gift of God. We should not be charged for breathing it via our respiratory system that was designed to do precisely that.

However, when a patient is supplied with oxygen at a hospital or a clinic, or with the use of a portable device, we see a slight variation in the story.

The patient pays this time for the oxygen – not for normal free air composed of oxygen and various other elements – that had been extracted or generated from whatever source.

As with bottled water, the price of the oxygen (dispensed from tanks or a centralized piped-in system) is padded by the cost of processing, handling and making it available to the patient.

* * *

ZERO COST: We mention the fact of water being a free gift of Nature to put in proper perspective the discussion of the plan of water concessionaires servicing Metro Manila to raise the price of their water.

It is the duty of government to take up the cudgels for us citizens instead of siding with the big businessmen making water distribution a multibillion-peso monopoly.

To get its proper bearing in protecting consumers, the government must be reminded that water has been given to us for free.

Regulators should take the raw water out of the price computation. They should base charges only on the other factors of processing and distribution.

The cost of spring and rain water, the raw material from the wild, should be pegged at zero to bring down the retail price.

* * *

GRIM SIGNS: The basic point being raised here also highlights the important fact that Man has an obligation to protect water sources, to safeguard their quantity and quality, as well as the rest of the ecosystem.

We have long taken for granted water, air and other gifts of a benevolent God. Not only do we waste water and air on the mistaken notion that they will never run out nor their pristine condition spoiled.

We abuse the environment without regard for generations that follow after us.

That the Philippines has been blessed with abundant natural resources has blinded us to our responsibility as stewards of the Earth entrusted to our care.

Many of us assume that potable water and clean air will be in ample supply forever. But the grim signs are all around us: We are mistaken.

* * *

BACK TO TRAFFIC: Let us now pick up our interrupted brainstorm on managing traffic in the national capital, our show window to the world.

We cannot build more roads in Metro Manila on the short-term (or until 2016 when President Noynoy Aquino steps down), but we can open up more road space and improve traffic flow this way:

• During weekday rush hours (6-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m.), high-volume thoroughfares will be declared No Parking/No Standing/Tow-Away areas. All vehicles parked along these busy roads at will be towed away quickly and without exception.

• With lanes properly marked, No Swerving rules will be enforced by motorcycle cops who will hand violation cards (pre-printed to save time and minimize disturbing traffic flow) after getting the erring driver’s license.

• No vulcanizing and auto repair shops will be allowed along thoroughfares, which will also be off-limits to tricycles.

• Junks or permanently disabled vehicles left on any street longer than 72 hours (three days) will be towed away at owner’s expense.

• Turning left or making U-turns will be allowed only from lanes specifically marked for the purpose. Vehicles outside these turning lanes will be forced to move straight on.

• Delivery trucks, trailers and vehicles exceeding a specified weight will be banned from EDSA and other circumferential roads from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays.

• Traffic lights at successive intersections on long stretches will be synchronized. Drivers of vehicles caught in yellow boxes on a red light will be handed violation cards.

• All traffic officers must be licensed drivers for a better understanding of their job and the psychology of drivers. They must not leave their vehicles or motorcycles where they can obstruct traffic.

* * *

Sam Miguel
06-27-2013, 10:27 AM
Adapting to climate change


By Elfren Sicangco Cruz

(The Philippine Star) | Updated June 27, 2013 - 12:00am

The World Bank recently released a study it funded on climate change, and according to its president, Jim Yong Kim, “The scientists tells us that if the world warms by 2° Centigrade, [global] warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years, that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat waves and more intense cyclones. The near term climate change, which is already unfolding, could batter the slums even more and greatly harm the lives and hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the Earth’s temperature.”

The most tragic part of this report is the conclusion that the poor who have had very little to do with causing global warming will suffer the most. The biggest cause of global warming is the use of fossil fuels. It is the business sector and the rich who are the biggest users of fossil fuels.

The study also showed that eight out of ten Filipinos personally experienced the impacts of climate change in the last three years, which has been much quoted the past week The SWS conducted survey revealed that 85% of respondents claimed to have suffered from climate change. Around 54% said their experience was severe to moderate.

However, the same survey shows that 52% of the respondents have admitted that they have “little” or “almost no understanding” of what climate change is all about. Another 35% said they had “partial but sufficient understanding” of the subject. Only 12% said they have “extensive” knowledge on climate change.

The biggest challenge to writing about climate change is trying to understand the scientific terms that are commonly used in describing this phenomenon. According to the United Nations, climate change is defined as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”

A recent briefing paper by the Climate Change Commission of the Office of the President says that the Philippines, being an archipelago and because of its location, is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impact of climate change. Our country also ranked highest in the world in terms of vulnerability to typhoon cyclone occurrence, and it ranked third in terms of people exposed to these seasonal typhoons.

Opinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1 This vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts and typhoons. It will also alter agricultural and coastal and marine ecosystems. The WB study said that the rise in sea level, loss of coral reefs and devastation to coastal areas are likely to occur in Southeast Asia.

The study also describes “rising ocean acidity leading to the loss of coral reefs and the benefits they provide as fish habitats, protection against storms, and revenue generators in the form of tourism. Warmer water temperatures and habitat destruction could also lead to a 50% decrease in the ocean fish catch in the southern Philippines.”

While climate change reports can sound depressing, studies show that the government has drastically improved its capability to cope with its effects. According to Christophe Crepin, the World Bank expert on environmental change, the Philippines is actually only one of fifteen countries that have elevated its climate change regulatory framework to the level of laws.

But it should be clear that environmental disasters are not just the problems of the academe and the government. It is true that we are on the verge of an economic boom. But it also true that major natural disasters can wipe out economic gains in specific regions hit by these disasters. While the government needs a long term, strategic perspective and plan, it is important that there be short term solutions to these phenomena.

Secretary Mary Ann Sering, executive director of the Climate Change Commission, explained that 80% of natural disasters in the Philippines are water related, which basically means typhoons and floods. The immediate approach to this problem therefore is “adaptation” instead of mitigation.

Adapting basically means accepting that the number of typhoons will increase and the intensity of rainfall will also increase. The country must therefore focus on “managing the unavoidable.”

On a national level, the two priority programs of the government will be flood control and national greening. The major cause for the recent flooding in Metro Manila was the volume of water coming down from the Sierra Madre mountains and flooding the lowland areas including Metro Manila.

The obvious cause is that the forests in this mountain range and the watershed areas have virtually disappeared often because of illegal logging in the past. While the long term solution will be reforestation, the short term solution of DPWH Secretary Singson is to build water catchments and underground tunnels in the metropolis.

The most immediate solution to alleviate the flooding will be the removal of informal settlers living along the esteros. In fact there is a need for a national effort to remove all persons who live in hazard prone areas, like river banks and esteros, and relocate them to safer areas.

An action plan for adapting to climate change is now an essential part of the government’s development plan. Environmental degradation and the disastrous consequences of climate change will have a negative impact on the government’s goals of poverty reduction and sustained economic expansion.

Climate change may sound very complex, but local governments and every Filipino must accept that this is already happening and that we can learn to adapt. And there are many ways every Filipino can help. Plant trees, stop using plastic, practice waste recycling and other “green” activities. Remember that we are only stewards of this earth and we have the responsibility to make sure that the next generation will inherit a living planet from our generation.

* * *

Sam Miguel
06-28-2013, 09:05 AM
The enemy deep within

By Narciso M. Reyes Jr.

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:31 pm | Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Rampaging floods in Mindanao, along Europe’s famed Danube, in large tracts of Canada, and in America’s Midwest. Toxic smog in Singapore, Malaysia, and China’s industrial heartland. Disappearing glaciers in the Alps, Himalayas, Greenland, the Andes, and the Arctic. These are not isolated but inseparable, interconnected events, and the distress signals of our ailing planet, the Earth. Our only home.

Global warming is way past the debate stage. Its effects are dramatically and dangerously upon us. We know what has to be done to arrest the Earth’s rising temperature and rising seas, before the process becomes overwhelming, irreversible and beyond solution. Yet humankind seems petrified in inaction. Like the treatment of human ailments, the solutions of most governments are focused primarily on how to cope with the symptoms of global warming, not its real cause, namely the depletion and accelerating weakening of the Earth’s protective umbrella of ozone, due to massive and relentless carbon emissions from industries, vehicles, slash-burning of entire forests, and other pernicious manmade activities. All done in the name of livelihood and progress.

So Manila’s answer is more of the same: Clean up the Pasig River and clogged esteros. Improve the drainage system. Relocate squatter colonies that use the waterways as their garbage dump. New York’s own response is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $20-billion master plan of state-of-the-art megadikes, drainage tunnels, and levees—a variation on a theme from those of London and the Netherlands. Under this plan, if the seas keep rising, then simply make the dikes and levees wider and higher!

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual in the 21st-century world. Spoiled and conditioned by decades of a lifestyle based on abundant and cheap carbon-based products—from fuel to household items—the conventional, deeply entrenched fossil-based energy and manufacturing drivers of commercial industries keep spewing the ozone destroyers while the sunrise eco-friendly, alternative energy systems struggle to find a viable market of users. Cutthroat capitalism still reigns supreme.

While governments around the world vacillate, consider the following: Every week, as much as a thousand species of life are exterminated by man’s activities, such as hunting, animal trade, food industry, industrial pollution, and explosive urbanization. All told, tens of millions of species are now extinct, due to man’s insatiable appetite for food and material gain.

Rainforests, home to the ecological biodiversity that is crucial to the balance of nature, and which provide healing, medicinal compounds to injured or ailing lives, are disappearing at an alarming pace and their replenishments are insufficient to reverse the depletion rate.

A 2011 United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization report warns that despite aggressive reforestation campaigns by governments, nongovernment organizations and private groups, an estimated 13 million hectares of tropical trees—about the combined size of Luzon, Samar, and Leyte—are still lost annually worldwide.

It is a shocking, sobering thought that a single-run Sunday edition of The New York Times purportedly requires newsprint from an equivalent of 75,000 felled trees (that may never be replaced). To date, the Times has been silent on this astonishing (2009) information provided by environmental groups in the United States and Canada.

Another authoritative UN report said that during the last four decades, the Earth’s coral reefs, the nursery of the ocean’s marine life, have been reduced by as much as 55 percent, thanks to global warming, industrial pollution, illegal fishing, and illegal sale of corals. Add to these grim statistics an expanding world population approaching the 7.4-billion mark, and you have all the ingredients for an apocalyptic, Darwinian “water world” scenario. Just like in the Hollywood movie. Man, the terminator species, has indeed become the Earth’s worst nightmare.

The list of our uncontrolled excesses and bad habits speaks volumes about the human condition and human destiny. It is very clear that at this critical stage, in our disjointed, mostly piecemeal efforts to save our disparate civilizations, our most formidable antagonist is no less than ourselves. Lying deep within our very souls, our combative, ambitious, and avaricious spirit, which sets us apart from one another, pits us violently against each other—and against Mother Nature.

I believe we still have time left to change our course to avert a global catastrophe. We have the knowledge and wisdom—and the tools of technology and science—to help us. But it will require an extraordinary kind of leadership, courage, will, social discipline, sacrifice, and cooperation—on a planetary scale. At stake is no less than human survival. We cannot afford to fail.

Sam Miguel
06-28-2013, 02:06 PM
U.S. takes key climate change steps, but the world must do more

By Jim Yong Kim, Friday, June 28, 8:09 AM

Jim Yong Kim is president of the World Bank Group.

The world is starting to get serious about climate change. This is happening for one major reason: leadership.

President Obama’s announcement this week of a broad set of actions to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing our climate was very welcome. His plan, largely based on executive orders, will cut carbon pollution in the United States, prepare the country for the rising number of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and droughts, invest more in clean-energy sources and help lead international efforts to combat climate change and manage its effects.

These steps must be seen in the context of growing mobilization on climate change worldwide because the United States is one part of a larger puzzle. Obama is joining the leaders of some of the largest carbon emitters — China, India and the European Union — in committing to reduce harmful emissions. The world can now see the potential for a global alignment of political leaders with substantial power to stop the dangerous warming of our planet.

Yet leaders around the world must propose even more far-reaching solutions and deliver results.

Can they?

I think they can. But they don’t have much time.

They know there’s no substitute for aggressive national targets to reduce emissions.

Today, the burden of emissions reductions lies with a few large economies, including the United States, China, India and the European Union. In particular, the moves by the United States and other big emitters to reduce emissions from coal-fired plants are an important step forward.

And yet even if the global community’s pledges on greenhouse gases are fully met, the world remains on a trajectory to warm more than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

That’s barreling down a reckless path. Last week, the World Bank Group published a scientific report on the effects of climate change. One part of the assessment looked at a rise in temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which we could experience in the next 20 to 30 years. (The world is already at 0.8 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Era levels.) Soon, our forecasts showed, a world 2 degrees Celsius warmer would have dire consequences: Forty percent of the land used to grow maize in Africa could no longer support the crop; parts of major cities in South Asia, including Bangkok, could be underwater; and the fish stocks in parts of Southeast Asia could decline by 50 percent.

The world’s leaders should be doing all they can now to avoid a 2-degree-*Celsius warmer world. That calls for far more ambitious action.

As President Obama pointed out, one of the quickest steps is to cut short-lived climate pollutants such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), methane and black carbon from sources that include air-conditioning systems, urban landfills, livestock farming, wood burning and diesel engines.

Just a few weeks ago, China and the United States agreed to phase down production and consumption of HFCs. This could cut two years’ worth of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, slowing the arrival of a warmer world.

But leadership on climate has to happen at every level. In the United States, states and cities have been taking the lead. California, for instance, has started by aggressively reducing diesel emissions. These emissions have a warming impact 460 to 1,500 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

More broadly, the leaders of the nations that emit the most pollutants need to move ahead in five critical areas. The first two will require concerted global agreement: setting a price on carbon, which can redirect finances to low-carbon growth, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption. Currently, governments hand out more than a trillion dollars annually in fossil fuel subsidies that could instead be invested in transitioning to sustainable energies.

World leaders need to push for breakthroughs on these difficult issues, but that’s no excuse to sit still in the meantime. The World Bank Group is working with partners right now on three other areas: building cleaner cities; developing climate-smart agriculture; and investing in energy efficiency and sustainable energy sources. Moving ahead, we at the bank will be looking at everything we do through a climate lens.

Enormous political and technical challenges remain. But the direction is clear. President Obama injected a new sense of hope in the fight against climate change globally. The global leaders’ plans in front of us reflect a growing commitment to collaborate. Our well-being and that of future generations, as well as the world’s economic security, are at stake. The opportunity for action on climate change is still — for a short time — within our grasp.

Sam Miguel
07-09-2013, 02:47 PM
Scientists look to revive the long-extinct passenger pigeon

By Jackson Landers, Tuesday, July 9, 1:24 AM E-mail the writer

It is often said that the passenger pigeon, once among the most abundant birds in North America, traveled in flocks so enormous that they darkened the skies for hours as they passed. The idea that the bird, which numbered in the billions, might disappear seemed as absurd as losing the cockroach. And yet hunting and habitat destruction pushed the animal to extinction. Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Plans are afoot to bring back the bird by using a weird-science process called de-extinction. The work is being spearheaded by Ben J. Novak, a young biologist who is backed by some big names, including the Harvard geneticist George Church. The idea was recently promoted at a TEDx meeting in Washington and is being funded by Revive and Restore, a group dedicated to the de-extinction of recently lost species. (Other candidates include the woolly mammoth and the dodo.)

Novak’s idea takes a page from “Jurassic Park,” in which dinosaur DNA was filled in with corresponding fragments from living amphibians, birds and reptiles. Working with Church’s lab and Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Novak plans to use passenger pigeon DNA taken from museum specimens and fill in the blanks with fragments from the band-tailed pigeon. This reconstituted genome would be inserted into a band-tailed pigeon stem cell, which would transform into a germ cell, the precursor of egg and sperm. The scientists would inject these germ cells into developing band-tailed pigeons. As those birds mate, their eventual offspring would express the passenger pigeon genes, coming as close to being passenger pigeons as the available genetic material allows.

The process is not the same as cloning. Novak’s approach would use a mishmash of genes recovered from different passenger pigeons, resulting in birds as unique as any from the original flocks. Most pigeons mature and reproduce quickly enough that the de-extinction process could be completed in less than a year. Producing a flock large enough to release into the wild would take at least another decade.

Novak says he is confident the procedure will work. “Essentially, the genomes of the band-tailed pigeon and the passenger pigeon, I think, will prove to be similar enough to easily convert one to the other,” he said. In fact, he says, “making the passenger pigeon genome right now will be easier than making the first living passenger pigeon hatch from an egg.”

Experts say there is little question that re-creating the pigeon is technically possible. Indeed, the genome of the woolly mammoth has largely been sequenced using elephant DNA as a scaffolding. Complete, working genomes of dogs, sheep, horses, cows and other species have been artificially inserted into egg cells to produce living organisms.

But the project still faces many challenges, among them the contamination of much of the DNA specimen.

The hundreds of passenger pigeons in museum collections have been exposed to heat and oxygen. Specialized equipment would be used to identify the surviving fragments of DNA and reassemble them into working genes. It’s a painstaking process that could take years.

But the larger problem, say some scientists, is that even if the passenger pigeon is re-created, it’s unlikely to be viable as a species in today’s ecosystem. Novak’s plan is to breed the first new generations of the bird in captivity. But eventually he hopes to release the animal into the wild.

Such a proposition, some experts say, poses a number of fundamental problems: There is some question as to whether today’s forests can support a restored passenger pigeon population, and its nesting behaviors make the bird particularly susceptible to dying out again.

“Much of their breeding and wintering habitat is gone,” says Scott C. Yaich of the conservation group Ducks Unlimited, and the animal’s primary breeding-season food — beech mast, the nuts of a beech tree — is limited.

Altered landscape

The birds “simply couldn’t be restored to a landscape that is so radically altered from the one to which they were uniquely adapted,” says Yaich, director of conservation for Ducks Unlimited.

But Mark Twery, a research forester at the U.S. Forest Service, says that though beech bark disease has reduced beechnut production, “the overall quantity of forested habitat is likely to be ample to support a large enough number of pigeons for a viable population, even should people be able to restore the species.”

Other experts say that given the nesting behavior of the passenger pigeon, releasing a handful of birds into the wild would be a losing proposition.

The mainstream view of passenger pigeon ecology is that they used a reproductive strategy called predator satiation. The recent cicada invasion is one example of this strategy. Each cicada is individually easy to catch in its slow, bumbling flight. But there are so many millions of cicadas in a spot at one time that they are able to finish mating and laying eggs before predators have had time to eat all of them. If only a few thousand cicadas emerged at once, then most of them would probably be eaten before they were able to reproduce. In this way, the cicada’s survival depends on showing up in hordes.

Flimsy nests

Passenger pigeons succeeded through a similar sort of mob rule. Individually, their behavior was borderline reckless. They built flimsy nests, often dangerously low to the ground. The nests were built so hastily that when bad weather would slow down construction, a female would sometimes be forced to lay her eggs on the ground. When the young were ready to leave the nest — after only 14 days of development — they would spend their first few days on the ground, vulnerable to any hungry predator.

Passenger pigeons could get away with such behavior because of their incredible numbers. When a flock arrived at a nesting area, predators could gorge themselves for weeks. Each pair of nesting pigeons would produce two eggs, at least one of which usually ended up on the ground. But even with the constant work of foxes, bears, possums, raccoons, hawks, eagles, snakes and other meat-eaters, enough of the young pigeons survived to fly away.

This system works great with a flock of 5 million birds. But according to Kirk Mantay, a biologist specializing in habitat restoration, if only a few thousand pigeons show up, the whole system falls apart.

“If you put 5,000 out there, even with good habitat, they could all still be gone in a few decades unless you could exclude the predators somehow and make sure that they nested right where you wanted them to go. You just couldn’t make enough birds for it to work.”

A handful of nests and fledglings might escape the notice of predators, but as soon as the colony grew to a few dozen nests, the noise and scent would bring those predators in to feast on easy meals. You would need to skip ahead to millions of birds for the predator satiation strategy to properly work.

Still, “I believe the passenger pigeon will survive because we have people committed to its survival,” Novak says, citing the reintroducton of the condor into the wild in California. In that case, the birds, on the verge of extinction, were bred in captivity, then gradually released beginning in the 1990s; there are now about 200 living in the wild.

Would a commitment to its survival be enough to sustain the passenger pigeon? A few specimens living in an aviary would be a historic accomplishment. But an effort to put the passenger pigeon back into the wild would be challenging at best.

“Habitat restoration is hard to get right for species like turkey and quail that we know about,” says Mantay. “How long is that going to take with something we can’t study in the wild first?”

There may be other species that could be resurrected, animals that can survive in smaller numbers with less habitat. The Carolina parakeet might have a chance, with federal protection. The woolly mammoth could do very well in a herd of a few dozen within a large park, living at least as wild as bison in Yellowstone. As for the passenger pigeon, science may permit us to mourn it all over again.

Sam Miguel
07-17-2013, 09:56 AM
1st in Phl: Dolphin gives birth in park

By Ric Sapnu

(The Philippine Star) | Updated July 16, 2013 - 12:00am

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines – A bottlenose dolphin at the Ocean Adventure here gave birth last July 6, the first dolphin born in captivity in the country.

The mother of the calf, which is less than one meter long and weighs about 12 kilos, is 11 years old.

Carlo Magno, director for marine mammal operation of Ocean Adventure, said a routine ultrasound revealed the pregnancy last February.

A special birthing pen and nursing lagoon were built, and cameras and an observation deck were installed to monitor the mother dolphin, named Vi.

World-renowned marine mammal veterinarian Robert Braun arrived in the country 10 days before Vi gave birth.

Braun, in consultation with other international marine mammal experts and with the assistance of Ocean Adventure veterinarians and trainers, helped deliver the calf.

“Vi has been a great mom. She’s done everything right. She pushed the baby to the surface for his first breath, helped him avoid the walls and increased his lung capacity by taking him for progressively longer and deeper swims underwater,” Magno said.

Baby dolphins are very vulnerable, Ocean Adventure resident veterinarian Leo Suarez said.

“Every scratch on their delicate skin is a potentially a lethal source of infection until their immune system develops several days after birth. They must swim continually to stay afloat with a soft tail that takes hours to become rigid enough for efficient swimming,” he said.

The calf will be at risk for the first 30 days of its life, Suarez said.

At least eight sea lions have been born at Ocean Adventure.

Sam Miguel
07-19-2013, 01:16 PM
Rare turtle finds way to Albay, lays eggs

By Celso Amo

(The Philippine Star) | Updated July 19, 2013 - 12:00am

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – Albay folk are guarding the nesting place of the rare and largest species of marine turtle, the leatherback, one of which crawled to shore and laid eggs in the sand dunes of Albay Gulf near the Yawa River in Barangay Rawis here.

The turtle, measuring two meters long and one meter wide and weighing around 250 to 300 kilograms, was released to the sea Sunday night but is expected to return in eight to 10 days to lay more eggs.

Experts said it was the first documented nesting of the endangered turtle species, Deomchelys coriacea, in the country.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda was elated at the news of his province’s newest transient.

“We are truly blessed in having been chosen by nature for our shores to provide safe haven for the largest marine turtle found in the world and is now deemed an endangered species. I have ordered concerned personnel to adhere to the best ecological practices in handling the turtle and its eggs,” he said.

Albay is a safe home for the turtle and her nest, Salceda said of his province, which is the United Nations global model for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

He said being a breeding ground of the leatherback turtle “has added to the mystic of our well founded regard of the environment, borne out of the no-nonsense environmental programs and campaigns on climate change adaptation.”

Since experts believe that leatherback female turtles lay eggs in the place where they were originally hatched, Albay could be one of their few original homes of the turtle in the world.

The turtle is primarily found in the open ocean as far as north Alaska and the southern tip of Africa. It is sometimes called the lute turtle, the largest of all living turtles, and is the fourth largest modern reptile behind three crocodilians.

Norma Baylon, chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) wildlife section, said they haven’t counted the eggs yet for fear of disturbing the nest.

Leatherback turtles lay 50 to 110 eggs, which take 45 to 70 days to hatch.

Leatherbacks are the only marine turtles that do not have a hard bony shell. Their shell is about 1.5 inches thick and saturated with oil and connective tissues that are flexible and almost rubbery.

As this developed, Salceda signed a resolution creating a task force to protect the leatherback’s nesting area. – With Cet Dematera

07-26-2013, 01:12 PM
Halliburton to plead guilty to destroying evidence in BP spill

By Steven Mufson, Friday, July 26, 9:10 AM E-mail the writer

The oil services giant Halliburton agreed Thursday to plead guilty to destroying evidence during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010, admitting to one count of criminal conduct and agreeing to pay the $200,000 maximum statutory fine, according to the Justice Department.

In a startling turn in the three-year-old criminal investigation, Halliburton said that on two occasions during the oil spill, it directed employees to destroy or “get rid of” simulations that would have helped clarify how to assign blame for the blowout — and possibly focused more attention on Halliburton’s role.

The explosion at BP’s Macondo oil well on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people, destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and ultimately leaked nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Halliburton, which has repeatedly denied responsibility and pointed fingers at BP, will be placed on probation for three years. It also agreed to pay $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation even if the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana does not accept its plea agreement.

The admission is likely to complicate Halliburton’s efforts to avoid damage payments in civil suits linked to the Deepwater Horizon spill. During the first quarter of this year, the company took a $637 million charge against earnings to increase to about $1.3 billion a reserve set aside for possible Macondo settlement costs.

Other companies, including BP and the rig owner Trans*Ocean, have already reached deals with the Justice Department. In November, BP agreed to pay $4 billion to settle criminal charges, and TransOcean settled civil and criminal charges for $1.4 billion in January.

Halliburton said that the Justice Department agreed not to pursue further criminal prosecution of the company or its subsidiaries and that the department “acknowledged the company’s significant and valuable cooperation.” The company said it would continue to cooperate with any further investigations tied to the incident.

The Houston-based company provided the cement that was supposed to seal the spaces on the outside of the well’s steel drilling pipe, and the quality and drying time of the cement has been the subject of scrutiny.

Halliburton’s simulations examined one of the key decisions in the run-up to the disaster: Whether BP made a serious error by using six centralizers instead of 21; centralizers are metal collars on the outside of the steel pipe that helped stabilize the drill pipe in the center of the hole.

Before the blowout, Halliburton had recommended that BP use 21 of the centralizers. Later, during inquiries about the spill, Halliburton officials repeatedly pointed at a BP executive who gave the go-ahead to use only six centralizers in part because it would have taken additional time to find more.

Now the plea agreement says that on two occasions Halliburton’s simulations revealed that it made little difference whether BP used six or 21. That would have intensified scrutiny about whether flaws in Halliburton’s cement job were more significant.

On or about May 3, 2010, Halliburton established an internal working group to examine the Macondo disaster, including whether the number of centralizers used could have contributed to the blowout. According to the plea agreement, Halliburton’s cementing technology director instructed a senior program manager to run two computer simulations of the Macondo well’s final cementing job. When the simulations “indicated that there was little difference between using six and 21 centralizers,” the program manager “was directed to, and did, destroy these results,” the plea agreement said.

“In or about June 2010, similar evidence was also destroyed in a later incident,” the Justice Department said. Halliburton’s cementing technology director “asked another, more experienced, employee” to run simulations again comparing six vs. 21 centralizers, the department added; that employee “reached the same conclusion and, like the Program Manager before him, was then directed to ‘get rid of’ the simulations.”

The plea agreement comes after a new accident in the gulf, a blowout on a gas well. On Thursday, that fire was extinguished when sand clogged the hole and blocked further leaks. The crew had escaped unharmed.

The latest incident could again focus attention on the blowout preventer, a device designed to clamp shut the well pipe in an emergency. Cameron, a large manufacturer of the devices, made the blowout preventers on both the Macondo well and the gas well that caught fire this week. The investigation of the latest incident is just beginning, and officials said it was too early to assign blame.

Sam Miguel
08-06-2013, 09:24 AM
Where did $12M Boac River cleanup fund go?

By Maricar Cinco

Inquirer Southern Luzon

6:08 am | Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Where is the $12-million escrow fund for the rehabilitation of the Boac River in Marinduque?

The question was raised by a former provincial board member of the island-province 12 years after the $12-million escrow fund was set up to rehabilitate the Boac River, which remains damaged by the Marcopper Mining Corp. spills of 1996—the country’s worst toxic mine waste spill in the last two decades.

The $12-million fund set up by Placer Dome Inc. in November 2001 was part of the mining company’s commitment to then President Fidel V. Ramos for the “cleanup and remaining works” on the 27-kilometer Boac River, said Melecio Go, a former board member of Marinduque.

The Vancouver-based Placer Dome Inc. was the former parent company of Marcopper, which shut down after the 1996 toxic spill that flooded several villages in Marinduque. In 2006, Placer Dome Inc. sold its shares to the global gold-mining firm, Barrick.

The Marinduque government, through Gov. Carmencita Reyes and her son former Rep. Edmund Reyes, filed a $100-million class suit against Placer Dome in October 2005. The case filed in a district court in Nevada has yet to prosper, said Go.

$3M for sandbags

“But this is different from the suit, as (the escrow) already belongs to Marinduque,” Go said.

Go, who chaired the provincial board’s committee on environment protection from 2004 to 2007, said the original cleanup amount was $15 million, but $3 million was deducted from it when the company placed “sand bags” in the upstream portion of the Boac River.

Go called it a “cosmetic” cleanup, as the rest of the river has not yet been cleared of the toxic waste.

In an interview, Go showed copies of the 2005 correspondence between him and former Marcopper president John Loney.

In Loney’s June 14, 2005, letter to the provincial board, he said the amount was deposited “under an escrow agreement with a financial institution to secure payments … and that the release of those funds is subject to safeguards…”

“The work completion agreement and the escrow agreement are binding contracts and (Placer Dome) intends to honor its commitments,” he said.

A 2006 Inquirer report quoted Marinduque board member Alan Nepomuceno as saying that the $12 million was deposited in a bank in Hong Kong “known only to selected government and Marcopper officials.”

In that same report, Nepomuceno said Governor Reyes assured them that the fund was intact.

The Inquirer on Sunday tried to seek comment from Governor Reyes but she was in a meeting and referred the matter to Edmund.

But Edmund, now a director of the Toll Regulatory Board, failed to take calls made by the Inquirer to his mobile phone on Sunday and Monday.

No politics here

Go, who ran for Marinduque vice governor but lost to a party mate of the Reyeses in the Liberal Party last May, denied politics was involved in the matter.

In a phone interview Monday, Edmund Reyes’ lawyer Miguel Ongsiako confirmed that there was such an escrow fund intended for the cleanup of the Boac River but the agreement was entered into by the national government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Barrick, the company that acquired Placer Dome Inc.

“The province and the governor had no involvement in that [escrow agreement],” said Ongsiako, noting that the province had never benefited from the escrow funds.

Sam Miguel
08-06-2013, 09:43 AM
U-turn at dead ends

By Juan L. Mercado

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:40 pm | Monday, August 5th, 2013

I’m now 72 and just heard about these trees,” e-mailed former Evening News reporter Melody Santos-Drexler from San Francisco. “Some jerks cashed in (on) imports of exotic species,” Leonor Lagsca of Iloilo wrote. “Gmelina from India or Malaysia’s candlenut tree shoved our native trees into the cellar.”

There’s hope in a “bumper crop of local trees research,” notes Dr. Jurgenne Primavera. “Awareness of native flora has gained critical mass, sweeping in the industry sector. But where is the supply?”

Tongue-in-cheek, Primavera describes herself as “zoologist by training, aquaculturist by profession, tree lover and planter since the 1970s.” Time magazine, in 2008, named her among “100 Heroes of the Environment.”

The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) meanwhile has published “Native Trees in the Visayas.” This book vets scientific data on 101 native trees and rendered them in layman’s lingo. It displays the “white lauan” in Negros Occidental and the four-meter-tall kaningag of Cebu. Cinnamomum cebuense kost grows only in forest fragments of Tabunan and Cantipla in Cebu.

“Effects (of exotic tree imports) have been heartbreaking,” is Rafi’s candid introduction. “Now, we promote planting of endemic tree species… (Follow up) ensures survival of planted trees.” Today, eight out of 10 trees in Rafi projects do not fall by the wayside.

Providence gifted this country with almost 3,500 tree species. But is imported sikat? Touted as fast growing, nine foreign exotics dominated government replanting programs for decades. But they lacked the resiliency of the native trees after typhoons or droughts.

Iloilo’s River Esplanade is lined with Royal Palm trees—a monoculture of roystonea elata hustled from Cuba. On the other end is Cebu’s 296-hectare South Road Properties. Ten years after opening, SRP remains a treeless semi-desert as sea levels rise.

In between are clones, notes Imelda P. Sarmiento, who edited “Philippine Native Trees 101”: In Forbes Park, Ayala Avenue, Ortigas or roadsides, the selection is cramped between foxtails and date palms to “the alien podocarpus and golden showers—yellow blooms for Aquino.”

The book musters 137 personal stories to illustrate 108 native trees. They include the critically endangered “Starburst” to “the Landscaping World’s Toast”—lubi-lubi or niyog-niyogan. This “is a start… toward reintroducing our own trees to our own people.”

Since 2004, Mindoro pine (pinus merkusii) caromed into International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List” of endangered trees. Calapan City Councilor Girlie Ignacio campaigned to roll back “hometown” threats to Mindoro’s own. Jesuit scientist Peter Walpole has shown it grows in Zambales, and in Indonesia too. “We will popularize this tree in our urban areas,” Ignacio says.

“Shades of Majesty” is an earlier 212-page book that zeroes in on 88 hometown species. After that came “Beach Forests and Mangrove Associates in the Philippines.” The latter received a Best Book Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology. Coauthored by Primavera and Rex Sadaba, it spotlights 140 species—from the familiar talisay, dita and ipil to tugas which can grow up to 200 kilometers inland.

The “Washington Sycip Garden of Native Plants” tacks a living dimension on these studies. What was a parking lot at the University of the Philippines Diliman until 2012 has been converted into a park that showcases 101 native trees. It honors a soldier, scholar and multi-awarded founder of the country’s largest professional services firm.

A red brick path today meanders along “islands” of trees with tags that provide data from scientific name to tree tales. This is education by showcasing. “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education,” Albert Einstein once joked.

The critical need is for nurseries that churn out seedlings, Primavera says. That’d call for a dialogue among a “triad of sectors”—(a) scientists who know the trees, (b) suppliers and nurseries to grow saplings, and (c) landscape designers, developers and architects who create the demand for trees in public and commercial places.

The agenda must crunch numbers. Landscapers require planting of hundreds of trees, yet of the same species. Why? Need we strap monoculture for our streetscapes and public spaces? Native trees can bridge variety gaps.

There’s the issue of sizes. Landscapers require: “B and B”: up to 15-meter-tall trees ready to be “bagged and burlapped.” Start instead with one-and-a-half-meter saplings. This is a challenge for local governments, too. They get P68 billion in this year’s budget. Invest in trees, not waiting sheds, basketball courts or worse, self-granted allowances.

Landscape designers must convince gardeners and suppliers that there’s a market for native trees. Nothing works better than a buyer with cash.

“Does it make a difference whether we plant foreign mahogany from Bolivia rather than molave from the Philippines?” asks UP professor of plant diversity James LaFrankie. “Yes, and the reason, in one word, is ecology.”

Native species bear a relationship to land, water and organisms that developed over millennia. “No such relationship exists for the alien newcomer. Ten hectares of mahogany is a ‘dead zone’ in terms of biodiversity”: no birds, no insects, no seedling flourish beneath the canopy. “There is no future for 10 hectares of mahogany. It will remain as it is, until cut and replaced.”

“The alternative is… to rebuild forests with native species. Such schemes have been practiced for years by many Southeast Asian communities… The result for our children will be forests that grow.” We need to “U-turn” at a dead end.

Sam Miguel
08-13-2013, 10:09 AM
Petron claims responsibility, apologizes for oil spill

By Donnabelle Gatdula

(The Philippine Star) | Updated August 13, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Petron Corp. is taking responsibility for the massive oil spill in Rosario, Cavite last week.

In a statement, Petron president Lubin Nepomuceno yesterday said the company also apologized for the damage caused by the oil leak.

“At this stage, we take responsibility for this unfortunate incident. We sincerely apologize and assure all the communities affected that we will strive to resolve the situation at the soonest possible time,” he said.

Nepomuceno said they would continue efforts to conduct cleanup operations in affected areas to restore the livelihood of the communities.

“In the meantime, we will continue to give the assistance needed by residents affected by the spill,” he said.

The oil spill began last Thursday after the M/T Makisig tanker unloaded diesel in Petron’s depot.

Latest sea-borne and aerial surveys of Petron showed almost no indication of the oil sheen.

The oil firm said it also engaged a third party to regularly conduct test samples of the soil, water and marine life quality of affected areas.

“We are closely coordinating with government agencies such as PCG (Philippine Coast Guard), BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) and DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) to enhance our community assistance efforts,” it said.

Bad weather

Bad weather has prevented the PCG from removing M/T Makisig from Rosario, Cavite yesterday.

“Even if there is an ongoing investigation, we allowed the M/T Makisig to take shelter in Bataan because it could be more dangerous for them if they stayed out at sea during the typhoon,” Balilo said.

It would be up to the adjudication board formed by the PCG to conduct an investigation and determine who is responsible for the oil spill.

It was earlier reported that an estimated 500,000 liters of diesel oil spread to the towns of Tanza, Rosario, Ternate, and Naic in Cavite last Aug. 8.

Pipeline leak

Meanwhile, tests conducted by the PCG confirmed a leak in the two-kilometer Amazon pipeline of Petron Corp.

PCG spokesman Cmdr. Armand Balilo said members of the PCG’s Special Operations Group (SOG) conducted a water pressure test in the pipeline by putting violet-colored water in it.

“When the colored water was some 500 meters away from the shoreline, it was seen coming out of the pipeline. This is an indication that there was a leak,” said Balilo.

“All indications point to the pipeline as the main source of the leak. However, this is still inconclusive unless we could get footage showing a hole in the pipeline,” he said.

Members of the PCG-SOG were supposed to take underwater video of the pipeline yesterday afternoon, but Balilo said the rough sea condition spawned by Typhoon Labuyo made it difficult for them to take footage.

Fast-track cleanup

Meanwhile, the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) called on Petron to fast-track the cleanup of the oil slick and shoulder the expenses to be incurred in removing it.

Pamalakaya also urged Malacañang through the DENR to order the closure of the oil depot in Barangay Poblacion.

It said criminal and other appropriate charges should be filed against the oil company and the owner of M/T Makisig and compel the petroleum corporation and its shipping firm to pay compensation to thousands of fishing families affected by the oil spill.

“The Cavite oil spill is time ticking bomb. If not contained in the next two to three days, it will create more damage and eventually send the coastal areas of the province to intensive care unit,” said Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France.

The group said around 10,000 fisherfolk in Rosario and Tanza were affected by the oil spill, which the group said could spread to other coastal towns of Cavite, including Noveleta and Naic, as well as Cavite City and even Bacoor City.

Guimaras oil spill

In a related development, environmental advocates under the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) marked the 7th anniversary of the Guimaras oil spill on Sunday.

Petron spilled 500,000 liters of bunker fuel

from its contracted oil tanker M/T Solar 1 in the southern coast of Guimaras in 2006, affecting marine sanctuaries and mangrove expanses in three municipalities.

The oil spill also reached the shores of Iloilo and Negros Occidental.

In 2010, it was also reported that Petron’s oil depot in Rosario, Cavite caused an oil spill after its submarine pipelines were damaged during Typhoon Basyang.

“A study published in the IAMURE International Journal on Marine Ecology estimated the damage to the affected ecosystems and the fisheries sector may last for up to two generations. Petron is claiming the situation in Cavite is under control, but coral reefs have reportedly been smothered by oil sludge, and reported fish and shellfish kills mean the oil slick has also affected the functions of marine species,” Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, said.

Kalikasan PNE said Petron has remained unaccountable for the Guimaras oil spill, adding that concerned agencies may also let the oil giant off the hook in the Cavite oil spill. – With Evelyn Macairan, Rhodina Villanueva, Michelle Zoleta

08-14-2013, 10:33 AM
To plant or not to plant GMO food crops

By Neal H. Cruz

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:58 pm | Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

A few days ago, a group of farmers, obviously led by environmentalists, invaded a small experimental farm and destroyed the rice seedlings being grown to test crops with genetically modified organisms.

Environmentalists are afraid that GMO food may contain substances that are harmful to humans.

For some time now, Filipino environmentalists led by the European lobby group Greenpeace has been battling Filipino farmers to convince them not to grow the “Bt Talong,” a product of modern biotechnology process. Greenpeace has filed a case in court to stop Filipino scientists of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) from introducing a variety of eggplant that has a built-in ability to fight pests and diseases. It has been able to secure an order from the Court of Appeals restraining the UP scientists from continuing with their plant experiments.

What are GMO foods, in the first place? They are food from plants whose genes have been modified to produce varieties that are higher-yielding, more nutritious and tasty, and are resistant to pests and diseases. For example, genes of plants that are resistant to pest and diseases are mixed with the genes that are higher yielding, more nutritious and tasty such as the Bt Talong. Planting this variety of eggplant means doing away with chemical pesticides. It naturally protects itself against plant borers and other pests.

Food crops lost to pests and plant diseases will be enough to feed a big portion of the Filipino population. In fact, if not for these, we would be self-sufficient in rice. We don’t have to import the cereal and we may also be able to export it. That was what the UP scientists were trying to do in the small experimental farm in Los Baños that was destroyed by the Greenpeace-led Filipino farmers.

Greenpeace is afraid that biotechnology-processed plant varieties may have harmful substances. But isn’t that precisely what the scientists are trying to find out?

The group is led by former UP president and UPLB chancellor Emil Q. Javier, a respected scientist and academician. The CA has directed both Greenpeace and the Filipino scientists to defend their respective positions. The public now eagerly awaits the result of the CA hearings.

It is expected that Filipinos will respect whatever decision the court hands down. However, Filipino farmers still wish that whatever decision is made, such would help them make their own choice as to what they want to plant in their farms. After all, who should decide what Filipino farmers plant in their farms? Shouldn’t it be the farmers themselves? Why should a foreign pressure group decide for them?

Farmers choose on the basis of what they can sell in the market at better prices. They also choose on the basis of what is safer for their health.

At present, without Bt Talong, Filipino farmers are left with only two choices: poor harvest using antiquated farming methods, or better harvest after much application of chemical pesticides. The latter tend to put greater burden on their pockets and higher risks to their health. If you want to know more about the harmful effects of pesticides, read “The Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.

It would be good for our farmers to have a third choice: higher yields at lower costs and with less risk to their health.

The debate on biotechnology should have been left as an issue of science and technology rather than in a legal contest. Greenpeace should have argued its case before Filipino farmers rather than before the courts. After all, it would be our farmers who will decide what to plant.

Why did Greenpeace opt for legal confrontation? Is it afraid of our Filipino scientists? Was it afraid that its contentions against biotechnology can easily be demolished by scientific proof and by the credibility of Filipino scientists?

The legal route appears to be a clever move by Greenpeace. What it cannot win in the court of public opinion it wants to win in a court of law.

Our interest is not in the legal grounds on which the efforts of our scientists stand. Neither are we hot on this pesticide-free eggplant variety. Eggplants have more uric acid content than other vegetable varieties. Too much uric acid in the body can give you gout, a very painful disease of the feet. But biotechnology may be able to produce an eggplant variety with less uric acid. We will wait for the others that are in the pipeline of the UPLB science community.

What we are interested in is freedom of choice, to which our farmers are entitled. This is no different from freedom of choice when it comes to issues of sexual reproduction. The job of government is to expand our options, to make new and better choices available.

The job of choosing which options are best for us should be left to us.

As for the safety of GMO foods, I will let the Food and Drug Administration, the government agency responsible for the safety of our food and drugs, speak:

“It can be said that food safety assessment for biotechnology products is more rigorous than for other crops produced by conventional breeding or other technologies. For the GMO food crops that have undergone food safety assessment and approval process, the consensus of scientific opinion and evidence is that the application of GM technology introduces no unique food safety concerns and up to this time there is no single case of evidence of harm to man. This conclusion has been reached by numerous national and international organizations.

“Regulatory systems are in place to assure the safety of these products… It takes around 10 to 14 years of laboratory research, contained greenhouse, contained small scale field trials, and pre-commercial testing and evaluation before a GM crop is approved for commercial release.”

08-17-2013, 08:08 AM
3 oil spills in 3 countries in 2 weeks

By Zelda Soriano

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:49 pm | Friday, August 16th, 2013

It’s been a bad few weeks for the oceans of Southeast Asia, with three separate petrochemical spills polluting our waters, endangering biodiversity and livelihoods.

Coming hot on the heels of the spill in Thailand on July 27, in which 50,000 liters of black oil drenched the beaches of the tourist island Koh Samed, came news of a massive spill in Indonesia.

On July 31, an oil tanker carrying a reported seven million liters of diesel and gasoline crashed at the Indonesian island of Ternate in the Coral Triangle, an area that covers six Asia-Pacific nations and is a top priority for marine conservation.

On Aug. 9, the Philippines awoke to the news of another disaster, with reports of up to half a million liters of diesel spilling into Manila Bay, affecting several coastal towns in the province of Cavite. A state of calamity was declared in the town of Rosario after officials reported that the spill had damaged coral reefs and has driven local fishing boats out of the water amid serious contamination of fish catches.

The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations went on a retreat in Hua Hin, Thailand, on Aug. 13-15 and the economic ministers will meet in Brunei on Aug. 20-24 to prepare the agenda for the next Asean Summit in October. It is imperative that the focus be on the issue of ocean pollution by dirty petrochemical fossil fuels.

As with their recent action on the “Haze Wave,” which saw much of the region affected by smog from forest fires, the Asean leadership must now cooperate to stop ocean pollution by dirty petrochemical fossil fuels.

Southeast Asia relies heavily on its oceans for food, tourism and livelihoods. The recent World Bank report “Turn Down the Heat” noted that in this region, there are 138 million people living on coasts and within 30 kilometers of a coral reef who are likely to suffer major social, economic, and nutritional impacts as a result of climate change.

At the upcoming Asean Summit, our leaders will have their chance to take strong measures to protect the region’s oceans, not only by holding the polluting industries accountable but also by ensuring that our region is steered away from a development path that will see the inevitable degradation of our natural resources and livelihoods.

These three oil spill incidents demonstrate that the transportation of fossil fuels is a high-risk activity, posing enormous dangers not just to the environment but also to communities and their way of life.

Our oceans are already under threat from destructive fishing, pollution, climate change, mostly caused by use of fossil fuels. The oceans have absorbed large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions and are rapidly becoming more acidic. This means that corals, shellfish, squid and many kinds of plankton are at risk. The increase in extreme weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons has often seen entire coral reef systems wiped out in one storm. Our oceans are already fragile. The last thing they need is repeated pollution by petrochemicals.

While Asean has paid a lot of attention to the Oil Spill Response Action Plan, it must be pointed out that damage to the oceans may appear to be “cleaned up.” But an oil spill can never be undone. As we have seen in the Gulf of Mexico, the long-term effects of an oil spill (as well as the methods used in the cleanup) continue to unfold. The impacts on marine life, human health and fishing communities will continue to be counted for generations to come.

Our region needs to set the global standard for marine protection, not just because it is home to the Coral Triangle, an area of such incredible biodiversity that it has been dubbed the “Amazon of the Seas.”

The World Bank report emphasized that “the degradation and loss of coral reefs will diminish tourism, reduce fish stocks, and leave coastal communities and cities more vulnerable to storms.”

Asean needs to take the lead in marine protection and conservation, not just for the sake of the environment but also because our people, our culture, and our entire future depend on healthy oceans.

08-17-2013, 08:37 AM
From the NY Times online ___

What’s So Bad About Big?

Published: March 7, 2007

“SMALL is beautiful,” wrote the economist E. F. Schumacher almost 35 years ago. In most areas of the economy, he reasoned, production had become too big and too centralized.

But he might have been wrong about the subject he knew most about: energy. When it comes to alternative ways of generating power, big may be better.

Wind, solar and other renewable-energy technologies that were once considered more appropriate for single homes or small communities are reaching levels of scale and centralizing that were formerly the province of coal- and gas-fired plants and nuclear reactors. In other words, green is going giant.

The companies that are building or dreaming up large projects argue that there are economies of scale to be gained.

In the desert north of Tucson, Arizona Public Service, an electric utility, is using an array of mirrors to concentrate sunlight and heat mineral oil up to 550 degrees; the heat vaporizes a liquid hydrocarbon, which runs a generator to make electricity.

But this is no rooftop operation. There are six rows of mirrors, each nearly a quarter-mile long, totaling nearly 100,000 square feet. The project produces one megawatt of power — enough to run a hospital or a large shopping center — but the company that installed it, now called Acciona Solar Power (formerly Solargenix), expects to open a 350-acre plant in Boulder City, Nev., soon, producing 64 megawatts with similar technology. And Arizona Public Service is one of about a half-dozen utilities that is considering a joint project to build a 250-megawatt plant based on the same technology.

Such projects run counter to some ideas of how alternative energy should be developed. Jeremy Rifkin, the author and futurist who believes that millions of people will soon be generating their own hydrogen from renewable energy, said that waste was built into large central projects because of electrical transmission losses.

“If you go and put it in the desert and bring it back in, you lose 7 to 9 percent on the way,” he said.

More to the point, Mr. Rifkin said, home-grown energy is going to be cheaper. “It’s a question of who owns and controls it at the end of the line,” he said. “If you own it on your own, it’s going to be at a cheaper price than if the utility company is going to sell it to you.”

But it is not just corporations that are finding that bigger may be better.

Hull, Mass., is about as far from an oil or gas well as it is possible to get in the United States. Its municipal utility decided in the early 1980s to build a wind turbine, making an asset from the strong breeze coming off the ocean north of Boston. The machine it built could generate 40 kilowatts, enough for a handful of homes.

Five years ago, Hull tried again, still wanting to cut energy costs and also the emissions of greenhouse gases that might one day cause the Atlantic Ocean, which surrounds the town on three sides, to creep up the beaches. It built a wind machine 16 times larger, 660 kilowatts. While the 1985 turbine was on a structure that looked a bit like a ham-radio operator’s antenna, the new one, named Hull 1, was on a 150-foot tower.

But it was too small. Last year the town installed Hull 2, which at 1.8 megawatts is three times larger. Now Hull is considering four new turbines that can produce 3.6 megawatts each. “The small one we have, purely aesthetically, is kind of an ugly thing,” said John B. Murdock, manager of the municipal electric system. With their slow-moving, graceful blades, he said, “the big ones are much more attractive.”

They also make better economic sense, he said. Earlier this year, the town put up a tiny turbine, 1,800 watts, as an educational tool, for $15,000. If 1,000 families in the area put up such machines, they would have the same output as Hull 2, at a cost of $15 million. Hull 2 cost about $3 million.

Hull’s economics are being repeated around New England and the world. Farther down the Massachusetts coast in Nantucket Sound, for example, entrepreneurs are trying to build the Cape Wind project, 130 turbines producing 3.6 megawatts each.

At Siemens Power Generation, which builds equipment for wind turbines and other generators, Randy Zwirn, the chief executive, said that the only limit to wind-turbine size might be how long a blade could be transported to the site. The company’s 3.6-megawatt machine uses a blade that is about 175 feet long.

Other companies want to build even bigger wind turbines with capacities as high as seven megawatts. A larger machine would be even higher — perhaps 250 feet — and could take advantage of the fact that winds are 20 percent stronger at 250 feet than at 150 feet, said Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, an associate professor at Stanford’s department of civil and environmental engineering.

But in Nantucket Sound, 3.6-megawatt turbines are considered big enough. On a windy day, the 130 machines would produce as much power as a modest-size plant burning coal or natural gas.

08-17-2013, 08:39 AM
^ (Continued)

There is certainly no point in making the project smaller, said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind.

“You’ve got costs that include staging, marine construction, placing an electric transmission infrastructure below the seabed, acquisition of maintenance vessels, use of a port facility, spare parts, storage, manning an operations center, insurance and taxes,” he said.

For many of those items, if the project were 50 percent larger or 50 percent smaller, the costs would vary little. “These are things that you’re going to have to do, whether it’s a very small or a very large offshore wind farm,” Mr. Rodgers said. “The best bang for the buck is go to large.”

While mirrors in the desert cannot operate at the rooftop scale, the kind that can, photovoltaic cells, which turn sunlight into energy, may also work better on a big scale, experts say.

A single-home installation is fine, they say, but not cost-effective. It can become so through large-scale deployment of the kind envisioned by Bud Annan, who was the solar program director at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration.

Mr. Annan said that the cost of a rooftop solar project was divided between the manufacturing of solar cells and installation. Some progress has been made in reducing manufacturing costs, but both parts of the equation must come down in price, he said.

Now living in Scottsdale, Ariz., Mr. Annan is working with a utility and local real estate developers to try to incorporate solar roofs into 10,000 new houses, all at once. That way, he said, the installers can go from house to house the way carpenters, plumbers and electricians do. “He can standardize his installation, and that whole second half of the equation becomes more manageable for him,” Mr. Annan said.

Clusters of houses might share a bank of batteries, so that they could guarantee a steady power output. Power that a utility can count on is worth more than power that is unpredictable. Solar energy that is connected to a battery system is available even after the sun sets, making it sell for a higher price.

Roger Little, chief executive of the Spire Corporation, a solar cell manufacturer near Boston, said his systems cost $7 or $8 per watt of installed capacity when put on rooftops, which means that the equipment needed to light a 100-watt bulb would cost $700 to $800. Half is for the cells and half is for the rest of the system, including mounting brackets and external wiring.

Mr. Little said he could lower the price to $3.60, but that the first step would have to be replacing typical solar panels, which produce about 160 watts of electricity each, with a 1,000-watt panel. The big panel would require less support material per watt than the smaller ones, he said.

But that panel would be 200 pounds, too heavy to haul up to a roof. The solution, he said, is to install it on the ground, in a big flat spot of desert — which, by the way, would be a wonderful place to build the solar-cell factory, cutting delivery costs to zero. And the bigger the installation, the lower the cost, per watt, of the other equipment required, he said.

Mr. Little is negotiating with the Tucson Electric Company to build a factory in Arizona that would produce 100 megawatts of cells a year, and run it for 10 years or so. Other cities and companies are considering similar ideas. Mr. Little said that at some point his project would turn into a “breeder,” its electric production paying for its operation.

His company already runs factories that make 50 megawatts of new cells a year. The viability of the project depends mostly on whether Congress extends the production tax credit given to renewable and nuclear energy, he said.

Arizona Public Service, which operates the solar generator north of Tucson, seems to be on a campaign to show that there is no green approach that does not work well on a corporate scale. Last year, it started raising algae, feeding them carbon dioxide from a natural-gas-fired power plant, Red Hawk, west of Phoenix. It used the algae to make biodiesel, a vehicle fuel that is more commonly made from soybeans or corn. The company is now installing bigger equipment to test the process on a larger scale.

Even for renewable energy like heating with wood (an idea that has been around for much longer than the term “renewable”), the scale is growing. For example, the University of South Carolina would like to reduce its carbon footprint and lower its natural-gas bill of $6.5 million a year. So this spring it plans to open a plant that will use wood scraps to make electricity, and use steam from the system’s waste heat to warm the campus.

This is not some wood-fired boiler. It is an $18 million gasification project that will heat the wood, mostly chips and bark, to produce a flammable gas, which will be burned in a turbine that resembles a jet engine. And the university will not run it on clippings from trees at the Columbia campus; it will take 14 tractor-trailer loads a day, about 55,000 tons a year.

Because the wood is gasified but not burned, the system, which is similar to one used in Burlington, Vt., produces less nitrogen oxides and less soot than a boiler would, said Jonathan S. Rhone, chief of the Nexterra Energy Corporation of Vancouver, British Columbia, which built the gasifier. But being that clean requires an industrial-size system.

There is another reason that it is not the kind of project that works on a small basis: it will take about 14 years to pay for itself. “We’ve been here 200 years,” said Helen Zeigler, the university business manager. “We can afford to make investments like this.” A 14-year payback would never work on a family budget, she said.

Sam Miguel
08-23-2013, 08:01 AM

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:45 pm | Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

First, the (relatively) good news. The inclement weather that paralyzed a good part of Luzon between Sunday and Wednesday dumped a total of 671.6 mm of rainwater—much more than the 455 mm recorded in 2009 (Tropical Storm “Ondoy”) or the 472 mm in 2012 (during last year’s habagat or southwest monsoon). And yet the worst weather disturbance in four years claimed the lives of “only” 18 persons.

We place that in quotes because every single human life is important, and because unlike earthquakes which cannot be predicted, storms once tracked can be anticipated; the goal of ensuring that no life is lost during a storm’s passage through the Philippines is difficult but not unattainable. Each life lost is simply one life too many.

But in 2009, Ondoy claimed more than 460 lives; in 2012, about 110 victims died in the floods caused by torrential monsoon rains. It is possible that the death toll from this week’s extreme weather may still rise, but the final tally will be nowhere near Ondoy or even “Habagat 2012” levels.

Credit must be given to the weather forecasters, who helped prepare the country with up-to-date and accurate reports; to local governments, which effected the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people almost without incident; to agencies such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines which helped provide transportation assistance, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development which helped prepare and pre-deploy relief goods; to the Philippine Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations, which sprang into action even before the first rain fell; and to the journalists, soaked and battered, who provided vital information from the field.

The matter of the suspension of classes in affected areas is a good example of what went right. Suspensions were announced ahead of time, sometimes even the day before. Indeed, on Sunday, when the first announcements were made, some wags cracked jokes online, saying the early notice all but guaranteed that the sun would come out on Monday. But it was a good call, repeated over the next few days.

The evacuation of residents from vulnerable areas also proceeded according to plan; when the Marikina River rose to an alarming level, for instance, residents of at-risk residential villages in Marikina dutifully complied with the evacuation order—even though their streets were not even flooded.

According to the latest estimates of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, some 1.73 million people from 119 municipalities and 31 cities in Luzon were affected by the rains. Central Luzon bore the brunt, with some 1.02 million residents included in the tally.

Over half a million people were displaced. According to the NDRRMC count, over 217,000 persons had to seek shelter in a total of 709 evacuation centers, while over 345,000 persons retreated to the homes of families and friends. This is an extraordinary movement of people, conducted under less than ideal conditions.

Now, the (continuing) bad news. Laguna de Bay remains heavily silted; dredging of the lake does not seem to be a top priority, and the infrastructure to drain it of excess water (say, a spillway through admittedly densely populated Parañaque) is not in place.

Floods continue to be a serious problem in the sprawling mega-city that is Metro Manila, because some of the old problems remain. In the first place, there are just too many people: some 12 million are squeezed into an area the size of Singapore. The national government’s plan to relocate a total of 60,000 informal settlers who live on and near major waterways just got underway; this week’s rains render the three-year timetable insufficiently ambitious.

The volume of trash is another, familiar factor; the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority estimates that some 3,000 cubic meters of garbage find their way to the capital region’s rivers and waterways.

Illegal logging in the mountains north of Metro Manila, also worsens the floods; without enough trees, the mountains cannot retain as much rainwater as they used to.

Not least, sheer human stubbornness can get in the way of the no-life-lost policy. As caught on TV time and again, many residents were shown refusing to leave their homes, even when the entire first floor was already underwater. Unfortunately, there is often a steep price to pay.

Sam Miguel
08-23-2013, 09:18 AM
‘Amihan’ and ‘habagat’

By Ambeth R. Ocampo

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:42 pm | Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Many visitors want to see my study, if only to see the desk or the room where my columns and lectures are born. My library is usually off-limits because it resembles ground zero—a direct hit from a storm or earthquake. Clutter is natural for me, it suggests physical sloth and mental activity. On the other hand, a clean and organized desk projects the opposite.

The recent floods reminded me of two pictures by Charles Wirgman in the 1857 Illustrated London News showing how people coped with a flooded street in Manila: men rolled up their pants, women pulled up their skirts, umbrellas were opened. In areas where road turned into stream, people switched from vehicles with wheels to bancas. While pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words, I needed the Illustrated London News text for a quote to be used in today’s column, but the transcription is tucked away somewhere in my files to be found later when I have no need for it.

Filipino painters also documented the habagat or its effects in charming but little-known works like one by Fabian de la Rosa in 1919, who painted a man waist-deep in a Manila flood. Fernando Amorsolo, nephew of Don Fabian, is better known as a painter of Philippine sunlight, whose images of rice fields and sensuous, smiling maidens captured the mood of the prewar “Pistaym” (peace-time) Philippines. He also painted a woman walking against rain and wind, her location given away by the Legazpi-Urdaneta monument in the background. De la Rosa and Amorsolo were professors in the UP School of Fine Arts, like Dr. Toribio Herrera who painted a more violent scene of a woman struggling with an umbrella blown out of shape by storm and rain.

Habagat (southwest monsoon) is wind that brings heavy rainfall that results in floods during the wet season. Amihan (northeast monsoon) brings cold air to our shores from the Christmas season to February. These winds have been known to us for centuries. These winds were known to Chinese traders as early as the ninth century when they traded porcelain, remnants, if not surviving whole pieces, of which have been found in almost all archeological sites in the Philippines. Chinese junks sailed from Guangdong and Fujian to the Philippines and Indonesia during amihan sometime around March, and returned around June during habagat. Spaniards in the 16th century also knew about these tradewinds but called them by other names. Governor-General Francisco Sande sent a report to Philip II from Manila on June 7, 1576, that read:

“…there are two general seasons (in Filipinas), the dry season, (when) the BRISAS, as they are called, blow from the southeast to the north, finally blowing directly from the north; while in the other or wet season, the VENDAVALES blow from northwest to southwest. Thus during these two seasons, the winds blow from every point of the compass.

“…coming from Nueva España [Mexico], from the east towards this western region, the BRISAS would help; while the VENDAVALES, especially the usual one, the southwesterly wind in the channels of these islands would impede the progress of the ship… it is quite clear and evident that by the end of May and middle of June the VENDAVAL begins here from the west and blows strongly night and day. Now if for any reason it should cease for a moment, it would only be to burst forth again with renewed vigor. Such a period of quietness is called here CALLADAS (silence). The BRISA begins in November and lasts till the end of May. Between these two general seasons two others exist, called BONANZAS (‘gentle winds’) which last from the middle of March to the end of May, and comprise also part of September and October.”

Filipinos of my age remember Bonanza either as an American TV series about cowboys in the Wild West, or a theme restaurant on Edsa that served roasted calf. History enlarges our vocabulary and our understanding by telling us about gentle winds between the cold season and the rainy season. History also teaches us perspective by making us relate the present flooding not just with previous ones like “Ondoy” and “Milenyo” but with documented storms all the way back, beyond memory, to the 16th century. History teaches us to see how we cope with disaster and how much of our reactions are rooted in our time and experience. Digging a bit deeper makes us understand why things are the way they are.

Didn’t pre-Spanish Filipinos, like other peoples of insular Southeast Asia, build their houses on stilts? This was done to keep dry and safe from wild animals. When the Spanish came and brought a different type of architecture the bahay kubo remained above ground; even the bahay-na-bato kept the owner of the house and his things safe from floods on the upper floor. The Spanish introduced the wheel, roads and bridges to connect lands separated by water, when our people were actually connected by water. They didn’t need a bridge or the wheel because water was their road and bridge. Even names like Tausug (tau—people, sug—sea) or Tagalog from Taga-ilog (from the river) are rooted in water. The names of places also evoke water: Cebu from Sugbu (shallow water) and Pampanga (from pampang or riverbank).

History is not confined to old books and documents, it means being able to read the past in the events of the present. Floods can be read as history lessons to make us realize that things don’t have to be the way they are.

* * *

08-25-2013, 10:33 AM
Greenpeace ship defies Russia in Arctic oil-drilling protest

Agence France-Presse

8:51 am | Sunday, August 25th, 2013

MOSCOW – Greenpeace defied Russian authorities Saturday by deploying an icebreaker through an Arctic shipping route without permission to protest against oil drilling.

The Russian transportation ministry immediately accused the Dutch-flagged vessel of “crudely” violating Russian and international law.

Nevertheless Vladimir Chuprov, head of the Russian energy unit at Greenpeace, said the icebreaker was so far moving forward unhindered by military ships or border guard vessels.

Earlier this week Greenpeace said Russia had refused permission to enter the Northern Sea Route on several occasions citing concerns about the icebreaker’s ability to withstand thick ice.

The global environmental group has called the move “a thinly veiled attempt to stifle peaceful protest.”

In defiance of the Russian authorities, Greenpeace said its ship Arctic Sunrise entered the Northern Sea Route at 0330 GMT Saturday to protest plans by the country’s top oil firm Rosneft and its US partner ExxonMobil to drill near the Russian Arctic National Park.

“We refuse to let illegal attempts by the Russian government stop us from exposing dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic,” Christy Ferguson, a Greenpeace campaigner aboard the ship, was quoted as saying in the group’s statement.

“The Russian Arctic National Park is a special place full of rare and threatened Arctic wildlife, and faces an infinitely greater threat from reckless oil companies than a fully equipped Greenpeace icebreaker.

“If Rosneft and ExxonMobil bring in offshore drilling platforms they will risk catastrophic blowouts and spills that could devastate the region,” said Ferguson, adding that the two oil giants “rely on secrecy and evasion.”

Ferguson, in a blog posted on the Greenpeace website, branded ExxonMobil a “profit-hungry monster,” saying it “has partnered with Rosneft to take advantage of weak legislation and a lack of accountability in Russian waters.”

The Arctic Sunrise was heading to the Kara Sea where several vessels contracted by Rosneft and ExxonMobil are conducting seismic testing to prepare for offshore drilling.

Russian officials said the ship owner was violating Russian law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The transportation ministry sent a letter to the foreign ministry with a request to get in touch with The Netherlands’ maritime authorities with the aim of influencing the owner of the vessel on behalf of the flag state,” a spokeswoman told AFP.

“By being in the Northern Sea Route waters the vessel presents a serious threat to the environment.”

The Russian foreign ministry did not immediately react.

Dima Litvinov, a Stockholm-based Greenpeace activist, called on the Dutch government to support the campaign.

“At the very least, I would certainly hope that the Dutch government would support the legitimate claim and the right of passage into that area,” he told AFP.

More than 400 vessels have already been permitted to enter the shipping route this year, the group said.

Greenpeace said the plans to drill in the protected ecosystem were in contravention of Russia’s own laws.

Established in 2009, the natural park is home to endangered species such as the bowhead whale, and it is a major breeding ground for polar bears.

Rosneft, headed by one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest confidants, Igor Sechin, said its offshore operations were “absolutely safe.”

“High-technology solutions which will be used to implement the Arctic projects are capable of ensuring maximum environmental safety of the works,” the company said in a statement sent to AFP.

Russia and the United States hope that the global warming melting the Arctic sea ice will help them tap the vast oil and gas resources believed to be buried in the region.

Putin has pledged to turn the Northern Sea Route into a key shipping artery, part of the Kremlin’s bid to mark out its stake over the energy-rich Arctic.

The 60-year-old Russian strongman, who has made much of his concern for wildlife, has been pictured kissing animals.

08-25-2013, 11:00 AM
US wildfire gains strength, creeps into Yosemite

Associated Press

8:43 am | Sunday, August 25th, 2013

FRESNO, California— A wildfire raging along the northwest edge of California’s Yosemite National Park gained strength Saturday, as officials cleared brush and set sprinklers to protect two groves of giant sequoias.

The iconic trees can resist fire, but dry conditions and heavy brush are forcing park officials to take extra precautions in the Tuolumne and Merced groves. About three dozen of the giant trees are affected.

“All of the plants and trees in Yosemite are important, but the giant sequoias are incredibly important both for what they are and as symbols of the National Park System,” said spokesman Scott Gediman.

The trees grow naturally only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and are among the largest and oldest living things on earth.

The Tuolumne and Merced groves in are in the north end of the park near Crane Flat. While the Rim Fire is still some distance away, park employees and trail crews are not taking any chances.

The blaze, which started a week ago, held steady overnight at nearly 200 square miles (more than 500 square kilometers). But a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says firefighters didn’t get their usual reprieve from cooler early morning temperatures Saturday.

“This morning we are starting to see fire activity pick up earlier than it has the last several days,” said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. “Typically, it doesn’t really heat up until early afternoon. We could continue to see this fire burn very rapidly today.”

More than 2,600 firefighters and a half dozen aircraft are battling the blaze.

More than 5,500 homes are threatened, four have been destroyed and voluntary and mandatory evacuations are underway.

The fire has grown so large and is burning dry timber and brush with such ferocity that it has created its own weather pattern, making it difficult to predict in which direction it will move.

The tourist mecca of Yosemite Valley, the part of the park known around the world for such sights as the Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations and waterfalls, remained open, clear of smoke and free from other signs of the fire that remained about 20 miles away.

The fire is burning toward the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, where San Francisco gets 85 percent of its water and power for municipal buildings, the international airport and San Francisco General Hospital. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency because of the threats.

Officials with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission are running continuous tests on water quality in the reservoir that is the source of the city’s famously pure water.

Deputy General Manager Michael Carlin told The Associated Press on Saturday that no problems from falling ash have been detected.

The commission also shut two hydro-electric stations fed by water from the reservoir and cut power to more than 12 miles (19 kilometers) of lines. The city has been buying power on the open market.

Sam Miguel
08-27-2013, 08:11 AM
Economic cost of floods

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:19 pm | Monday, August 26th, 2013

The government was pleased that casualties from last week’s unusually heavy monsoon rains were kept to a minimum. The economic losses caused by the severe flooding in Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces, however, have been huge.

The economy virtually came to a halt—financial markets were closed, transportation around the metropolis was in chaos, factories in affected areas were shut down, air travel was affected as roads going to the airport became impassable and crucial infrastructure, such as a portion of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway or SCTEx, was destroyed. The Department of Agriculture estimates that damage to crops could amount to P2.6 billion. According to the Philippine Insurers and Reinsurers Association, insurance companies are expected to process P3 billion worth of claims for homes and cars damaged by Tropical Storm “Maring” and the southwest monsoon or habagat.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council estimates that 1.7 million people were affected by last week’s calamity. It said floods covered 1,181 barangays in 112 municipalities, 31 cities and 16 provinces in Luzon and Metro Manila. The floods also closed 72 roads and two bridges. Placed under a state of calamity were Bataan, Pampanga, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal and several cities and municipalities even in Metro Manila.

Since the massive floods caused by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009, one main cause of this calamity has been identified—the tributaries bringing rainwater out of the metropolis have been occupied and blocked by illegal settlers. The massive floods were repeated in 2010, in August last year and again last week, when Maring enhanced the southwest monsoon to dump more rainfall on Luzon than Ondoy did.

The government estimates that some 60,000 families in Metro Manila live on waterways. Some business establishments are as guilty. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, for instance, has also identified at least two buildings illegally standing on tributaries in Mandaluyong. Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson noted that many other buildings and structures were standing on waterways, blocking the flow of water out of the capital region.

There are permanent solutions that the government is looking into. Singson has cited the construction of the so-called Blumentritt interceptor in Manila, a three-kilometer pit to temporarily store water that will be ready by July next year, and a similar project in Mandaluyong circle.

These are part of the ambitious P352-billion flood control master plan of the DPWH that aims to rehabilitate 15 major pumping stations and drainage channels in Metro Manila and restore its surrounding natural waterways. It also plans to revive the dredging project and the construction of dikes in the Laguna Lake. The plan was approved last year and projects in the Caloocan-Malabon-Navotas-Valenzuela or Camanava area, Marikina, Pasig and Manila began in December 2012 and January this year.

The government also plans to construct a “road-ring dike” around Laguna de Bay to slow the rise of floodwaters. Singson referred to the road dike as the C6 Extension to Laguna that will be placed under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) law soon.

In all these, the cost-effective solution that requires only a lot of political will is the removal of all illegal settlers and structures occupying the waterways. No less than the DPWH chief had noted that in reducing flooding in Metro Manila, the first order of business for the government was to clear waterways of garbage, reduce siltation and relocate illegal settlers. He said Metro Manila’s waterways now have a carrying capacity of only 30 percent due to heavy siltation. However, the silt could not be removed by simply dredging the waterways; it will require the removal of illegal settlers.

It is time for the executive branch to force local government units to remove all illegal structures on waterways in their areas of jurisdiction. Removing illegal settlers from these tributaries may prove difficult for some local politicians who rely on their votes during elections, but such an action will be for a greater good.

Sam Miguel
08-27-2013, 12:56 PM
Humans’ complicity in climate change can’t be ignored

By Editorial Board, Tuesday, August 27, 6:47 AM

NEXT MONTH, the international arbiter of the scientific consensus on global warming will release its latest evaluation of the state of the research. A few will dismiss the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) findings as overwrought alarmism. But a draft leaked to reporters last week indicates that, for most people, the report will serve as another stern warning about the risks of continuing to pump carbon dioxide into the air.

The scientists are set to claim that the increasing amount of greenhouse gases that humans have emitted into the atmosphere has almost certainly been the chief driver of the warming of the planet over the past half-century, a finding to which they ascribe 95 percent confidence. That’s the level of likelihood researchers typically consider robust enough to justify drawing very strong conclusions.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the IPCC notes, has shot up by 40 percent since 1750, with concentrations of the gas now increasing at a faster rate than at any time in the last 22,000 years. The past three decades were probably the hottest in 800 years. Within this century, the draft report reckons, the average world temperature will increase between 2 and 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

The draft is appropriately careful when discussing global warming’s effects. The sea is risingfaster in recent years than before. Climate change probably has caused more extreme weather events, such as heat waves. But, as Reuters points out, the report doesn’t insist on a connection between warming and intense tropical cyclones, for example.

The IPCC admits that it doesn’t have a sure answer to a vexing question: Why has warming slowed a bit in the past decade or so? With medium confidence, the draft suggests that the explanation lies in a mix of natural variations and things such as the oceans absorbing more heat or more volcano debris reflecting sunlight back into space. It’s also possible, the scientists admit, that the planet’s sensitivity to greenhouse emissions is lower than middle-of-the-road projections.

Unless the IPCC’s report changes drastically between now and next month, the bottom-line message will be clear. Some uncertainties are inevitable when humans try to comprehend an incredibly complex climate system. Scientists might not be able to answer some questions for years, until they can look back at what changed after so much carbon dioxide entered the atmosphere so quickly. Those inevitable uncertainties are all the more reason for governments, starting with the United States’, to head off the ample risks of continuing to release huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the air and to set about it with speed and ambition.

Sam Miguel
09-04-2013, 09:35 AM
Farmers, eco warriors vow to block ‘Golden Rice’

By DJ Yap

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:20 am | Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Farmer and environment groups Tuesday vowed to do everything to stop the release of genetically modified “Golden Rice” to farms and markets in the country owing to health and environmental concerns.

In a statement, Jaime Tadeo, spokesperson of the National Rice Farmers Council, accused producers and developers of Golden Rice of “sugarcoating” the Vitamin A-enriched product to give “a humanitarian face” to GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.

“Golden Rice has long been rejected by Filipinos and other parts of the world. Its creators are using this to improve their image and we know they are waging a major public relations campaign to win the hearts of Filipinos and get this GMO rice in our food on the table,” he said.

Research and development of Golden Rice began in 1992 with the prototype released eight years later by Syngenta, the third largest seed company and biggest agrochemical company in the world, according to environment watchdog Greenpeace.

The first generation Golden Rice had low concentrations of beta carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, and would have required 12 times its normal consumption to give consumers the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A, a 2001 Greenpeace study showed.

In 2005, the Golden Rice project, supported by companies like Syngenta which owned patents on genes and processes involved in the production of Golden Rice, came out with the second-generation Golden Rice (GR 2) that supposedly had more beta carotene.

The second generation variety is being jointly tested by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) in several locations around the Philippines, Greenpeace said.

“I am warning my fellow farmers. Once the government approves Golden Rice it will undoubtedly mix with our seeds and we will not be able to claim our farms as being truly organic. What will happen to our thrust of exporting specialty or organic rice to other countries,” Tadeo said.

The farmers’ group appealed to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala not to allow the entry or release of GMOs in the Philippines, particularly Golden Rice, “because it will not only cost the country its emerging niche in rice exports but also endanger its biodiversity and pose unknown risks to human health.”

“We don’t see any benefits from allowing GMOs into the country. It will not increase our yield which would improve our incomes. Even the Vitamin A component of Golden Rice cannot be ascertained by its sponsors,” said Tadeo.

Greenpeace noted that IRRI, which is leading the development of Golden Rice, admitted in a statement dated Feb. 26 and posted on its website that “it has not yet been determined whether daily consumption of Golden Rice does improve the Vitamin A status of people who are Vitamin A deficient and could therefore reduce related conditions such as night blindness.”

“If Golden Rice is approved by national regulators, Helen Keller International and our university partners will conduct a controlled community study to ascertain if eating Golden Rice every day improves one’s Vitamin A status,” it said.

“Syngenta may not be after large profits in releasing Golden Rice per se. They see this as a big opportunity to increase GMO brownie points by presenting this as a humanitarian program for the Philippines,” Tadeo said.

Sam Miguel
09-12-2013, 10:22 AM
DENR confiscates 32 caged animals

Cebu Daily News

9:35 am | Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Why are these wildlife species being kept as pets?

A total of 32 assorted birds and a juvenile monkey – a long tailed Philippine Macaque – were rescued from a private residence in barangay Kotkot, Liloan town last September 6, and brought to a wildlife facility to stabilize their condition.

“They were caged. Most likely their nutrition is inadequate and there was no proper maintenance considering that the birds were caged since the time they were seized,” said Eddie Llamedo, spokemsan of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources 7.

The animals were confiscated in a joint operation by the DENR and the National Bureau of Investigation.

The animals were seized at the residence of Aristotle Binabaye, who was given 15 days to present proof of ownership and a wildlife registration permit.

The species were turned over to the APK Wildlife Facility in barangay Lahug for temporary care and custodial safekeeping and to stabilize the health condition of the birds.

The rescued animals included ten Hanging Parakeets or Colasisi, four Coletos, three Tarictic Hornbills, a Green Imperial Pigeons, a Brown Dove or Reddish Cuckoo Dove and a Blue Naped Parrot.

Authorities also confiscated one Crested Myna , a Philippine Macaque, a Crested Goshawk, a Philippine Falconet, Philippine Eagle Owl , Brahminy Kite, Philippine Hawk Eagle and Besra.

The illegal trade of endangered species is penalized by a fine of P200,000 and a jail term of two years, Killing endangered animals carries the penalty of imprisonment of six years and a fine of P500,000. / Reporter Joy Cherry Quito

Sam Miguel
09-30-2013, 09:02 AM

An Important Step On Global Warming

In a move that has caused dismay in industry and among Republicans in the United States Congress, the Obama administration has proposed the first ever federal limits on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, which account for nearly 40 percent of the greenhouse gases America contributes to a gradually warming climate. The move, the first in a suite of executive actions on climate
change promised by President Obama in June, is a welcome sign of his determination to move ahead on his own authority and bypass a Congress whose interest in tackling global warming is virtually nil. The proposed limits — which apply only to new power plants — will have no immediate effect on carbon emissions.

But the long term consequences for the way the nation produces energy will be significant. The rules would restrict emissions at new natural gas fired plants to 450 kilograms of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, and at new coal plants to 498 kilograms per megawatt-hour. Because existing coal plants, even advanced ones, produce about 800 kilograms per megawatt-hour, industry will find it virtually impossible to build new coal plants without capturing and storing some or all of their carbon emissions — a technology the administration has promised to promote but which has not been commercially demonstrated on a wide scale. New gas-fired plants should easily fit under the new limits because they now produce only about 360 to 390 kilograms per megawatt-hour.

The rules for new plants are far less costly and contentious than the rules the Environmental Protection Agency is now drawing up to regulate thousands of existing power plants, the ones producing all those emissions. Even so, the coal industry and its Congressional allies are already up in arms. In a typical comment, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, described the rules for new plants as an "escalation" of the administration's "war on jobs" and a further manifestation of its "war on coal."

This greatly oversimplifies matters. Coal's share in the national energy mix has been declining; coal provided more than half of electricity generation in 2003 but only 37 percent in 2012. New regulations governing emissions of mercury and other pollutants have accounted for part of this decline by forcing utilities to retire some older coal-fired plants. But coal's main enemy has been the marketplace — the discovery of abundant supplies of cheaper natural gas and the remarkable advances in wind and solar power that have encouraged power companies, for economic reasons alone, to switch to cleaner fuels.

Our advice to Mr. Obama and his new E.P. A. administrator, Gina McCarthy, is to ignore industry's usual claim that the sky is falling and push ahead. For various reasons — the recession, he closing of some coal-fired plants, the tough new automobile standards — the United States has made commendable progress in red jcing its emissions, and is halfway toward meeting Mr. Obama's pledge at the Copenhagen climate summit meeting in 2009 to reduce its emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. But the news from the rest of the world — steadily increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, rising sea levels, more violent weather events, persistent droughts — isn't encouraging. The burden on the United States to set a positive example is as heavy as ever.

Sam Miguel
10-01-2013, 09:34 AM
Toxin-laced symbols

By Juan L. Mercado

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:07 pm | Monday, September 30th, 2013

“Only when the last river has been polluted, the last tree cut and the last fish caught, will we realize we cannot eat money.” Is this why 50 of the country’s 421 rivers are “biologically dead”?

Rivers form a community’s circulation system. But a growing number have been clogged with trash, toxic spill from factories and waste dumped from homes sans toilets. These morph into cesspools. When oxygen is sealed off, the river dies.

All five Cebu City rivers, for example, are kaput. So is Marilao in Bulacan, as Greenpeace inspectors found. But the Philippines has no monopoly on sewerage dumps.

Ganges and Yamuna in India, Tietê in Brazil, Yangtze and Jian in China are among the world’s most toxic rivers. So are the Mississippi in the United States, plus all Jakarta rivers in Indonesia.

To revive the Pasig and 47 tributaries, President Aquino committed P10 billion a year, says Gina Lopez, chair of the commission for the river’s rehabilitation. Half that money will relocate 300,000 squatters who huddle along the banks or esteros.

Since 2010, the commission rehabilitated four esteros. Over 6,500 squatters were relocated from the 2.9-kilometer Estero de Paco alone. It now sports tree-lined boardwalks, Agence France-Presse reports. Significantly, vendors stopped using it as a refuse bin. Work will start on 16 esteros this year.

Pasig River’s water remains badly polluted, cautions Asian Development Bank’s urban development specialist Javier Coloma Brotons. Problems range from lack of sewage treatment plants to geography. The Pasig River links 3,813-square-kilometer Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay. At high tide, waste from Manila’s huge ports and crammed communities surge back.

“To clean up Pasig, address problems with the bay,” Coloma Brotons urges. The political system’s “general chaos make a coordinated approach extremely difficult,” ADB notes. Vested interests interlock. And these took their toll “in repeated and costly failures to transform Pasig.”

The Aquino administration has dusted off the moribund Clean Water Act of 2004 by pinpointing eight rivers as critical “Water Quality Management Areas.” They are geographically spread.

In Luzon, there are the Sinocalan-Dagupan rivers of Pangasinan, the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando river system, areas within the Laguna Lake Development Authority’s jurisdiction, plus the San Juan River in Metro Manila. For the Visayas, these are the Tigum-Aganan watershed and the Iloilo-Batiano river system. The Silway River and Sarangani Bay, and Taguibo River in Agusan del Norte, are in Mindanao.

Citizen-based initiatives are sprouting: Cebu held a “River Summit 2013” and its academe network taps research facilities and expertise from universities—among them, San Carlos, University of the Philippines, Southwestern, San Jose-Recoletos, Cebu Institute of Technology, Cebu Doctors. Cebu Mayor Mike Rama pledged that the city’s Risk Management Council will cooperate. If it delivers, Cebu could set a model. But the work is grueling. And like other cities, Cebu haphazardly enforced laws on clean water and solid waste.

Global climate change is inflicting a heavy toll, warns the 2013 World Bank report titled “Getting a Grip on Climate Change in the Philippines.”

This study follows up the bank’s earlier “Turn Down the Heat” report. That warned current efforts to tamp down global warming, below a

2-degrees-Celsius surge, were faltering. A 4-degrees-Celsius hotter world will wreak havoc everywhere. “Things can get ugly fast.”

The bank ranks the Philippines as the third in the world’s list of countries most vulnerable to weather-related extreme events—from droughts to sea level rise. More than 20 typhoons annually lash the country’s northern and eastern parts. (In the last three years, three storms slammed a Mindanao that used to have a typhoon barrel through every 12 years or so, notes 1992 Ramon Magsaysay Foundation awardee for public service, Angel Alcala.)

Floods rampage through Central Luzon and southern Mindanao. And there have been disastrous landslides. “These climate-related impacts will reduce cultivatable land,” the report foresees. That in turn will whittle down “agricultural productivity and increase food insecurity.”

“In a 4-degrees-Celsius warmer world, sea levels will rise between 0.5 and 1 meter by 2100 and could affect cities in the Philippines. Coral bleaching and reef degradation will accelerate in the next 10-20 years.”

Last Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in New York: Scientists are “virtually certain” that man’s fossil-fuel-related emissions drove global warming. “Each of the last three decades has been probably warmer than any time in the past 1,400 years.”

“The heat is on,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. Act now or face disaster.

In Sweden, 195 member-nations meet this week to discuss IPCC’s study. Even if the greenhouse gas emissions are curbed, they’d still breach the critical threshold of 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. “Those who choose excuses over action are playing with fire,” US Secretary of State John Kerry warned.

The Philippines must urgently cobble adaptive capacity to increase “climate resilience of agricultural practices,” World Bank stressed. This can create jobs, alleviate food insecurity, reduce malnutrition, and help conserve water resources.

“Future development (should) be carried out with accommodation to climate change in mind. Otherwise, the country could be locked into infrastructure development, land use changes, and urbanization processes that are more vulnerable to climate risks.” The Philippines should “employ a sustainable green growth strategy expanding on mitigation opportunities.”

The unacceptable alternative is symbolized by those toxin-laced rivers.

Sam Miguel
10-04-2013, 10:40 AM
Makiling forest reserve declared heritage park

By Rhodina Villanueva

(The Philippine Star) | Updated October 4, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Mount Makiling Forest Reserve in Los Baños, Laguna has been declared as the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Heritage Park.

This developed after environment ministers from the 10 member-states of the regional group approved the nomination of Makiling as a natural park during the 14th Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on the Environment held on Sept. 25 in Surabaya, Indonesia.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje made the announcement in a Heritage Parks conference held in the country last Monday.

Paje said Makiling was recognized for its high conservation importance and named one of the country’s 18 centers of plant diversity and 32 key ecotourism sites.

“With its hot springs, gardens and scenery, it has been a prime ecotourism destination, given its proximity to Metro Manila. So the wonder is that, for all its wear and tear, the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve continues to thrive as a habitat for biodiversity, well enough to qualify as an ASEAN Heritage Park,” the DENR chief said.

The Mount Makiling Forest Reserve joins four other ASEAN Heritage Parks in the Philippines, which include Mt. Apo Natural Park, Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park, Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, and Mt. Malindang Range Natural Park.

Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau director Theresa Mundita-Lim said the declaration of Makiling as an ASEAN Heritage Park will mean opportunities for more support both in the local and international levels.

“This development also means recognition of the efforts of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) together with the DENR and the concerned sectors in protecting the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve,” she said.

In approving the nomination, ASEAN environment ministers noted that Makiling is a well-known destination for scientists and tourists because of the reserve’s prominence as an outdoor laboratory for forestry and its mountain peaks, and boiling mud and hot springs.

Nathaniel Bantayan, director of the Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems, said Mount Makiling is known as a legendary mountain and habitat of many important plant and animal species. The reserve manages to protect and conserve its diverse species, he said.

Meanwhile, John Pulhin, dean of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources of UPLB, whose campus is at the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve, said the reserve is home to internationally famous organizations of various concerns and has become a unique national and international center for higher education, science, arts, natural resources conservation and utilization, and tourism.

The certification of declaration as an ASEAN Heritage Park was presented during a ceremony held yesterday at the Makiling Botanical Gardens in Los Baños.

Leading the dignitaries during the presentation of the certificate were Rex Victor Cruz, chancellor of UPLB; Dana Kartakusuma, chairman of the governing board of the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity and assistant minister for economy and sustainable development of Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment; and Raman Letchumanan, head of the environment division of the ASEAN Secretariat.

The event was witnessed by managers of the 32 ASEAN Heritage Parks.

The ASEAN Center for Biodiversity serves as secretariat of the ASEAN Heritage Park Program. ASEAN Center for Biodiversity executive director Roberto Oliva said the heritage parks serve as a regional network of national protected areas of high conservation importance, preserving a complete spectrum of representative ecosystem to generate greater awareness, pride, appreciation, enjoyment, and conservation of ASEAN’s rich natural heritage.

10-08-2013, 10:39 AM
Who’ll pick up the tab?

By Dante Dalabajan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:54 am | Saturday, October 5th, 2013

The past few months were notable for the bad news that hogged the headlines.

One—noteworthy for the amount of money it involved and the big names it has so far implicated—was the pork barrel scandal. Predictably, the scandal has moved the chattering classes to circle the wagons against the thieves of taxpayers’ money. But while it is indeed an issue of taxpayers’ money, it is equally true that it is an issue of money taken away from poor farmers and fishers who were used as a ruse to steal us blind.

Another issue was the torrential rain that inundated Metro Manila, killed many, and plucked more than half a million residents from their flooded homes. If you think that it was bad enough, you can find consolation in the fact that this year, we haven’t seen something closely resembling the scale of “Ondoy,” “Pepeng,” “Sendong,” or “Pablo”—yet.

As a member of Oxfam, an organization that responds to disaster, I have had a ringside view of the catastrophic impacts of disaster on people in poverty. I have hundreds of heartrending images of the toll of disaster in my memory, but few are more deeply distressing than that of Tonton, a 10-year-old son of a seaweed farmer, whom I met in the middle of the sea in Surigao del Sur in the wake of Typhoon Pablo. Tonton was trying to salvage any seaweed saplings he could find in the sea as though they were shards of expensive Chinaware.

The typhoon went on to claim the lives of over 1,200 people, damage 200,000 homes, and level off hundreds of hectares of rice, corn, banana, and coconut farms. It never ceases to astonish me how so many losses could have been avoided if families like Tonton’s had the wherewithal to weather the storms.

Whenever I think about the money lost to corruption—today it is pork barrel, yesterday it was the fertilizer fund scam—I think of the money that could have been invested on systems that would help poor farmers and fishers unleash their productive potentials, enabling them to grow in these uncertain times. To me, the bigger scandal of corruption has less to do with stolen money per se—although I absolutely agree that that is a crime—than with the denial of opportunities for the poor to crawl out of the quagmire of poverty. Such a denial renders the poor more vulnerable than they already are: For example, they have to pawn valuable assets like boats and farm implements to get back on their feet after a disaster hits them, leaving them with little else to rebuild their shattered lives.

But what scares me even more is the prevailing scientific opinion carried in the new report prepared by 255 experts from universities and research institutions in 38 countries for the International Panel on Climate Change. The report’s summary is now publicly available at <http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/uploads/WGIAR5-SPM_Approved27Sep2013.pdf>. A copy of the draft report probably landed on President Aquino’s desk as early as June this year for his perusal and comments.

In the report, scientists say that “the last three decades have been successively warmer … than any preceding decade since 1850 and the warmest in 1,400 years,” and that global temperature will warm up further to 1.4-2.6C if carbon emissions proceed at the current pace.

The scenarios contemplated by the experts send shivers down the spine. If you think that the procession of extreme weather events that hit us in the last four years was bad enough, imagine when they become the new normal. There will be a spike in the incidence of infectious diseases, pestilence that will ravage our crops, and changes in our seas, coasts and landscapes in a way that will render them beyond our recognition.

Adapting to change requires money, lots of money, and with that comes both good news and bad news.

The good news is that in Copenhagen four years ago, developed countries pledged to support poor countries to lower their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change in the amount of $100 billion by 2020. Developed countries committed $30 billion in the way of Fast Start Financing (FSF) for 2010-2012, which was supposed to come as new and additional money on top of whatever amount of aid money they pledged prior to 2009.

But as shown in Oxfam’s global study, “The Climate Fiscal Cliff” published in late 2012, only 33 percent of the fund was actually new; the rest was already pledged before the Copenhagen Accord. Only 24 percent can be considered an addition to the 0.7 percent of Gross National Income pledged by developed countries for Official Development Assistance. A measly 21 percent of the FSF went to adaptation, and the more significant part of the money went to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s not even the bad news. The bad news is that nearly 60 percent of the FSF came in the form of loans, which rubs salt on the wounds of developing countries like the Philippines. It is as if the developed countries slammed their car against our own, and they have the gall to offer us a loan to repair our car. This is unacceptable.

But I’m not very worried about demanding that developed countries fulfill their financial obligations. That job is in the steady, able hands of our international negotiators led by Secretary Lucille Sering and Commissioner Yeb Sano of the Philippine Climate Change Commission, who have worked tirelessly to strike a fair, ambitious, and legally binding deal in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations. That’s good news to me.

Another bit of good news is that we now have a law called the People’s Survival Fund (PSF), a special trust account designed to address the gap in adaptation financing in the amount of P1 billion. I am privileged to have taken part in the formulation of the PSF Law and its implementing rules and regulations. One thing that I can bet both my arms on is this: Its governance architecture is as stout and robust as to forestall the designs of such enterprising minds as those that cooked up the pork barrel scam.

But since March the draft implementing rules and regulations of the PSF have been languishing on the President’s desk. So we are now in a situation where: developed countries who created the climate mess are unable to deliver on their pledges, a national government can’t dig into its own pocket to pick up the tab, and poor people, the least responsible for and the worst hit by the problem, are waiting in the sidelines. I think this is bad news for now, which the President can change with one mighty stroke of a pen.

As I travel around the municipalities in Mindanao, I am astonished to see local governments doing innovative things to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change and disasters even with minimum resources. That’s certainly good news to me. But they need help. Making the money flow from the PSF purse is a good first step.

Dante Dalabajan is the manager of Oxfam’s Building Resilient and Adaptive Communities and Institutions in Mindanao (BINDS) project. He is a former policy and research officer of Oxfam’s economic justice program and has 17 years of experience in public policy research and advocacy and campaigns.

10-09-2013, 09:08 AM
Coming to grips with a climate-defined future

by Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan

Posted on 09/30/2013 9:50 AM | Updated 09/30/2013 10:09 AM

In a nutshell, last week’s update from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that climate change stems from human activity. The data also indicates that it is advancing faster than many people thought. Whether or not the Philippines is responsible for this, we will get hit.

How are we going to get hit? As individuals, and as a nation, what options, or opportunities do we have?

First, as a global report, the UN report describes all projected climate impacts in terms of averages. However, climate change impacts do not take place uniformly. They are non-linear, and site specific. For certain impacts, such as storms, extreme rainfall, and sea level rise, some data already indicates that the Philippines sits well within ground zero. However, Baguio will face very different challenges from Cebu or Davao.

To be appropriate, planning and responses should, therefore, be site specific. They should be bottom up, and not top down.

Second, beyond direct manifestations, such as rainfall or storms, there will be indirect impacts such as shifts in the range of infectious disease, economic dislocation or increased demographic pressure from forced migration from areas of high risk, toward zones of refuge. Appropriate responses should, therefore, be holistic. Silo thinking will make matters worse.

Third, the human footprint aggravates climate vulnerability.

In the Philippines, threat multipliers include rapid population growth, and the clear trend toward unplanned urbanization. All cities do not face the same mix of vulnerabilities. Once again, this is not a level playing field. It is a slope.

As we face a climate-defined future, the question is not whether to develop, but how. Whether public or private, all new investments and retro-fits need to be evaluated through a bi-focal climate lens. Mitigation looks at the reduction of carbon. Adaptation considers the management of risk. Both need to be done. Any investment, that simply falls back on business as usual technology or formulas, is a waste of money–suffering from short-term utility.

For example, the Philippine Water Code was written in 1976. That policy is outdated. Cities along Manila Bay’s coastline, and in many other parts of the country are sinking due to over-extraction of groundwater. This increases flood risk.

And yet, the virtually unregulated use of deep wells continues to be tolerated. We do not have a Land Use law. Land use planning is often done to show compliance, rather than build local competitiveness. Change is never easy. But, in this case, it is imperative.

In many sectors, next practice has already been defined. Early adopters will seize a competitive edge, and lead the way.

How to prepare for climate change? Like all crises, basics come first. These include local food security, water and flood management, maintaining a balanced energy mix, all-weather access and transport, health, human capital, sustainable land use, as well as urban development.

If we are to keep our nation productive and competitive, economic activity needs to be kept humming. To be inclusive, these steps need to be pro-active, rather than simply re-active.

We must learn how to work together. Cities need to act in alliance, beyond their boundaries. Companies need to think beyond their fences, and consider the viability or vulnerability of the value chains, communities and catchments where they operate.

This public-private opportunity encompasses the design and operation of airports, highways and seaports. Unless we can get to work, continue to serve our customers, or deliver our goods, local economies face the increasing risk of disruption.

Reduced reliability results in increase cost and reduced competitiveness. We need an energy mix that guarantees stable costs and no downtime.

The climate challenge covers the way we grow our crops, and manage our watersheds. No city can live without food and water. A growing nation must learn how to produce more, with less. Existing political boundaries will no longer suffice. The ecosystem is our new management envelop.

Make time for this. Ask yourself, what things do you need?

For companies and organizations, run through a risk assessment, and review the vulnerability of each operation that is key to your continued viability. Are you in control? Start with the needs, then consider the wants. It is not difficult to do, if you call a spade, a spade.

In Cebu, my taxi driver knew exactly what intersections flood, what route to take in heavy rain, and when to pull over and wait for the floods to abate. This is a simple example that all of us can handle.

Climate change is a global phenomenon, but it will manifest itself in clusters or pockets of risk. Responses can and should be crafted at a variety of scales: catchment, city, site and building. This will define the scope of future opportunity. Everyone can be part of the solution. - Rappler.com

Lory Tan is the Vice Chair and Chief Executive Officer of WWF Philippines.

Sam Miguel
10-16-2013, 08:46 AM
Bohol quake ‘like 32 Hiroshima bombs’

Quake kills at least 97 in Bohol and Cebu

By Jeannette I. Andrade, Nikko Dizon

Inquirer Visayas, Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:00 am | Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

An earthquake with energy equivalent to “32 Hiroshima bombs” jolted the Visayas, and parts of Mindanao and southern Luzon early Tuesday morning, causing centuries-old churches and modern buildings to crumble, disrupting power and phone services, setting off stampedes and killing at least 97 people.

The nuclear bomb dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945, packed power equal to 20,000 tons of TNT.

The 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck at 8:12 a.m. with its epicenter at 2 kilometers southeast of Carmen town in Bohol province, known for its chocolate hills and tarsiers.

Offices and schools were closed for a national holiday—the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha—which may have saved lives.

Bohol and Cebu have declared a state calamity as the death toll rose to 97 in the two provinces, including a 9-year-old girl who died in a stampede that broke out at the queue for the cash transfer program in Pinamungahan town, Cebu.

President Aquino will fly to Bohol and Cebu Wednesday to check on the damage caused by the quake.

“I will be going to Bohol and Cebu tomorrow, and if possible other areas. And if our assessment is there are a lot of other things that are not being taken care of, then we will reconsider the (Korea) visit. But as of this time, the things that have to be done are being done,” the President told reporters.

Senior Supt. Dennis Agustin, the Bohol police chief, reported 87 fatalities in the province based on an actual body count. At least nine others were killed in nearby Cebu province and another died on Siquijor Island, according to field reports.

Agustin said Loon town accounted for at least 20 fatalities; San Isidro and Sagbayan, nine fatalities each; Balilihan, Calape and Antequerra, five fatalities each; Tubigon, Inabanga, Bilar and Catigbian, four fatalities each; and Maribojoc, three fatalities.

Agustin said the towns of Clarin, Buenavista, Loay and Albor had two fatalities each. Tagbilaran City also had the same number of fatalities.

The towns of Getafe, Batu-an, Baclayon, Cortes and Talibon each had one fatality.

Aquino presided over an hourlong closed-door executive session of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) at the Office of Civil Defense.

Combined figures from the Bohol provincial police and the NDRRMC showed that at least 164 people were injured in the province.

East Bohol Fault

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said the movement of the East Bohol Fault triggered the strongest quake in the Visayas in 23 years.

Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum placed the depth of the tectonic tremor at 33 kilometers.

The US Geological Survey initially reported the quake as having a magnitude of 7.2, but shortly afterward lowered it to 7.1.

By noon, Phivolcs had recorded 137 aftershocks in Carmen and Tagbilaran, the strongest of which was magnitude 4.3 at 9:37 a.m. Intensity IV was felt in Tagbilaran.

Magnitude is the measurement of the energy released by the earthquake, while intensity measures the extent of damage caused by the quake.

Limestone church crumbled

Many roads and bridges were reported damaged, but historic churches dating from the Spanish colonial period suffered the most. Among them is the country’s oldest, the 16th-century Basilica of the Holy Child in Cebu, which lost its bell tower.

A 17th-century limestone church in Loboc town, southwest of Carmen, crumbled to pieces, with nearly half of it reduced to rubble.

Bohol Administrator Alfonso Damalerio said two other churches in Maribojoc and Loon were destroyed.

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of Bohol also received reports of damage to old churches in Loay, Clarin and Baclayon as well as the belfry in Panglao.

Photos on social media showed extensive damage not only to churches but also to modern buildings, including a university, while major roads had also been torn apart.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, authorities were struggling to reach or contact damaged areas, with power lines as well as phone networks down, and a clear picture of the disaster had yet to emerge.

Neil Sanchez, head of the Cebu disaster management office, said authorities were trying to confirm reports that a school had collapsed, with an undetermined number of children trapped.

“Communications lines are quite difficult here. Even the disaster risk reduction management office has been damaged. We had to move elsewhere,” Sanchez said.

Businesses in Cebu were on a standstill as people rushed out of buildings, homes and hospitals.

Malls and several establishments closed down for the day to allow engineers to check on their buildings. They are expected to resume operations on Wednesday.

Classes, flights suspended

Cebu declared a state of calamity and suspended classes in both private and public schools on Wednesday to allow school officials to check on the buildings.

Operations at Mactan Cebu International Airport and Bohol’s Tagbilaran airport were halted after the quake struck, as airport safety authorities conducted safety checks.

By 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, both airports resumed operations. John Andrews of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said damage was reported at both locations. In the case of Tagbilaran, the second floor ceiling of the terminal collapsed but the debris was already cleared, he said.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and Globe Telecom said service in earthquake-hit areas continued but noted that operations were likely hindered by the lack of power and damage to their facilities. The companies said engineers are working to restore services.

Ports operations resumed at 1 p.m. after the Coast Guard Cebu Station commander, Weniel Azcuna, lifted a suspension order. He, however, urged passengers bound for Bohol to take the boat to the province’s Tubigon town because the passenger terminal in Tagbilaran was damaged.

Bridge collapsed

Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto said the Abatan Bridge that connected Maribojoc to Tagbilaran City had collapsed. But an alternative route in Antequerra town can be used.

The highway in Cortes particularly in Lilo-an was rendered impassable due to a landslide. A part of Cortes’ highway was also damaged.

Municipal halls in Sagbayan was destroyed while the municipal hall in Clarin was damaged.

In Cebu, nine persons were reported killed in the cities of Cebu, Talisay and Mandaue, and in the towns of Ronda and Pinamungahan.

Four people were killed when a portion of the ceiling of the Pasil Fish Market collapsed. Only three fatalities were identified—Leona Cabarrubias, Rondilino Bondoc and Condrado Perez.

Cabarrubias was identified by her son-in-law, Douglas Encabo, who went looking for her in the market which was cordoned by the police.

Encabo said his mother-in-law was selling fish in the market when the tragedy happened.

Reports from Cebu City said 53 people were brought to Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC) for minor cuts and bruises.

Patients evacuated

At least 250 patients of CCMC were evacuated after cracks were found in the hospital. Most of the patients were transferred to the nearby Pahina Central gym. Others stayed under the tents placed on the sidewalk near CCMC.

Eight patients with critical cases were taken to the other hospitals.

A fatality in Cebu City, Aurora Abellar Repe, 64, died after she was hit by a concrete wall in Barangay (village) Sawang Calero.


Four-year-old Shaisha Mia Patiluna was killed in a stampede on Tuesday morning when people panicked after they felt the earth shaking while they were lining up to receive cash assistance from the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in Pinamungahan town, Cebu.

A separate stampede also occurred in Toledo City where the Department of Social Welfare and Development personnel were distributing the cash doles when the earthquake hit. At least 20 people were hurt.

Ethel Natera, information officer of the provincial government, identified two of the fatalities as Mordencia Lumera, 80, of Ronda town and Leio Planos of Talisay.

She said Planos was killed while his two companions were wounded when their vehicle was hit by falling debris in Talisay.

A woman was also killed after she was hit by a glass decor at the fish section of the new public market in Barangay Centro, Mandaue City.

Roger Paller, Mandaue information officer, said 39 others were wounded by glass shards.

At least 3,000 people from Cebu City’s coastal barangays were evacuated to nearby gyms and church grounds. These were in Pasil, Sawang Calero, Duljo Fatima and San Nicolas.

INC towers destroyed

Two towers of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) on General Maxilum Avenue in Cebu City collapsed while cracks were found on the walls of Fort San Pedro, the Bureau of Customs building and approaches to the flyover in Barangay Mambaling.

In Iloilo, two persons were hurt.

One of them was a 50-year-old woman who fell from a scaffolding while overseeing repairs at her home in Barangay Tabuc Suba in Jaro District.

Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog ordered the suspension of classes to allow the inspection of school buildings for damage and structural integrity.—Reports from Carine M. Asutilla, Doris C. Bongcac and Connie E. Fernandez, Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Jhunnex Napallacan and Carmel Matus, Inquirer Visayas; Miguel R. Camus, Tarra Quismundo and Cynthia Balana in Manila; AP and AFP

Sam Miguel
10-16-2013, 09:07 AM
Marinduque is ‘pushed to the wall’

By Catherine Coumans

1:12 am | Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

The island-province of Marinduque has become known as a cautionary tale about the ravages of irresponsible mining. It took Canadian mining giant Placer Dome a couple of decades to wreak environmental destruction on major coral reefs in Calancan Bay and to severely contaminate the Mogpog and Boac Rivers with toxic mine waste—none of which has ever been cleaned up. The ongoing environmental impacts are only part of the story.

Fishermen from numerous villages around Calancan Bay lost their livelihoods as the bay filled up with more than 200 million tons of mine tailings dumped there between 1975 and 1991. Two children died when they were buried in mine waste as a shoddy dam burst and the Mogpog River was flooded with toxic mine silt in 1993. The banks of the Boac River still hold tall mounds of tailings that were left to continuously pump acid and heavy metals into the river after another catastrophic dam failure filled that river with mine waste in 1996. These contaminated rivers no longer support the livelihood and economic activities of nearby villages, as they once did. Placer Dome, which had managed two copper mines in Marinduque, fled the Philippines in 2001, leaving the mess behind.

Canada’s Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company that bought out Placer Dome, has spent the better half of a decade fighting the province in court rather than owning up to the company’s responsibility to put things right in Marinduque. Once again, Marinduque is the bellwether—evidence that for all its rhetoric about “responsible mining,” the mining industry is still more concerned with its bottom line than in doing what’s right.

In spite of a long legal struggle with competent American lawyers, on Sept. 17 Marinduque provincial administrator Eleuterio Raza told the Inquirer that Barrick had offered the province around $20 million, take it or leave it. According to the Inquirer report, “[T]he amount, however, would further be reduced to $13.5 million after litigation expenses had been paid. ‘These are crumbs,’ said Raza, ‘but we are being pushed to the wall.’” It is perfectly clear that this extremely low level of recovery from Barrick is woefully inadequate to protect the health and safety of the people of Marinduque.

Numerous independent scientific studies of the ravages of mining on Marinduque, including by the United States Geological Survey, confirm the ongoing toxic impacts of uncontained mine waste and unrehabilitated rivers and coastal areas. Furthermore, numerous dams and structures have not been maintained since the mine ceased operations in 1996. Placer Dome’s own consultants, Canada’s Klohn Crippen, warned in a 2001 report, leaked just before Placer Dome fled the Philippines, of “danger to life and property” related to inadequate mine structures holding back waste.

Any recovery from Barrick has to be applied to the immediate stabilization of these dangerous mine structures, rehabilitation of contaminated rivers and coastal areas, and permanent solutions for the tons of mine waste still at the defunct mine sites in the mountains of Marinduque. What Barrick has reportedly laid on the table is woefully inadequate for this task. The cleanup of mine waste in contaminated sites around the world indicates that rehabilitation on a scale that is required in Marinduque can easily run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Canada’s Teck Resources spent $55 million just on studies to prepare for the rehabilitation of areas it contaminated by dumping 9.97 million tons of slag containing heavy metals into the Columbia River. The cleanup has been estimated to run as high as $1 billion.

It’s not that Barrick cannot afford to do the right thing. The mining giant paid its new cochair $17 million in 2012, including an $11.9-million signing bonus. Barrick’s fine for an environmental breach at a mine that is still under construction in Chile came to $16 million, more than Marinduque would apparently get for 30 years of environmental damage.

For the “crumbs” it is offering Marinduque, Barrick is demanding highly valuable settlement provisions in return to secure the firm permanent legal immunity in this case. One of these, the Inquirer reported, is a clause stating that Placer Dome never operated on the island. “That’s something difficult for us to accept. It’s common knowledge that Placer Dome was a managing partner of Marcopper,” Raza was quoted as saying. Recent reports indicate that the provincial board has rejected the current settlement agreement, described as “onerous.”

What President Aquino, his adviser on environmental protection Secretary Nereus Acosta, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the people of Marinduque have to recognize is that if the true costs of ongoing contamination of the environment and risk to human health and safety from the legacy of irresponsible mining in Marinduque are not covered by Barrick, these will ultimately be borne by taxpayers, locally and nationally. Barrick’s unwillingness to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that the environment and people of Marinduque are made secure means that the province’s unfortunate role as the poster child for irresponsible mining, past and present, will surely continue.

Catherine Coumans, PhD, of MiningWatch Canada, lived in Marinduque in 1988-1990 and has since returned to it many times. She says it was her experience with irresponsible mining on the island that led her to leave an academic career in favor of working with local communities to counter the damaging effects of mining.

10-18-2013, 10:36 AM
Small scale mining: Immeasurable damage


By Roberto R. Romulo

(The Philippine Star) | Updated October 18, 2013 - 12:00am

I learned from the Blacksmith Institute the following: “Almost a quarter of the world’s gold supply can be traced back to 10-15 million poor small-scale gold miners, or artisanal and small scale mining (ASM), scattered about the globe. These miners are also the third largest source of mercury pollution today, however, comprising about 30 percent of the world’s anthropogenic mercury releases.”

“One of three things will happen once the mercury has evaporated. The gaseous mercury may be inhaled by the workers and their families, leading to serious health issues. It may also settle into the surrounding environment, seeping into the ground and contaminating the water supply. It could also rise into the atmosphere, where it circulates for about three months before raining down again. The effects of evaporated mercury effect, not only in the area in which it is released but also on the entire globe equally, is reflected in elevated mercury counts in organisms located far from artisanal gold mining activity.”

Inhalation of mercury vapor is particularly hazardous for kidneys, the central nervous system, and the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Inhalation of mercury vapor has been found to cause neurobehavioral disorders, such as hand tremor and mental retardation. Exposure to other forms of mercury – and in particular the methylmercury that accumulates in fish – can also lead to problems with the kidneys, lungs, and central nervous system, in addition to arthritis, reproductive problems, loss of memory, psychosis, and in some cases, death. Children exposed to mercury contamination have a higher risk of developmental complications.

Chinese in ASM

As everyone knows, China continues to reach out overseas for minerals needed to fuel its dramatic economic growth, and long-term prospects show that it will only become more aggressive in its pursuit of mining deals abroad. Our estimated $1-trillion worth of untapped mineral reserves has seen a notable influx of Chinese mining investments in recent years. For the Philippines, Chinese money from legitimate mining companies has been a welcome relief for its troubled mining industry that has seen a flight of investment from Western mining giants on top of a growing list of stale and frozen projects.

Before I proceed further, I must inform that what I am about to describe is based on information derived entirely from industry sources who do not wish to be identified. I understand further that certain senior government officials have been provided similar information.

There are an estimated 500,000 small-scale miners operating in more than 30 provinces, and some in the industry have begun to question the increasingly aggressive involvement of Chinese firms in these activities. The entry of questionable Chinese mining investors into the country has posed significant challenges to the Philippines. Substantial evidence points to unaccountability, misconduct, and corruption in many Chinese mining deals – all of which have created an unfair playing field. Philippine authorities have in fact arrested more than 100 Chinese nationals since January 2012 for their involvement in illegal mining operations across the Philippines.

Most Chinese mining firms operate under the cover of domestic small-scale miners to bypass Philippine mining laws and protocols, as well as to avoid the large capital requirements, fees, and taxes associated with large-scale mining. The Chinese firms circumvent the enormous time and expense of complying with large-scale mining requirements by co-opting a Philippine proxy and purchasing small-scale mining permits or special ore extraction permits for a minimal fee.

The sheer amount of minerals exported from the Philippines to China is further evidence of this exploitation and abuse. The Philippines is already the largest provider of nickel ore imported into China, and the leading provider of gold imported into Hong Kong. Few experts believe the volume of gold and nickel ore going into these territories could be achieved by legitimate mining operations.

The massive export smuggling of minerals to China has led to major tax losses to the Philippines. In 2008, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) disclosed that an estimated three million metric tons of Philippine mineral ores processed in China were unaccounted for by the Philippines. In June 2012, the DENR sought help from the Presidential Anti-Organized Task Force (PAOCTF) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) after the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) reported a 38-percent first quarter decline from the previous year in total metallic mineral production value allegedly due to mineral ore smuggling.

In the second quarter of 2012, the amount of gold sold from small-scale mining to the Central Bank of the Philippines dropped by 98 percent. MGB director Leo Jasareno said the figures showed that gold extracted from the Philippines was likely being sold illegally on the black market or smuggled out of the country. Significantly, official Philippine data reflect legal exports of gold to Hong Kong in both 2010 and 2011 at approximately just three percent of the total volume recorded by Hong Kong authorities.

Hong Kong’s top source of gold imports from 2005 to 2010 was the Philippines. Official Hong Kong data show that Philippine gold shipments hit a record-high of 81,471 kgs in 2010, only slightly dipping to 81,192 kgs in 2011. Conversely, official Philippine data reflect legal exports of gold to Hong Kong in both 2010 and 2011 at approximately just three percent of the total volume recorded by Hong Kong authorities. According to UN trade data, Hong Kong’s official figures of Philippine gold in 2011 were 11 times the Philippine numbers for gold shipments to Hong Kong.

Corruption and manipulation of the law has rendered national agencies such as the DENR helpless in regulating and monitoring small-scale mining operations, as provincial mining and regulatory bodies often become rubber-stamp institutions of local politicians in cahoots with the mining companies.

I was also informed that the Catholic Church, environmentalists, and other activists are not particularly aggressive in directing their ire at Chinese mining practices in the Philippines.

At the end of the day, it is my fervent prayer that the national government will prevail over the corrupt local officials’ heinous practices which has wrought irreparable damage to its constituents, the environment and the nation.

Sam Miguel
10-22-2013, 09:14 AM

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:52 pm | Monday, October 21st, 2013

An article published on Oct. 5 in the Sunday Review of the New York Times, provocatively titled “Dogs Are People, Too” and written by neuroeconomics professor and author Gregory Berns, went viral on Facebook among animal rights advocates and animal lovers. But many didn’t need to be told that. Any animal lover will say that the bond between people and their dogs has little to do with science, and belongs more to the realm of God, country, and all things essential to our existence.

We’re not talking only of people who bejewel their dogs and spray them with cologne—often the subject of anger in a developing country where some children make do with less than what pampered pets have. It doesn’t take an overflow of resources to be kind; dogs will accept whatever love can be spared, as shown quite clearly by the homeless man with the kariton who shares his meals with his loyal “aspin.”

Still, the empirical premise behind the New York Times study is fascinating. Berns and his colleagues trained some dogs to calmly submit to an MRI scan—and discovered reactions in their brains that can only be described as, well, human. “It has been easy to sidestep the difficult questions about animal sentience and emotions because they have been unanswerable,” Berns wrote. “Until now.”

The brain region in question is called the caudate nucleus; in humans, it is the seat of anticipation, where reactions to such stimulants as food, money, beauty and love have actually been measured. In dogs, the caudate nucleus was found to react to food, the scent of familiar humans, and even the return of a dog’s owner after he/she left the room.

“The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child,” Berns wrote. “…And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property.”

Berns went on to describe every dog lover’s utopia, where the rights of humankind’s most unwavering companion will be recognized, and all forms of exploitation will be deemed a violation of such rights. Two days before the article was run, Filipino animal welfare advocates came a small step closer to a utopia of their own, as President Aquino signed into law the new and improved Animal Welfare Act—Republic Act No. 10631, “An Act Amending Certain Sections of Republic Act No. 8485, Otherwise Known as ‘The Animal Welfare Act of 1998.’” While the new law can do with future amendments, and the advocacy continues, for now it can be considered a happy ending of sorts.

Animal welfare groups have fought a long, difficult battle for this, in the face of constant delays, business interests (the dog meat trade and dog-fighting syndicates), other, more “urgent” government priorities, and officials with little or no understanding of animal welfare.

Well-meaning as it may have been, RA 8485 was long overdue for change, what with pathetic penalties like a maximum two-year imprisonment and a P5,000 fine. Although violators still face no more than two years in jail, key amendments have kicked penalties up to between P30,000 and P100,000 for cruelty cases. That can go up to P250,000 if more than three animals are involved, and if the violator is a syndicate, a government official, or, despicably, someone in the business of animal cruelty. The last refers to those who slaughter dogs for their meat or make “crush” videos of animal torture to sell on the Internet, and the Koreans who came to the Philippines two years ago to set up a dog-fighting ring for international online gambling.

When that last barbaric enterprise was busted in separate raids in December 2011 and March 2012 in Cavite and Laguna, almost 600 emaciated, battle-scarred pit bulls were rescued. Animal activists like Nena Hernandez of Island Rescue Organization, Nancy Cu-Unjieng of Compassion and Responsibility for Animals (Cara), and Tina Alviar-Agbayani have tirelessly worked to rehabilitate the survivors and get them adopted.

But long after the Koreans were penalized—too lightly—the Cavite and Laguna dogs are still paying the price of such astounding cruelty. Dozens have been lost to disease and injury, including kidney failure from steroids injected to make them oblivious to pain in the ring.

Recently, Cara volunteers and friends celebrated as a Laguna pit bull, named Tinkerbell, made the remarkable journey to Los Angeles, California, where her new human family lives. That journey from suffering to salvation has been miraculous. Tinkerbell and all suffering animals in the Philippines deserve their own happy endings.

Sam Miguel
10-22-2013, 09:18 AM
The invasion of Bt talong and other GMOs

By Walden Bello

6:03 am | Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

It’s Farmers’ Week, and it’s the appropriate occasion to call attention to the dangers posed by genetically engineered crops in the Philippines.

Genetic engineering (GE) is a very new technology, its commercialization having begun only in the 1990s. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living things that have been conferred qualities or traits that they do not naturally have, and this is achieved through the random insertion of one or a few genes from another organism into the host organism’s genetic make-up in a way that can never happen in nature.

Why GMO’s are Controversial

GMO’s are very controversial. The first reason is that genetic engineering disrupts the precise sequence of genetic codes and disturbs the functions of neighboring genes, which for food, may give rise to potentially toxic or allergenic molecules or even alter the nutritional value of food produced. An example of this is that the Bt toxin being used in GMO corn, for example, was recently detected in the blood of pregnant women and their babies, with possibly harmful consequences.

A second reason has to do with genetic contamination. A GMO crop, once released in the open, reproduces via pollination and interacts genetically with natural varieties of the same crop, producing what is called genetic contamination. An example of this is Bt corn, which was reported in a study published in Nature, one of the world’s leading scientific journals, to have contaminated indigenous varieties of corn in Oaxaca, Mexico.

A third reason is that a GMO, brought into natural surroundings, may have a toxic or lethal impact on other living things. Thus, it was found that Bt corn destroyed the larvae of the monarch butterfly, raising well grounded fears that many other natural plant and animal life may be impacted in the same way.

A fourth reason is that the benefits of GMOs have been oversold by the people or companies that benefit economically from it, like Monsanto or Syngenta. Most genetically engineered (GE) crops are either engineered to produce their own pesticide in the form of Bacillus thurengiensis (Bt) or are designed to be resistant to herbicides, so that herbicides can be sprayed in massive quantities to kill pests. It has been shown, however, that insects are fast developing resistance to Bt as well as to herbicides, resulting in even more massive infestation by the new superbugs. There is also no substantial evidence that GM crops yield more than conventional crops; in fact several scientific studies have proven that the opposite is true. What GM crops definitely do lead to is higher pesticide use, which is harmful both to humans and the planet.

Bans on GMOs

Owing to the dangers and risks posed by genetically engineered organisms, many governments have instituted total or partial bans on their cultivation, importation and field testing. A few years ago, there were 16 countries that had GMO bans. Now there are at least 26, including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Mexico and Russia. Significant restrictions on GMOs exist in about 60 other countries.

Restraints on trade in GMO’s based on phyto-sanitary grounds, which are allowed under the World Trade Organization, have increased. Already, American rice farmers face strict limitations on their exports to the European Union, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, and bans from Russia and Bulgaria because unapproved GE rice “escaped” during open-field trials on GMO rice. Thai exports to Europe, particularly canned fruit salad/fruit cocktail containing papaya to Germany, and sardines in soy oil to Greece and the Netherlands, were banned due to threat of contamination by GMOs. And, closer to home, Japan stopped importation of organic corn from Ifugao following news that the corn was contaminated by GE corn.

Stopping Bt eggplant

In the Philippines, a major step forward in controlling GMOs took place on May 17, 2013, when the Court of Appeals granted the writ of kalikasan sought by Greenpeace and other appellants. This ordered the cessation of field testing of Bt talong, or Bt eggplant, on the following grounds:

- there is no scientific consensus on the safety and impacts of Bt talong;

- there is no Congressional enactment that governs introduction, release, experimentation of GM crops like Bt talong;

- precautionary principle is applicable in the light of uncertainties and inadequacy/ineffectiveness or current regulatory system; and

- Bt talong, with its social, economic and environmental impacts, should not be entrusted to scientists only but should also involve all stakeholders.

Overhauling the regulatory framework

Despite the global trend against GMOs and the Court of Appeals’ granting of a writ of kalikasan, the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry has become more and more liberal in its granting of licenses. It has allowed the importation of 60 genetically modified plants and plant products for direct use as food and feed or for processing, an additional eight GM plant varieties for propagation, and 21 GM plant varieties for field-testing in Philippine soil. No GMO application has ever been rejected, which is rather shocking given the controversial character of GMOs.

This record underlines how much our bio-safety regulatory framework needs a major overhaul. One major flaw of the current regulatory process institutionalized in Administrative Order No. 8, issued under the previous administration, is the extremely lax procedures for risk assessment, the main responsibility for which is placed on the applicant, who will naturally emphasize technical studies and opinions that favor the application. The kind of rigorous testing by a truly capable, independent body is at present not available, making risk assessment dangerously dependent on GE multinationals like Monsanto and Syngenta or local scientists with close links to them.

Two critical steps

In the interest of consumer welfare, public health and ecological stability, two immediate steps are critical.

- First, a moratorium on granting licenses for the import of GMO foods and crops for sale or for field-testing until there is created a viable risk assessment agency under the Department of Agriculture that would do rigorous, independent testing of all GMOs for which licenses are submitted;

- Second, a ban on all field-testing of all GMO crops to prevent genetic contamination. This does not mean that biotechnological research cannot be carried out. It can, but strictly within well -ealed laboratories that will radically minimize the possibility of genetic escape.

GMOs and the precautionary principle

Will biotechnology eventually bring more good than harm? I am skeptical about this. Since many of the genes now being introduced into food-producing organisms are derived from organisms that have never been part of the human food supply, we have very incomplete knowledge of how humans will respond to the effects of these genes in their and whether such food is appropriate for our species. Equally important, we know very little about the impacts these organisms have on the environment because they are products not of millions of years of evolution but of profit-oriented research, the beginnings of which only took place some 20 years ago. Given these considerations, we need to exercise the well-established scientific principle called the Precautionary Principle, which means we must not allow the propagation, commercialization and importation of the products of biotechnology unless they have been subjected to intensive and extensive risk assessment, under a wide variety of conditions, even if such a risk assessment were to take many years, if not decades.

With GE crops growing ever more controversial, the advice of the country’s prime authority on biotechnology, UP Los Baños Vice Chancellor Dr. Oscar Zamora, is refreshing: ”For every application of genetic engineering in agriculture in developing countries, there are a number of less hazardous and more sustainable approaches and practices with hundreds, if not thousands, of years of safety record behind them. None of the GE applications in agriculture today are valuable enough to farmers in developing countries to make it reasonable to expose the environment, farmers and the consumers to even the slightest risk.”

* This commentary is a slightly revised version of a privilege speech in the House of Representatives delivered recently by the author to mark World Food Day.

Sam Miguel
10-22-2013, 10:35 AM
Why I support Golden Rice

by Michael D. Purugganan

Posted on 10/22/2013 8:24 AM | Updated 10/22/2013 9:02 AM

I love heirloom varieties and I like to buy organic food when I can.

I realize, however, that there are large-scale issues we need to address in our country and the rest of the world - a growing population that threatens to outstrip our agricultural capability, widespread malnourishment among the poor, and the threat of climate change and deteriorating and shrinking land for use in growing food plants.

For some of these problems (not all), we will have to deploy our best technology to address them or we will be in trouble. GMOs are one key technology in our toolkit - not the answer to everything, but appropriate to address some crucial issues.

I support the intelligent and thoughtful use of GMOs to address key problems when they are appropriate. I do not think all GMOs are bad or risky or dangerous, and data shows that some can be environmentally friendly. I - along with the major science organizations such as the Philippine National Academy of Science and Technology, the US National Academy of Science, the World Health Organization - do not believe there is anything fundamentally different between a GMO and a conventionally bred crop. I do believe that we should not use GMOs indiscriminately, but each one should be evaluated and tested on its own merits, rather than saying all GMOs are automatically bad.

Addressing many of the food issues we face in the long term will need changes in society, including the eradication of poverty that can only come about from the political and social will of our people. Vitamin A deficiency, which Golden Rice seeks to alleviate, will only be finally solved by lifting the 30% of our people out of poverty so they can afford a balanced, nutritious diet.

However, until that day comes, we can use Golden Rice to help not only our people but the nearly 210 million children and pregnant women around the world who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency every year. We can use Golden Rice to reduce the estimated 670,000 deaths and 350,000 cases of blindness among children that we face annually because of this problem.

Golden Rice can be a technological fix, a bandage that can help address a clear nutritional problem until we can solve the much harder problem of poverty.

False claims

There is a lot of misinformation on Golden Rice - that it is engineered to need chemicals, that it causes cancers and poses clear health risks, that it will require eating large amounts of the rice to be effective, that it will inevitably reduce biodiversity, that it is being sold by big biotech companies - to name a few objections.

These and many other claims about the downside of Golden Rice are false. They are either factually inaccurate or have no credible scientific basis. Those who perpetuate these myths are doing a disservice to our country, especially to the malnourished, poorest Filipinos, and I urge everyone to seek out credible scientific evidence (with the stress on being both credible and scientific) to find the truth for themselves.

A good place to start is the International Rice Research Institute, which is a humanitarian, public sector scientific research organization whose only goal is to ensure that we have enough food to meet the challenges our world faces (see IRRI's "About Golden Rice" page).

I know that they may be perceived as biased because they are the developers of Golden Rice, but the scientists at IRRI are hardworking, decent people of high integrity who only want to help feed the world's hungry and have the best technical expertise on rice on the planet.

It was IRRI, after all, that helped prevent widespread famines in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s when they produced the high yielding rice varieties we eat today. It is not outlandish to say that without the scientific work of IRRI, hundreds of millions around the world would have died of starvation. It should be a point of pride that these research laboratories in the Philippines have saved so many lives in our country and around the world.

Or you can read the scientific literature for yourself. Yes, you as a layman can do this, with patience and willingness. Many research papers that are published in reputable scientific journals can now be accessed through the Internet, so you can get hold of a copy of the relevant research directly and not rely on blogs or newspapers to tell you what to think.

To read these papers, I would recommend you follow the advice at this post. This will help you separate credible scientific work from studies that are either biased or poorly conducted.

As you wade through the facts and myths about Golden Rice and other GMOs, keep an open mind. Learn to distinguish between strong and weak scientific evidence, between supposition and rational thinking, between fact and fiction. It will help you not only on this issue but on countless other scientific and technological issues that we confront in the Philippines - from global climate change, to supposed carcinogenic properties of contraceptives, to stem cell therapies.

And if you can, get to know a scientist. These are people trained to sift through evidence, to be skeptical and objective, and to think rationally and logically. Even if they are not experts on the specific issue you want to talk about, they usually can help in figuring out how to approach technical issues. There are not many of them in our country, but you can find a few in our major universities. Be aware, though, that some scientists have their own opinions and biases that can creep into their thinking.

Use your judgement in deciding who is being objective and who is not, and when in doubt do what scientists routinely do - be critical and rely on what scientific data (from reading the research papers) has to say.

I believe that the best way forward for Philippine agriculture is not to dismiss GMOs outright, but to see how we can best use them to our advantage. I believe that we need to use GMOs intelligently, and that many GMOs can be used for the good of our farmers, our people, and the environment.

Golden Rice is one such GMO, and that is why I support its development. - Rappler.com

The author is a Filipino plant geneticist, and a professor of biology and Dean of Science at New York University. For the record, he studies the genetics and evolution of crop plants, does not work on GMO crops, and has never received a single centavo from private corporations.

Sam Miguel
10-22-2013, 12:56 PM
For Tepco and Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, toxic water stymies cleanup

Written by Chico Harlan

Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 9:17 AM

E-mail the writer

TOKYO — Two and a half years after a series of meltdowns, Japan’s effort to clean up what remains of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is turning into another kind of disaster.

The site now stores 90 million gallons of radioactive water, more than enough to fill Yankee Stadium to the brim. An additional 400 tons of toxic water is flowing daily into the Pacific Ocean, and almost every week, the plant operator acknowledges a new leak.

That operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco, was put in charge of the cleanup process more than two years ago and subsequently given a government bailout as its debts soared. The job of dismantling the facility was supposed to give Tepco an opportunity to rebuild credibility.

But many lawmakers and nuclear industry specialists say that Tepco is perpetuating the kinds of mistakes that led to the March 2011 meltdowns: underestimating the plant’s vulnerabilities, ignoring warnings from outsiders and neglecting to draw up plans for things that might go wrong. Those failures, they say, have led to the massive buildup and leaking of toxic water.

“Tepco didn’t play enough of these what-if games,” said Dale Klein, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who recently joined a Tepco advisory panel. “They didn’t have enough of that questioning attitude” about their plans.

The leaks into the ocean are far less toxic than the radioactive plumes that emanated from the plant after the earthquake and tsunami, forcing 160,000 people to move out of the vicinity. Thanks to that quick evacuation, experts say, there are no expectations of a Chernobyl-style spike in cancer cases — although the government is conducting thyroid checks of thousands of children. But the flow of contaminated water amounts to a slow-burning environmental disaster with implications for Japan’s wildlife and its food chain.

The problems have prompted the central government to step in with about $500 million to fund new countermeasures, including a subterranean “ice wall” designed to keep groundwater from flowing into irradiated buildings.

The latest government-led actions are particularly galling for some, who say Tepco should have taken similar measures earlier. One lawmaker, Sumio Mabuchi, who was also an adviser to then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, says Tepco, deep in debt, neglected to take important steps against the groundwater two years ago because of concerns about its bottom line. Tepco’s president, Naomi Hirose, testified in parliament last month that the company hasn’t “scrimped” on the cleanup, though he did say that Tepco is “majorly at fault” for its failure to manage the groundwater buildup.

The 40-year decommissioning is expected to cost 10 trillion yen, or about $100 billion — roughly two years’ worth of Tepco’s revenue — and the company says it is trying to save up and cut other costs. But for many Japanese, the company’s assurances inspire little confidence. Two members of Japan’s national legislature, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share what they describe as sensitive details, say Tepco continues to spend irresponsibly on lobbying politicians, offering them free trips to nuclear sites that include meals and lodging in hot springs resorts. A Tepco spokesman said the company does not offer such trips.

An improvised battle

The coastal Daiichi plant is on an old riverbed, its back yard a line of forested hills and mountains. Even before the 2011 disaster, rainfall from across the region would funnel toward the plant. Such inflow was rarely a problem, because a piping system collected groundwater and spit it into the ocean. Minor leaks would sometimes form in buildings built below sea level, but even that water, uncontaminated, was easy to pump out and dump.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and 46-foot tsunami wave of March 11, 2011, threw the plant’s groundwater system out of whack. Damaged pipes no longer corralled the inflow, meaning that the plant lost its first line of defense against water streaming in from the hillsides. Worse, the plant had become a disaster site, and any water that flowed under or through the area picked up toxicity of its own. Groundwater that made its way into the reactor buildings also mixed with a separate channel of intensely contaminated water that had been used to douse and cool the reactors.

No longer could the groundwater simply be discarded into the ocean.

The first months of the disaster were chaotic, an improvised battle to cool melted nuclear fuel that involved firetrucks, helicopters, robots and workers. As the emergency calmed and the groundwater problem emerged, Tepco was left with two options: It could either block the groundwater from entering the site, or it could pump the groundwater out and store whatever had leaked into buildings.

Tepco opted for the latter — a mistake, many outside researchers say. Atsunao Marui, a groundwater expert and member of a government-led panel that advises Tepco, said the company was slow to assess just how rapidly groundwater from mountains was flooding the buildings. At the time of the disaster, Tepco didn’t have a single groundwater specialist among its 40,000 employees, Marui said.

Japan's nuclear catastrophe now faces challenges from a relentless flow of subterranean fresh water.

Tepco also declined a June 2011 request from Mabuchi, the lawmaker and adviser to the prime minister, to build a special wall extending 100 feet underground around the reactor and turbine buildings, sealing them off from the groundwater flow. Tepco initially agreed to the project, Mabuchi said, but backed out because of concerns about the estimated cost of 100 *billion yen, or $1 billion.

“We are already in a very severe financial situation,” Tepco wrote to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in a letter shared with The Washington Post. “And by taking on an additional 100 billion yen, the market could evaluate that we are one step closer to insolvency. That is something we’d like to avoid.”

In the following months, Tepco never considered alternative options to cut off the groundwater, according to minutes from more than 10 hours of meetings, during which Tepco and a cabinet-formed team of advisers planned a “road map” for decommissioning the facility.

The company’s plan, discussed in one of the meetings, was to pump toxic water from the reactor and turbine rooms and then cleanse it of radionuclides — isotopes that radioactively decay — using systems that worked like high-end Brita filters. Tepco would then have “clean water” that could be stored in tanks.

But Tepco’s attempts to create clean water have been repeatedly derailed. Two systems have proven successful in filtering cesium. But others have been plagued by mechanical troubles — not surprising, experts say, because they have been constructed at a breakneck pace, often with parts shrunken and custom-built to accommodate Fukushima Daiichi’s cramped spaces.

Because of those malfunctions, some water stored in hastily built tanks is laced with contaminants, including strontium, which can burrow into bones and irradiate tissue. More than 1,000 gray tanks, some the size of small apartment buildings, now form a patchwork on a cliff above the plant — an area where workers once spent their breaks taking nature walks. Enough toxic water accumulates each week to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. One such tank has leaked, another overflowed, and regulators fear that more spills are inevitable. Tepco must constantly build more tanks to keep pace with the accumulating water.

“It’s not sustainable,” said Lake Barrett, a new adviser to Tepco who directed cleanup operations at Three Mile Island after the 1979 nuclear accident there.

Tepco estimates that 800 tons of water flows under the plant daily — half of it traveling into the ocean, the other half making its way into the facility’s buildings and requiring storage. Tepco acknowledged the long-presumed ocean leaks in July; the company said it had held off on the disclosure because it didn’t want to worry the public until it was certain of a problem.

Both the government and Tepco say the ocean contamination is confined mostly to a man-made harbor around the plant. But some scientists say that assurance plays down significant long-term concerns about marine life and the food chain. Cesium levels are still hundreds of times the pre-accident norm in areas beyond the harbor, said Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has monitored waters around the nuclear plant, most recently last month.

Radionuclides also fall to the ocean floor, where they could be ingested by bottom-feeders. Many local fish species show high-enough levels of radiation that the Japanese government bars their sale.

“I could swim in that water” outside the plant, Buesseler said. “But you might not want to eat those fish. It’s a serious concern for internal doses. [Radionuclides] are now on the seafloor and could stay in the food chain for years, if not decades.”

Sam Miguel
10-22-2013, 12:57 PM
^^^ (Cont'd )

Tepco’s fragile situation

Some nuclear industry executives who have worked with Tepco say the company shouldn’t be faulted for prioritizing issues other than the groundwater. They note that Tepco has managed to cool the molten reactors while also reinforcing damaged buildings against further earthquakes.

But the buildup of contaminated water also complicates other work at the plant.

“Right now, the groundwater is the biggest problem at the plant, and one Tepco needs to solve thoroughly,” said Tsuneo Futami, who was superintendent of Fukushima Daiichi from 1997 until 2000. “Dealing with this is almost a prerequisite for decommissioning.”

Firefighters from Kyoto pay respect to victims as they visit the coastal area of Namie, which is a few miles away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)
The remaining options to deal with the buildup are unpopular or flawed. The latest plan includes an ice wall, a new groundwater pumping system and yet another system to filter radionuclides. But the ice-wall technology is unproven, and taxpayers will foot the bill because Tepco lacks the funding to deal with major, unplanned problems at the plant.

Tepco can repair its fragile economic situation with a restructuring plan featuring major cost-cutting that was approved by the government last year. But Tepco says its profitability also depends on the restart of its largest nuclear power plant, Kashiwazaki Kariwa. A majority of Japanese, though, oppose nuclear power. All of the nation’s 50 operable reactors are currently shuttered.

Some activists say Tepco should be allowed to go bankrupt, with the government taking full control of the Fukushima Daiichi decommissioning. But bankruptcy would cause “just one more disaster,” this one economic, said Mana Nakazora, a Tokyo-based chief credit analyst at BNP Paribas. Bankruptcy might have been conceivable in the months after the disaster, but Tepco has since been kept afloat with emergency loans from banks and cash injections from the government — debts that, if not paid, would rock Japan’s financial system.

Some nuclear engineers and government officials say Tepco has one other option that would ease management of the site: It can dump the stored water into the ocean, provided it can be re*filtered and its now-high radiation levels lowered to within legal limits. The International Atomic Energy Agency said in April that Japan should consider such “controlled discharges.” The chairman of Japan’s nuclear watchdog, Shunichi Tanaka, said last month that dumping might be necessary.

A man enjoys fishing in Onahama harbor in Iwaki. Fishing is controlled in here because of the nuclear accident and commercial fishermen are not allowed to catch fishes. (Noriko Hayashi/For The Washington Post)
Japan’s National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations said its members are against any releases, no matter the level of the water’s toxicity, and local governments also have expressed opposition.

Their stance highlights the enormous public distrust of Tepco: Few in Japan are willing to take the company at its word if it says the controlled releases will be safe.

“They’re going to have to release the water eventually,” said Barrett, the adviser. “No ands, if or buts about it in my view. But how they get there is a huge societal problem, not just for Tepco but for Japan.”

Sam Miguel
10-23-2013, 08:03 AM
Boom tarat tarat!

By Ambeth R. Ocampo

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:02 pm | Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Of the many Facebook posts I scrolled through recently, one that sticks out is a photo of three migratory birds spotted somewhere on the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. From childhood I remember seeing these white birds from the NLEx viaduct that passes over Candaba Swamp, a wide expanse that has Amorsolo-style rice fields in the dry season but looks like the sea during the wet season. They don’t call this area the Central Luzon plain for nothing because the only thing that juts out of the earth for miles is an extinct volcano known as Mt. Arayat, whose last eruption was in prehistoric times, meaning before written or recorded history. Arayat is a serene sight that might surprise us one day with some fireworks. An egg enters the Bulacan side of the viaduct as an itlog and exits the Pampanga side as an ebun. “Itlog” is “egg” in Tagalog, “ibon” is “bird,” but “ebun” is “egg” in Kapampangan.

That migratory birds are spotted in some places in Cavite and in Diliman suggests that their traditional wintertime destinations have been changing; noise, urbanization, hunters, and lack of food and drink have driven them to seek shelter elsewhere. These birds remind me of the chapter on Filosofo Tasio in “Noli Me Tangere,” where Rizal describes him as an old man writing in code so that the ignorant would not destroy his manuscripts. Tasio wrote in Tagalog but not in the Roman alphabet; rather, he devised a system of writing by replacing letters with drawings of birds, fish and flowers resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics. All this scribbling kept Tasio busy when his visitors from China and Japan left. Ibarra asked about these guests and Tasio pointed to the swallows:

“Don’t you hear them? My guests are the swallows. This year one of them is missing—some bad boy in China or Japan must have caught it.”

“How do you know that they come from those countries?”

“Easily enough! Several years ago before they left, I tied to the foot of each one a slip of paper with the name ‘Philippines’ in English on it, supposing that they must not travel very far and because English is understood nearly everywhere. For years my slips brought no reply, so that at last I had these written in Chinese, and here in the following November they have returned with other notes which I have had deciphered. One is written in Chinese and is a greeting from the banks of the Hoang-Ho and the other, as the Chinaman whom I consulted supposes, must be in Japanese.”

Tasio, a fictional character in a late-19th-century Philippine novel, was already practicing bird banding a century before Filipino scientists placed bands on hundreds of birds, listing the type of bird as well as the date and the place where they were released in logbooks. The flight pattern charted from the data shows that birds start arriving from the north toward the end of August to October, and make their way home from February to April. Based on their feathers, the incoming birds are young, which is quite remarkable because they traveled thousands of miles from China, Japan, Siberia, Mongolia, or as far off as Alaska without the guidance of adult birds. Their destination is not influenced by tourism ads like “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” so they have the choice of other warm parts in Southeast Asia and even Australia. In the Philippines, they vacation in Candaba Swamp in Pampanga, Olango island in Cebu, and Agusan Marsh and Liguasan Marsh in Mindanao. Some lose their way; others explore, like those spotted in Diliman.

While we presume that the birds escape the winter in their countries by flying to the tropics, there may be other reasons for the annual migration, like instinct triggered by the drop in temperature or the change in daylight hours. Maybe they want to practice flying, or are in search of different food. It is fairly obvious that the white egrets from China and Japan that land in Candaba are not edible, or else the Kapampangan would have used them for one of their delicious seasonal dishes. These birds are very much left alone and return to their country of origin intact. Some birds that end up on tables in Pampanga are snipes caught in the rice fields where they rest and feed. I don’t quite remember what snipe looks and tastes like, but one of my uncles used to hunt the birds that were then cooked into “adobong dumara.”

Let’s go back to Filosofo Tasio’s feathered visitors from China and Japan that are rendered in English as “swallows” because the original Spanish identified them as “golondrinas.” Ah, memories of college Spanish where we memorized, aside from Rizal’s “Ultimo Adios,” a poem by Becquer that begins: “Volveran las oscuras golondrinas (The dark swallows will return).” I’m not an expert bird-watcher, but could Tasio’s swallow be the brown shrike that is often confused with the Philippine maya? Brown shrikes breed in Siberia, Korea and China, and traditionally arrive in the Philippines in mid-September when the cogon starts to bloom. Brown shrikes are better known in the Philippines as “tarat.” They are famous for the noise they make, resulting in the phrase we use to describe talkative people or naggers: “Taratitat na parang tarat!” And Tasio asked Ibarra to hear the sound of his visitors from China and Japan, the tarat that probably inspired the hit song “Boom tarat tarat.”

(Today’s column is dedicated to Randy David, sage and bird-watcher.)

10-25-2013, 12:57 PM
Bohol earthquake creates miles-long rocky wall

Agence France-Presse

1:10 pm | Friday, October 25th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—A deadly earthquake that struck Bohol last week created a spectacular rocky wall that stretches for kilometers (miles) through farmlands, astounded geologists said Thursday.

Dramatic pictures of the Earth-altering power of the 7.1-magnitide quake have emerged as the government worked to mend the broken central island of Bohol, ground zero of the destruction.

A “ground rupture” pushed up a stretch of ground by up to three meters (10 feet), creating a wall of rock above the epicenter, Maria Isabel Abigania, a geologist at the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, told Agence France-Presse.

“Our people have walked five kilometers (three miles) so far and not found the end of this wall,” she said, as experts from the institute surveyed the damage.

“So far we have not gotten any reports of people getting swallowed up in these cracks. The fault runs along a less-populated area.”

A photograph on the institute’s website showed part of the rock wall grotesquely rising on farmland behind an unscathed bamboo hut.

Another house was shown lodged in a crack of the Earth, while a big hole on the ground opened up at a banana farm.

Renato Solidum, head of the institute, said the ground fissures from the quake, which killed 198 people on Bohol and two nearby islands, were among the largest recorded since the government agency began keeping quake records in 1987.

“Most of our other quake records show a lateral (sideways) tearing of the earth, though we’ve also had coral reefs rising from the sea,” he said, citing a 6.7-magnitude earthquake that hit the central island of Negros last year.

The Philippines lies on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire made up of chains of islands, created by volcanic eruption, that are also frequently hit by earthquakes.

President Benigno Aquino told reporters Thursday the institute had assured him the worst was over, though Bohol would continue to be hit by aftershocks over the next few weeks.

“There is no immediate danger” either from the aftershocks or from the ground fissures, said Aquino, who slept in an army tent there overnight Wednesday in solidarity with the survivors.

Sam Miguel
11-06-2013, 09:51 AM
Duck dynasty? Singson’s hunting trip irks critics

By Vincent Cabreza

Inquirer Northern Luzon

12:28 am | Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

BAGUIO CITY—Former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson and his daughter Richelle Louisse Singson-Michael are under fire from a wildlife protection group after pictures posted online showed them shooting and killing wild ducks last month.

Gina Mapua, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), said she believed the Singsons were shooting endangered species.

“Hunting is illegal in this country,” she told the Inquirer on the telephone on Tuesday.

An official of the Ilocos regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Singson had not been sanctioned for violating any wildlife law so far.

The DENR had allowed the former governor to import and take care of endangered species in his zoo at the Baluarte compound in Vigan City, said Samuel Peñafiel, DENR Ilocos director, in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

The Inquirer tried but failed to reach Singson since Monday.

Dead ducks

Singson and his daughter were shown holding dead ducks in two of four photographs uploaded through Michael’s Instagram account last month. The pictures, however, were removed from the account on Nov. 4.

Another photograph shows at least 10 dead ducks lined up in front of Michael and an unidentified companion. Another picture shows Singson’s daughter aiming a rifle.

All four photographs were posted on the Facebook account of the WBCP, which ran the following comment:

“While the club desperately promotes bird-watching to raise the need for environmental conservation, some of our countrymen spend family-bonding time killing birds. Hunting, poaching and even mere possession of wildlife are illegal in the Philippines. In the daang matuwid administration, why are some people—I was told he is a governor—still above the law?”

The Instagram account identified the site as Ilocos Sur, but Peñafiel said he had no record of swamplands in Singson’s province that were uninhabited and suited for hunting ducks.

Hunting for vitality

In an April 22 story in the Inquirer, Singson said he was into hunting to retain his vitality. He said he shot wild ducks in Ilocos Sur and traveled to other hunting grounds in Mindoro, Pampanga, Sweden, Australia and South Africa.

Mapua said the club did not want Singson jailed, although that was a penalty cited in Republic Act No. 9147, the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.

RA 9147 cites hunting of endangered species among the conservation law’s illegal acts. It sanctions people who harm or kill critically endangered species with a two-year jail term and a fine of up to P300,000.

Future generations

Mapua said the club wanted “to draw attention to them [the Singsons],” hoping to convince them to “please consider conservation for our future generations.”

The Philippines has 673 bird species, which have been documented by the global wildlife conservation community, she said, adding that about 10,000 wild ducks remain in the country.

Peñafiel said Singson had been busy processing an application to bring in more animals to Baluarte.

He said three months ago, the DENR Ilocos office endorsed Singson’s application to import an animal from South Africa. But he said his office had not been informed yet if the government had granted the request.

Singson’s Baluarte houses various wild animals, including tigers, exotic birds and various species of reptiles.

Sam Miguel
11-06-2013, 10:33 AM
Nature’s nightmares

By Rina Jimenez-David

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:37 am | Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

What Ishmael Narag of Phivolcs and Dr. Mahar Lagmay of Project NOAH have to say is far from entertaining but certainly enlightening, fear-inducing but fascinating.

In the wake of the Bohol-Cebu earthquake and the impending arrival of yet another “supertyphoon” (by Friday), the two certainly had the audience’s attention at Tuesday’s Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel. People were by turns curious, intrigued, alarmed and panicky. But everyone’s attention was riveted, and questions flew thick and fast, so much so that everyone had to be reminded to let the speakers continue lest the session be extended well into the afternoon.

A realization: We live in a volatile planet, subject to the vagaries of weather, the movement of the earth, the rise and fall of tides. Another, bigger realization: The Philippines sits on one of the most vulnerable, dangerous pieces of real estate in the world, in recent years racking up record amounts of weather disturbances, rainfall, landslides, mudslides, rock slides, temblors and volcanic activity.

The toll in lives lost and interrupted by injuries and dislocation, the economic costs—all these may be quantifiable—but the resulting trauma to the national psyche is unfathomable. Would that we could transfer this “title” to other countries, other peoples. But geography is destiny, it seems. It’s not as if rain, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions are novel events for Filipinos. They have been occurring long before written records and folk narratives documented them. In fact, as Phivolcs’ Narag observes: “If we have indigenous terms for storms, earthquakes and other natural calamities, we also have native words for preparedness and staying alert.”

* * *

A mathematician who does, among other things, “modeling” on the odds of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions occurring, or tracking possible scenarios for such disasters, Narag takes a long, historic view of the Filipino experience with earthquakes.

The earliest chronicle of an earthquake in the Philippines, he says, was in 1589, and after another reported earthquake in 1645, Spanish authorities “refused to invest any more in the Philippines.” But the missionaries convinced the civil authorities that adopting more durable building models would minimize deaths and injuries. In fact, Narag points out, a unique architectural style dubbed “earthquake baroque” emerged from these studies, as exemplified by the squat, buttressed churches of Ilocos.

(But these intrepid church builders did not reckon with a 7.8-magnitude earthquake, such as that originating in Bohol last month, which felled many heritage churches, all built with adobe blocks held together by mortar fashioned from, among other materials, egg whites.)

A “similar event” to the Bohol temblor taking place in Metro Manila, says Narag, “is not a question of if, but of when.” By the calculations of experts, the metropolis has been long overdue for a similar catastrophe. A foreign-funded study, adds the Phivolcs official, estimates the casualties as a result of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake at “35,000 dead and 120,000 injured.”

These figures are based, he says, on a study conducted in 2004 using a population census for 2000. The implication, of course, is that should a disaster of the magnitude of the Bohol temblor take place in the near future, the numbers of dead, injured and homeless will be greater.

* * *

Although there is little we puny humans can do in the face of destructive natural phenomena, we can prepare for such eventualities and act now to prevent the toll on human life and damage from escalating.

In part, says Lagmay, this is what underpins the logic behind Project NOAH, which stands for “Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards.” Although its name suggests preparations for record rains and the resulting floods, Project NOAH, says Lagmay, covers seven main concerns, including the mapping of areas at risk, the identification of vulnerable sites, the installment of Doppler radars and gauges and even satellites to make weather prediction more accurate and timely, and communicating information to the public in a timely and accurate manner that induces populations to heed warnings and take the necessary risk-reduction actions.

With a staff of 150 scientists (including one anthropologist), Project NOAH seeks to break hundreds of years of fatalism that teach that once a disaster strikes or threatens, there is “nothing we can do.” Instead, they hope, through the use of technology, to instill in Filipinos an attitude of alertness to any impending natural disaster, and readiness to act and cooperate to minimize the loss of lives and property.

* * *

The formula, Lagmay says, lies in “sharing information and timely intervention,” from local and national government officials, if need be, should people prove resistant to the measures they need to keep safe and sound, alive and alert.

During the Halloween weekend, there was a slew of shows and documentaries on what “ordinary” folk should do in the case of a “zombie invasion.” I found it funny that in other parts of the world, people are scaring themselves silly imagining the threat of as-yet-unproven creatures.

Whereas in the Philippines, we face daily threats in the form of purely natural, and all-too-familiar, phenomena like rains, monsoons, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and the further damage wrought by human carelessness and greed.

We don’t need to imagine monsters or zombies. We live with fear and loathing every day, with events that no longer occur in seasonal patterns and in predictable periods. In the Philippines, nature itself is enough to give us nightmares.

Sam Miguel
11-07-2013, 08:47 AM
Environmental crime wave costs world billions

By Jason Straziuso

(Associated Press) | Updated November 7, 2013 - 6:04am

NAIROBI — The illegal cutting of timber and the poaching of elephants and rhinos are part of a "rapidly escalating environmental crime wave" that international governments must combat by increasing cooperation, police and environmental officials said yesterday.

Interpol and the United Nations Environmental Program are working together to stop environmental crimes that cost tens of billions of dollars a year, said Achim Steiner, the UN Environmental Program's Executive Director. Some 500 law enforcement and environmental experts from around the world are meeting in Nairobi this week to try to stem the problem.

"This is a global phenomenon. This is a global market place. These are global syndicates, criminals that are engaging in this trade," said Steiner, who labeled the problem "a rapidly escalating environmental crime wave."

The demand for elephant ivory by China's rising middle class is fueling the deaths of thousands of elephants across Africa, say wildlife experts. An estimated 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in Africa in 2011, according to UNEP.

Customs officials in China this week reported busting two smuggling rings responsible for trafficking nearly $100 million worth of elephant ivory from Africa to China, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said yesterday. The group also said Tanzanian authorities announced this week they had sized 706 tusks from the house of three Chinese traders in Tanzania's capital.

Azzedine Downes, president of IFAW, called on national leaders to commit to developing security task forces to lower environmental crime.

"People from around the world are outraged that organized criminal networks are robbing the world of our elephants, rhinos, tigers and other wildlife, purely for the profit of a very few outlaws," Downes said.

"If range state countries are willing to commit to enforcement that works across national boundaries, our supporters in non-range states are willing to step up and help fund those efforts," Downes said.

Steiner says that UNEP collaborates with China to increase public awareness that demand for ivory results in dead elephants. He said many people in the world don't understand the connection.

Kenya's attorney general, Githu Muigai, speaking at a news conference, noted that Kenyan lawmakers are considering a wildlife conservation bill that greatly increases penalties for poachers and traffickers in Kenya. He said Kenya has seen 90 elephants and 35 rhinos killed by poachers this year.

"Kenya stands at a crossroads as far as environmental criminal activity is concerned," said Muigai, who urged lawmakers to pass the proposed wildlife bill.

A new paramilitary anti-poaching team was formed in Kenya this year, and Muigai said it's having "a very significant deterrent effect."

There is no evidence to prove allegations that terror and militant groups such as Somalia's al-Shabab and Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army are poaching elephants to fund their military activities, said Jean Michel Louboutin, the executive director of police services at Interpol.

"I'm a policeman and to make such an assertion there has to be evidence, and to this stage there is no evidence," Louboutin said.

Affected countries often don't have investigative capacities to follow the environmental crime trail, said UNEP director Steiner. He said he hopes the Nairobi meeting will result in increased law enforcement capacity, because the difference between suspecting such terrorism-wildlife activity and being able to prosecute is "a long distance."

Sam Miguel
11-11-2013, 09:19 AM
The worst

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:47 pm | Sunday, November 10th, 2013

From single digits the day after, to about 1,200 the following day, to “at least 10,000 in one city alone” Sunday: The jump in the official estimates of the total number of persons feared dead because of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” has been completely unnerving. By all accounts, Yolanda (international code name: Haiyan) is now considered the most destructive natural calamity ever in the country’s history.

But as horrifying as its multiple landfalls last Friday were (the roar of the wind described as like a jet engine’s up close, the storm surges said to be “as tall as trees”), the worst is yet to come: digging out the thousands of bodies from under debris and inside waterlogged homes. It would be impossible to imagine the suffering of the survivors, as they search for their missing kin and find family and friends among the many dead.

The unprecedented scale of the devastation, its outline becoming clearer by the day, suggests that President Aquino’s initial and instinctive description of Tacloban City’s alleged lack of preparation was at best premature. The fact that Tacloban was among the hardest hit does not necessarily mean that the city was inadequately prepared; it could also mean that, given the force of the typhoon and the strength and speed of the storm surges, no preparation could have been sufficient.

The real factors behind the terrible loss of life must be determined; the tentative estimate of 10,000 dead, from city and police officials, is a staggering five percent of the city’s population and demands a strict accounting. But that will come in due time.

For now and the next several days, the main task is to quickly create the conditions that will allow government, private and international donor resources to effect rescue and relief operations in all affected areas, not just Tacloban.

It is good to note that the airport in Tacloban, with its control tower and terminal severely damaged, has managed to receive an almost regular schedule of airlifts; that the road traffic from Luzon to Leyte’s capital has reopened; that police Special Action Forces have been deployed to the city to prevent more looting. But so much more needs to be done.

One example, out of many. The tourist town of Coron, in Palawan, the last landmass Yolanda barrelled through on its harrowing way to the South China Sea, suffered massively; according to its mayor, as much as three-fourths of the municipality’s houses and buildings sustained considerable damage, while the airport’s control tower and terminal were destroyed. Thousands of evacuees and foreign visitors are stranded, with the town’s source of potable water fast running out.

We can expect more of this in the next couple of days; as communication links are reestablished, we may finally hear from other areas, suffering severe damage and in serious need of urgent assistance. The breakdown in communications, total in some instances, has deepened the typhoon-induced shock; not knowing whether family and friends have even survived Yolanda is a source of trauma in itself. That all power transmission lines in the provinces of Leyte and Samar are still down, while parts of five other provinces remain without electricity, can only add to the difficulty.

Aside from the many things that need to be done, then, we would like to emphasize the vital importance of rebuilding communication lines. The vulnerability of the entire system can be explained in part by the country’s wholehearted embrace of and dependence on mobile telephone services. But the cell sites that now dot the country are as easy to knock down as they are easy to build. We add our voice to those appealing to the country’s telecommunications companies to get their cell sites in the affected areas operating once again.

It is good to note that the Department of Social Welfare and Development has set up a satellite Internet facility in Tacloban, to allow dazed residents to comfort anxious relatives elsewhere in the country or abroad. But that’s just in one city; about a million people in several provinces suffer the same fate.

Going forward, it seems clear that we need to build additional redundancy into our communications system, by including more robust communications facilities. But for now, we need to get those signal bars up and running.

Sam Miguel
11-11-2013, 09:25 AM
Yolanda: the Messenger

By Walden Bello


3:41 pm | Sunday, November 10th, 2013

It seems these days that whenever Mother Nature wants to send an urgent message to humankind, it sends it via the Philippines. This year the messenger was Yolanda, a.k.a. Haiyan.

For the second year in a row, the world’s strongest typhoon, Yolanda, barreled through the Philippines, following on the footsteps steps of Pablo, a.k.a Bopha, in 2012. And for the third year in a row, a destructive storm deviated from the usual path taken by typhoons, striking communities that had not learned to live with these fearsome weather events because they were seldom hit by them in the past. Sendong in December 2011 and Bopha last year sliced Mindanao horizontally, while Yolanda drove through the Visayas, also in a horizontal direction.

That it was climate change that was creating super typhoons that were taking weird directions was a message that Nature was sending not just to Filipinos but to the whole world, whose attention was transfixed on the televised digital images of a massive angry cyclone bearing down, then sweeping across the central Philippines on its way to the Asian mainland. The message that Nature was sending via Yolanda–which packed winds stronger than super storm Sandy, which hit New Jersey and New York last October, and Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005–was especially meant for the governments of the world that are assembling in Warsaw for the annual global climate change negotiations (COP 19) scheduled to begin Monday, November 11. Is it coincidence, ask some people who are not exactly religious, that both Pablo and Yolanda arrived at around time of the global climate negotiations? Pablo smashed into Mindanao during the last stages of the Conference of Parties 18 (COP 18) in Doha last year.

COP 19: Another Deadlock?

It is doubtful, however, that the governments assembling in Warsaw will rise to the occasion. For a time earlier this year, it appeared that Hurricane Sandy would bring climate change to the forefront of US President Barrack Obama’s agenda. It did not, and, while trumpeting that he was directing federal agencies to take steps to force power plants to cut carbon emissions and encourage movement towards clean energy sources, Obama will not send a delegation that will change the US policy of non-adherence to the Kyoto Protocol, which Washington signed but never ratified. Though 70 per cent of Americans now believe in climate change, Obama does not have the courage to challenge the fanatical “climate skeptics” that fill the ranks of the Tea Party and the US business establishment on this front.

It is also unlikely that the China, now the world’s biggest carbon emitter, will agree to mandatory limits on its greenhouse gas emissions, armed with the rationale that it is those that have contributed most to the cumulative volume of greenhouse gases like the US that must be subjected to mandatory emissions cuts. And as China goes, so will Brazil, India, and a host of the other more industrially advanced developing countries that are the most influential voices in the “Group of 77 and China” coalition. What the governments of these countries seem to be saying is that the carbon-intensive industrial development plans they are pursuing are not up for negotiation.

Dangerous Gap

According to the Durban Platform agreed upon in 2011, governments are supposed to submit carbon emissions reduction plans by 2015, which will then be implemented beginning in 2020. To climate scientists, this leaves a dangerous gap of seven years where no mandatory moves of emissions reduction can be expected from the US and many other carbon-intensive countries. It is increasingly clear that every year now counts if the world is to avoid a rise in global mean temperature beyond 2 degrees Celsius, the accepted benchmark beyond which the global climate is expected to go really haywire.

Countries like the Philippines and many other island-states are in the frontlines of climate change. Every year of massive and frequent disastrous climate events like Yolanda and Pablo reminds them of the injustice of the situation. They are among those that have contributed least to climate change, yet they are its main victims. Their interest lies not only in accessing funds for “adaptation.” (A Green Climate Fund that would funnel, beginning in 2020, $100 billion a year from rich countries to poor countries to help them adjust to climate change has been set up, but contributions so far have been small and slow in coming.) With typhoons and hurricanes now being on the cutting edge of extreme weather events, these frontline countries must push all major greenhouse gas emitters to agree to subject themselves to radical emissions cuts immediately, and not wait till 2020 to undertake this.

Unorthodox Tactics

During the Doha negotiations last year, one of the leaders of the Philippine delegation cried when he pointed to the ravages inflicted on Mindanao by Pablo. It was a moment of truth for the climate talks. This year, our delegation must convert tears into anger and denounce the big climate polluters for their continued intransigence against taking the steps needed to save the world from the destruction that their carbon-intensive economies have unleashed on us all. Perhaps, the best role our delegation can play is by adopting unorthodox tactics, like disrupting the negotiations procedurally to prevent the conference from falling into the familiar alignment of the rich North versus the Group of 77 and China, a configuration that guarantees a political deadlock even as the world hurtles towards the four degree plus world that the World Bank has warned will be a certainty without a massive global effort to prevent it.

11-12-2013, 09:11 AM
Man-made 'Yolanda'? UP scientist debunks viral video

By Camille Diola

(philstar.com) | Updated November 11, 2013 - 5:14pm

MANILA, Philippines - University of the Philippines scientist Mahar Lagmay belied a video claiming that supertyphoon "Yolanda" was a man-made phenomenon controlled by US-run technology emitting microwave pulse.

"Those claims must first demonstrate that the microwave was the one that formed," Lagmay said in a televised interview with ANC on Monday.

Lagmay, who spearheaded the online weather monitoring platform Project NOAH under the Department of Science and Technology, said that YouTube user DutchSince who created and lent his voice on the video may not himself believe his claims.

"(He) is just pulling a trick on us ... As of the moment, there's no reason to believe this person," Lagmay said.

The video uploaded last November 8 gained attention on YouTube amid overwhelming news on the catastrophe wrought by the powerful cyclone. Dutchsince, voicing over moving satellite images of the typhoon's movement, said that a US facility based in Alaska manipulated the direction and strength of the weather disturbance.

"We can follow this storm's formation ... and what we've seen several times is out here near Guam, of all places, we see a large microwave-shaped spiral pulse that comes from the north," the narrator said.

The conspiracy theorist also claimed that microwave pulse is now controlling a new weather system named "Zoraida" spotted off the Philippines.

Lagmay refused to be convinced, addressing concerns of netizens whether Dutchsinse's claims are based on facts.

"There's a long, rigorous process to demonstrate that microwave is related to formation of clouds, curves shown in the video," he said.

"As a scientist, I prefer to see the evidence ...He must demonstrate it well, clearly and must be reputable," Lagmay added.

Sam Miguel
11-13-2013, 08:49 AM
Man, nature share blame for Philippine tragedy

Associated Press

12:46 am | Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

WASHINGTON—Nature and man together cooked up the disaster in the Philippines.

Geography, meteorology, poverty, shoddy construction, a booming population and, to a much lesser degree, climate change combine to make the Philippines the nation most vulnerable to killer typhoons, according to several scientific studies.

And Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) was one mighty storm.

Yolanda slammed the island nation with a storm surge two stories high and some of the highest winds ever measured in a tropical cyclone—314 kilometers per hour as clocked by US satellites, or 237 kph based on local reports.

“You have a very intense event hitting a very susceptible part of the world. It’s that combination of nature and man,” said tropical meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“If one of those ingredients were missing, you wouldn’t have a disaster.”

Storm-prone region

The 7,000 islands of the Philippines sit in the middle of the world’s most storm-prone region, which gets some of the biggest typhoons because of vast expanses of warm water that act as fuel and few pieces of land to slow storms down.

Half the storms on an informal list of the strongest ones to hit land in the 20th and 21st centuries ended up striking the Philippines, according to research by Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground.

Storms often hit after they’ve peaked in strength or before they get a chance to, but Yolanda struck when it was at its most powerful, based on US satellite observations, Emanuel said.

Human factor

Humans played a big role in this disaster, too—probably bigger than nature’s, meteorologists said.

University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy figures that 75 to 80 percent of the devastation can be blamed on the human factor.

Meteorologists point to extreme poverty and huge growth in population—much of it in vulnerable coastal areas with poor construction, including storm shelters that didn’t hold up against Yolanda.

The population of the devastated provincial capital of Tacloban City nearly tripled from about 76,000 to 221,000 in just 40 years.

Flimsy houses

About one-third of Tacloban’s homes have wooden exterior walls. And one in seven homes have grass roofs, according to the census office.

Those factors—especially flimsy construction—were so important that a weaker storm would have still caused almost as much devastation, McNoldy said.

“You end up with this kind of urban time bombs, where cities have doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size in 50 years” without good building standards, said Richard Olson, director of the Extreme Events Institute at Florida International University. “It is, I hate to say, an all-too-familiar pattern.”

Scientists say man-made global warming has contributed to rising seas and a general increase in strength in the most powerful tropical cyclones.

But they won’t specifically apply these factors to Yolanda, saying it is impossible to attribute single weather events, like the typhoon, to climate change.

A 2008 study found that in the northwestern Pacific, where Yolanda formed, the top 1 percent of the strongest tropical cyclones over the past 30 years are getting stronger each year—a phenomenon some scientists suspect is a consequence of global warming.

“The strongest storms are getting stronger” said study coauthor James Kossin of the National Climatic Data Center. Yolanda “is what potentially could be a good example of the kind of the things we’re finding.”

Philippines has it all

Similarly, the Philippines has seen its sea rise nearly half an inch in the past 20 years—about triple the global increase, according to R. Steven Nerem of the University of Colorado. Higher sea levels can add to storm surge, creating slightly greater flooding.

Just as human factors can worsen a disaster, they can also lessen it, through stronger buildings, better warnings and a quicker government response.

Emanuel said poverty-stricken Bangladesh had much bigger losses of life from cyclones in the 1970s than it does now. The international community built strong evacuation shelters that get used frequently, he said.

“The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone places on Earth,” said Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado.

“They’ve got it all. They’ve got earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tropical cyclones, landslides.”

Sam Miguel
11-13-2013, 09:57 AM
Storm surges

By Michael L. Tan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:58 pm | Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

All the foreign media reports on Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”) have attributed the high death toll in Tacloban City to “storm surges.” It’s a term that is rarely used in the Philippines despite a spate of such surges accompanying storms (for example, “Ondoy”) or even nameless monsoon rains.

The best lay explanation of storm surges I’ve found, in relation to Yolanda, is in an article titled “Why Typhoon Haiyan Caused So Much Damage.” It’s found on the National Public Radio website (npr.org) complete with weather maps.

A storm surge is, in simple terms, a rise in ocean waters caused by a typhoon (also known as tropical cyclone). It’s not quite the same as a tsunami, which is a tidal wave set off by an earthquake. A storm surge happens when there’s already a high tide and a typhoon comes in, pushing up the height of the water and sending large volumes inland. In Tacloban, the surge was said to have been as high as four meters.

Besides the tide cycles, geography can play a deadly role. A part of Tacloban juts out into the sea, so when the storm surge struck, it had water flooding in from both Panalaron Bay and Cancabato Bay. But there’s more to geography: Tacloban was particularly vulnerable because of a sloping terrain that allows waves from the sea to move up a great height before crashing on land.

We’ve learned to fear flooding from nonstop rains but storm surges are worse. If it’s rain water alone the levels rise slowly, but with storm surges, a deluge rapidly occurs, leaving people little time to seek higher ground. Initial reports say that many of the deaths in Tacloban involved residents who had sought refuge when the typhoon first struck in what they thought were safe grounds: a church and a stadium. But when the surges occurred, these places flooded quickly and turned into a watery grave.

Mountains of water

Photographs of a large merchant ship that had been docked at sea but was pushed inland by the storm surges reminded me of an even more dramatic account in the Jesuit Francisco Ignacio Alcina’s book “History of the Bisayan People in the Philippine Islands,” where he said a great wave “hurled an average sized ship so far into the forests and left it there … at the top of the trees from which it could hardly be taken down.”

Note that Alcina’s book was published in 1668, and translated and published in English by the University of Santo Tomas a few years ago. Alcina served as a missionary in different parts of the Visayas, but mainly in Samar and Leyte. He wrote about typhoons (baguios, tifones) as well as monsoon winds (brisas). He said that when one of the baguios rage, “not even the trees are safe in the midst of the forests, or the animals in their caves or people in their houses…” He also wrote about how churches, “the largest buildings existing here,” are destroyed: “Sometimes the winds chop them off like one would do a radish…”

This passage could well have described what happened in Tacloban: “[N]ot even a person can stand on his feet nor can such manage except by laying hold of another or hugging the ground in order to flee the dangers or assist those who are in danger.”

Alcina also described what is clearly a storm surge: “The sea enters the domain of the land… For tall mountains of water, which form devastating waves, enter, extend areas of the lands…”

What struck me about Alcina’s accounts of the typhoons, which are scattered in different parts of his book, is that they were clearly so much a part of life in the Visayas. He was also impressed by some of the older people being able to predict, with great accuracy, a coming typhoon within “four, six or ten days in advance.” The elders seemed to be able to predict the typhoons by observing the color of the sky and the kind of winds prevailing.

This should not be surprising because, as Alcina observed, people in the Visayas had been seafarers for so long, and the expertise was not just for approaching typhoons but also for sea storms (tempestades del mar), which could be predicted “by the condition of the air or by the many-hued clouds in the sky … by the more or less heavy or light clouds, or by the color of the moon or the sun…”

Alcina noted how deadly Spanish impatience could be: “The choleric Spanish temper kills many over here very quickly because they do not follow the opinion of the native pilots in their sea travels.”


We don’t seem to have local terms for a storm surge although “walo-walo” (“eight-eight”) comes to my mind. The term is still used in some islands in the country, especially in eastern and central Visayas, and refers to large waves eight feet high that are whipped up by storms for eight consecutive days. The use of “eight-eight” is of course a metaphor to dramatize the fury of a storm surge.

We need to highlight the threats of storm surges in our disaster preparedness programs. That will mean rethinking evacuation centers like stadiums and churches because people could end up trapped inside. On the other hand, I’ve heard of plans to have large catchment areas or basins to trap the surge waters (as well as ordinary flood waters) and to be able to “pull the plug” on these giant sinks, allowing the water to subside quickly.

While relief work remains the priority, we should look into documenting what happened not just in Tacloban but also in many other islands in central and eastern Visayas. The walo-walo have been going on for centuries, but it is possible that more rural coastal villages may have been better able to cope with these disasters, first because population density is lower, and second because they can still access food resources after the storm. Tacloban was an example of urbanization, and population growth, conspiring with Nature for a major cataclysm.

Going back to Alcina, we might look into local knowledge about the weather, building on folk wisdom for disaster preparedness. I am sure local knowledge about the weather is disappearing, but we can convert this last disaster into an opportunity to create a collective memory among people: What did they see as the typhoon approached, and when the storm surges struck? What did they learn from the aftermath?

Finally, I am told that our meteorologists had predicted the surges and had warned people about these. But the message does not seem to be getting through. We need to review our communications strategies, the words being used, the imagery. We will have time before the next monsoon, but we will have to work fast, to save more lives and, amid the losses, to rebuild lives and communities.

Sam Miguel
11-13-2013, 10:55 AM
After Yolanda/Haiyan: The worst is yet to come

by Dean Tony La Viña and Purple Romero

Posted on 11/11/2013 8:37 PM | Updated 11/12/2013 12:54 AM

Friday, Nov 8, 2013, will be a day long remembered in the Philippines.

On that day, the strongest typhoon ever recorded in the world, devastated many islands in the Visayas, the central part of our archipelago. Thousands are reported to have died, while hundreds of thousands of families have lost not only their homes but also their sources of living, as Super Typhoon Yolanda (international codename Haiyan) ripped through 34 provinces across the country. Some of these areas already suffer from high poverty incidence rates and are still reeling from the effects of a powerful earthquake.

Extensive looting and lawlessness have been reported with local governments paralyzed and national government agencies scrambling to respond to what is likely the biggest disaster – natural or man-made – the Philippines ever confronted. Power outage and loss of communication lines in parts of the Visayas and Luzon have made it hard to confirm the total number of casualties as well as the areas affected and the extent of the damage.

US-based Weather Underground declared Yolanda a category-5 super typhoon because it has sustained winds of more than 252 km/h. Typhoons of this strength could cause extreme flooding, storm surges and damage infrastructure. Scientists have warned that climate change could intensify extreme weather events such as typhoons and flooding.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had declared this as early as in their 2001 assessment report. The IPCC recently released its 5th assessment report (AR5) which contained the same warning. AR5 also concluded that scientists are now 95% sure that climate change is driven by human activities.

It cannot be scientifically determined yet, at least with high confidence that Yolanda, as Sendong, Pablo, Ondoy, Frank, Milenyo, and Reming before it, result from human-induced climate change. But one thing is sure, in the future, these extreme events will become more frequent and intensify – unless we successfully mitigate climate change. However, because we are already committed to some climate change initiatives in the future, we also need to put in place adaptation programs to reduce our vulnerability.

Warsaw Climate Change Conference

As we wrote this, government representatives were on their way to Warsaw, Poland for the 19th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference. They know there is stronger scientific evidence that anthropogenic or manmade activities have caused climate change.

We will be joining these talks as advisers to the Philippine delegation led by Secretary Lucille Sering, the vice-chair of the Climate Change Commission.

In Warsaw, all eyes will be on the Philippines, with negotiators from over 190 countries holding climate change talks from November 11-22. Negotiators aim to ensure that countries remain on track in reaching a legally-binding agreement by 2015 in a meeting to be held in Paris, France.

This landmark agreement will mandate both developed countries and possibly emerging economic powers like China and India to considerably reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius.

Science and politics

One of the biggest challenges in making climate change negotiations effective is creating a stronger connection between science and policy. The certainty that science offers about the causes and impacts of climate change has yet to be fully enmeshed in the language of politics and priorities of governments, which have the responsibility of making sure the public is prepared for, and protected from, the effects of climate change.

But the urgency of this message is not likely to break new grounds in COP 19. As it is, COP 19 is not seen as a venue where drastic commitments for emission reduction would be made, or significant progress in longstanding issues on adaptation and mitigation would be reached. The emergence of the AR5 findings is not seen to change this picture.

A member of the European delegation, who asked not to be named, told us that he does not think AR5 will affect the negotiations “to any great length.”

“The vast majority of people involved in existing negotiations already have their minds set as regards climate change and its causes,” he said in an email.

Philippine Climate Change commissioner Naderev Sano believes the same. “I would hope that a report like that could be so provoking, but based on our experience with our process, even extreme events that are happening are never enough to bring the multilateral process to a pace that would bring us to a trajectory to solving climate change,” he said.

This is because scientific knowledge is just one of the considerations in a political process such as the negotiations. National interests concerning the economy are a factor in the development of positions in an international discussion. Domestic politics also plays a part.

Sam Miguel
11-13-2013, 10:57 AM
^^^ (Cont'd )

The US and China

Todd Stern, the US special envoy to climate change said before the World Future Energy Summit in January 2013 that “in the real world, countries will reject obligation they see as inimical to their core interests in development, growth and eradicating poverty.”

The United States, one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases along with China, has historically declined to commit to binding targets for emission reduction. While it is one of the countries that pioneered the establishment of the IPCC in 1988 and is the first industrialized country to ratify the UNFCCC in 1992, it has not been supportive of measures – both international and national – calling for the reduction of its carbon footprint. The US also did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which calls on industrialized countries to slash their greenhouse gas emissions by 5% compared to 1990 levels.

The Obama administration, however, has made combating climate change a priority. In his second term, Obama unveiled his new climate action plan, where he promised to lead the US towards a low-carbon economy.

The US also acknowledged the importance of AR5. US Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that it is not just a “run of the mill report” because it was produced by scientists. Prior to this, Kerry had said that battling climate change was a priority in America’s strategic dialogue with China in July. US and China have the world’s biggest footprint, accounting for almost 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Kerry noted that what makes the AR5 credible is that it is not a “political document produced by politicians. It’s science.”

But as the climate change negotiations show, science is not enough to jolt governments into making ambitious reduction targets. National concerns play a pivotal role and this also holds true for China, which has eclipsed the US as the world’s biggest emitter.

In his March 2013 paper, “China and International Climate Change Negotiations,” Professor Zhang Haibin of the Peking University said that abatement costs, or the costs of solving an environmental problem, is one of China’s considerations behind its apprehension to commit to legally-binding mitigation targets.

Zhang said that China, which is heavily dependent on coal, would have to restructure its energy industry to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. “A commitment to reduce GHG emissions under these conditions will undoubtedly lead to a deceleration of China’s economic growth and weaken its potential for future development,” he wrote. The other two major factors in China’s actions in the international climate change negotiations are ecological vulnerability and the refusal of developed countries to enter into a legally-binding regime itself.

Paul G. Harris, author of the book, “What’s Wrong With Climate Politics and How to Fix It,” said that national interests impede the progress of the international negotiations. He also pointed out that the stand of the US and China to not commit to legally-binding mitigation targets unless the other one does so is inimical to the negotiations. “The whole world is being held hostage to these two nations’ supposed interests,” he said.

Harris pointed out this status quo could be changed by shifting to “people-centered diplomacy” where the focus should be on people, the welfare of human beings, not on national interests.

Carbon budgets

This is not to say that science is completely subsumed or drowned out by politics in the climate change talks. In their paper “The Arduous Process of Climate Change Negotiations: How Science Can Facilitate the Desired Outcome,” Kateryna Holzer and Joëlle de Sépibus noted that the findings of the IPCC – first released in 1990 – was the impetus itself in drafting the UNFCCC. In COP13, in Bali, Indonesia, the negotiators took note of how imperative and urgent climate change actions are, as referred to in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).

The AR5 now has findings that raise interesting questions for negotiators in Warsaw. One is on carbon budget, or the amount of carbon that could be emitted before global warming exceeds 2-degrees Celsius.

AR5 said that cumulative carbon emissions from manmade activities should not exceed 1trillion tons or 1,000 petagrams of carbon (1,000 PGC) to prevent the global temperature from going beyond 2 degrees Celsius. AR5 stated that in 2011, 531 PGC (petagrams) had already been emitted – the remaining carbon budget could be exhausted in 30 years.

Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary, told The Guardian that the negotiations would not be based on the carbon budget where amounts of future emissions would be allocated to countries. She added that basing the negotiations on future emissions is not practical and would treat carbon budget as a “zero-sum game.”

Educate the public

IPCC will release the reports of the 2nd and 3rd working groups on the 5th assessment report in March and April 2014. These would delve on adaptation and mitigation, respectively. Intersessional meetings and COP20 would be held months after, again raising questions on the impact of scientific knowledge on the negotiations.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of Tebtebba, a nongovernment organization promoting the welfare of indigenous peoples, said there should be more efforts to educate the public about the findings and importance of the IPCC reports.

“The illiteracy of the public in understanding what the report is saying is very dismal. It’s in a very bad state,” she said. “That also is a challenge for strengthening the interface of science and policy – the science is there, but the policy does not match .”

Sano acknowledged the vital role of the public, particularly those in developed nations, in pushing for governments in aligning their climate actions with IPCC reports. “The report is only as good as the people who believe in it – the biggest public that has to believe in the report does not believe in the report and that would be the American public as represented by the Congress.”

Beyond Warsaw

This is the 3rd year in a row when the Philippines has been devastated by a climate-related disaster at the time of the annual climate change negotiations. In 2011, it was Sendong/Washi in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. In 2012, it was Pablo/Bopha in Southern Mindanao. And now, Yolanda/Haiyan in the Visayas.

Like in 2011 and 2012 when many in the Philippine delegation, including our head of delegation Climate Change Secretary Lucille Sering, were from Mindanao, some are from, or have relatives in, the areas devastated by Yolanda/Haiyan. That includes Naderev Saño, our lead negotiator, whose family hails from Leyte.

Climate change is personal, it is clear. We thought Warsaw was going to be tedious, certainly cold. It will still be cold but the Philippine delegation must now work hard to increase the temperature of the climate change negotiations and urge decisive action so that a clear work plan for the next year of negotiations is agreed upon. That work plan must lead to an agreement of the elements of a strong and effective 2015 climate change agreement.

If we fail again this time, the worst will definitely come and Yolanda/Haiyan would be nothing compared to the coming storms. – [I]Rappler.com

Sam Miguel
11-14-2013, 08:05 AM
What Typhoon Haiyan’s Victims Need Most

By the Editors Nov 14, 2013 4:04 AM GMT+0800

Bloated corpses still lie amid the rubble. Tens of thousands of people are clamoring for food, clothing and shelter. Hundreds of villages remain effectively cut off from the outside world.

At such a moment, it may seem insensitive, or at least overly technocratic, to emphasize the need for rewriting building codes or replanting coastal mangrove forests. Yet now is precisely the time -- in the midst of the enormous, still-chaotic effort to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan -- to focus not just on relief but also on rebuilding.

It is a truism in the aid community that the key after any natural disaster is to “build back better.” A country such as the Philippines -- which suffers 20 typhoons a year, not to mention earthquakes, floods and landslides -- cannot reduce its physical exposure to such risks, only its vulnerability. In the aftermath of such a tragedy, it only makes sense to prepare better for the next one -- to build stronger homes, on higher land, with better early warning systems and evacuation routes.

Too often, though, by the time the focus turns to long-term reconstruction, money and political will have dissipated. New homes are slapped together in the rush to relocate victims out of tent shelters. Politicians lose interest in projects that promise little immediate payoff, such as restoring those mangrove forests to help protect against storm surges.

The only way to “build back better” is to start laying the groundwork now, when the world’s attention is fixed and sympathy is at its peak. This is the time for national leaders to revise building codes -- as Japan does after every major disaster -- so that new construction can withstand future megastorms.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has been pushing a $9 billion program of infrastructure projects since 2010, with little to show for it: Only one of them (out of 47) is anywhere near completion. Clearing roadblocks to those projects would help attract new investment for roads, bridges, hospitals and evacuation centers. Improving coastal defenses and rethinking land-use planning can help protect vulnerable low-lying areas.

In some ways, this question of recovery is distinct from the task of relief. For that reason, Philippine authorities might want to look at appointing an independent body dedicated solely to such long-term questions, as Indonesia did in hard-hit Aceh after the 2004 tsunami. Such an organization could propose ways to reduce the risk associated with future storms and quakes: offering tax incentives for disaster victims to move to less-exposed areas, for example, or dispensing disaster aid on the condition that recipients participate in programs that help them survive future storms.

Aid organizations can benefit from a longer-term perspective, too. Most such groups generally operate on a one-to two-year time horizon, in part so that those they are helping don’t grow dependent on outside assistance. Yet as studies of rehabilitation efforts after the 2004 tsunami have shown, most successful projects require patience. It takes time to understand communities: what kind of homes they need, where they are willing to relocate, how to reconstruct their social and economic networks. Similarly, by focusing not just on people and families but also on helping to revive local institutions, these aid groups would greatly improve their chances of ultimate success.

Relief efforts and recovery assistance are not mutually exclusive, of course; aid groups and governments can strive toward both goals at once. What’s more, in at least one sense, they are inextricably linked: For most victims of natural disasters, in the Philippines and elsewhere, the prospect of recovery is itself a kind of relief.

Sam Miguel
11-14-2013, 08:32 AM

By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:38 pm | Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

The poor and weak still took the brunt of it. But so unexpected and uncontainable was the fury of “Yolanda” that it put even the rich and powerful through a day, or night, of absolute terror.

Tacloban Councilor Cristina Gonzalez and her husband, Mayor Alfred Romualdez, were chief among them. As Cristina told CNN, as soon as the “angry wind” rose, she and her two daughters and maid fled their house which faced the ocean and sought refuge in their Toyota Innova. Within minutes the van started filling up with water. Realizing they were going to drown if they stayed there, they decided to swim back to the house. Fortunately, all of them were good swimmers—life beside the sea had made them so—and they made it to the upper floor. By that time the lower floor had filled with water, too.

At the height of the storm, their roof flew off, and the push and pull of the water—this was what a storm surge meant!—carrying debris threatened to sweep their house to the sea. They held on to whatever they could for dear life as wind and water swirled around them. And they prayed and prayed.

Cristina and Alfred came out of it with only the clothes on their backs.

I can imagine how anyone who just went through this would greatly mind hearing, even if from the President himself, that the reason one went through this was that one did not prepare. Which indeed was what the President suggested last Monday: that Leyte’s, specifically Tacloban’s, officials had been remiss in their duties, which caused their province and city undue grief.

Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, Alfred’s cousin, gave the President the benefit of the doubt, saying he probably had not yet been apprised of the situation when he said that—though that is surprising, given that the President himself had flown there and seen the extent of the devastation with his own eyes. He himself, said Martin, would only say everything humanly possible was done to prepare for the supertyphoon. The same thing would have happened to Metro Manila had it lain squarely in Yolanda’s path. “No one here or abroad could have prepared for a catastrophe of these proportions.”

Indeed, how on earth, or on these shores, does one prepare for something like this? The Metropolitan Cathedral in Palo, Leyte, had its roof wrenched off and its ceiling gutted by the storm. The occupants of Tacloban’s hotels saw their windows shatter, scattering glass on their floors, and wind and rain howl in their rooms. Where do you go to hide when these fortifications offer no sanctuary? And when, like most Filipinos, you are poor and helpless and have no means to rush off, children in tow, to them?

James Reynolds, a cameraman and veteran of 35 typhoons, testifies to the apocalyptic proportions of Nature’s ravaging. “I’ve chased nothing like this before. This was just totally off the scale both in terms of the violence of the storm and then the human tragedy, the consequences of such a powerful natural event hitting a city of 200,000 people. Scientists are saying it’s a candidate for one of the strongest storms to ever hit land. From a personal point of view, this was the most calamitous event I’ve witnessed.”

The only way you can really prepare for something like this is to believe the unbelievable and expect the unexpected. Or understand that things aren’t going to get better, they are going to get worse. The worst is not behind us, it is in front of us. And prayer, or prayer alone, won’t see us through. I’m not knocking faith and prayer, I’m just plugging for that saying “Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.” There are practicalities to consider, too.

It helps to know the science. That science tells us that disasters are our new way of life, or death, and the unexpected is the new norm. “We already knew,” said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “that on a global scale, Earth is warmer today than it was over much of the past 2,000 years. Now we know that it is warmer than most of the past 11,300 years—the entire period of human civilization.” By rights, we should just be hitting the tail end of Earth’s cooling period, “but obviously we are not.” Global temperatures have risen by 0.8 Celsius, and the planet has broken records in heat in the past 10 years alone. Many experts blame Hurricane “Sandy” on climate change.

We can pretty much do the same for Yolanda. World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, who was tapped by US President Barack Obama to study climate change, warns that rising sea levels (global warming is melting the polar ice caps, which has accounted for a fifth in the rise of sea levels since 1992) “could inundate coastal areas with the most vulnerable cities found in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mexico, Mozambique, the Philippines, Venezuela and Vietnam.” He said 97 percent of scientists agreed that it was human activity that was causing climate change. “As someone who has lived in the world of science for a long time, 97 percent is unheard-of consensus.”

The inundation is happening even as we speak. If the nightmare in Leyte doesn’t convince us that the new normal is a state of fragility, of precariousness, nothing will. I do hope the President raises the point when he speaks before the world, an opportunity that the current cataclysm has afforded him (we have become the cynosure of the world’s eyes for such a God-awful reason). Being told we have a strong spirit, an indomitable will, a spectacular resilience, is fine, but we can do better with America doing its part in stopping the killing of the planet. It has been remiss on this strongly, indomitably, spectacularly. With the most horrendous effects on the world’s coastline—and we are nothing if not one gigantic coastline.

Otherwise, we’ll just be preparing for the “unpreparable.”

Sam Miguel
11-14-2013, 08:50 AM
Looting and civic culture

By Randy David

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:37 pm | Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Struck by calamity, a nation may be able to withstand the most horrific loss of lives and the most extensive destruction of homes, factories and farms, public facilities and private property. But, perhaps, nothing brings more distress or leaves a deeper trauma on society than the descent to barbarism of those who have survived. This is why heroism, selflessness, and compassion under such circumstances have an immediately uplifting effect on everyone else. Such behavior is of a piece with the stoic discipline of the solitary individual who, in the face of seeming social collapse, keeps personal honor intact.

Supertyphoon “Yolanda” began battering Samar and Leyte early morning on Friday. In the desolate stillness of the ensuing hours, amid the dead bodies and the debris, some people began forcibly opening stores, groceries, and a shopping mall, taking away food supplies, water, and clothes. One might call this scavenging, and rationalize it as a desperate act of survival. But, in an instant, the mob grew and started carting away consumer durables like TV sets, washing machines, and refrigerators. One man was seen loading a wide-screen TV set onto his sport utility vehicle, as if he had gone bargain-hunting on a normal day. This is where analysts draw the line between scavenging and looting.

All it takes for ordinary people to join the riot and forget their shame and self-respect is for someone to start it. A few may hesitate and even attempt to stop what is about to happen. But soon their voices are drowned by those who begin to believe they represent all those in need. This delusion induces a warped sense of entitlement that overrides all decency. In that crucial moment, when the first looted goods are thrown in the direction of the gathering mob, the individual is asked to choose between barbarism and culture.

As insidious as it is, there is in fact nothing extraordinary about the instinct that underpins all looting behavior. We see it in our streets almost every day—in the tendency of the Filipino driver to break out of his lane, start a counterflow, or claim road space on unpaved portions of an expressway, at the first sign of a traffic jam. The sense of entitlement that grips him, born ironically out of an affinity with suffering, trumps all rules of order, beginning with the fundamental rules of queuing.

Strangely enough, in the light of the issues we face in our country, the other word for looting is plunder. It is what happens when a victorious army takes over the land of the defeated. They pillage, they ransack, they plunder and they rape—during that brief interval when the only law that operates is the law of the jungle. They do it not only because they can but also because they feel entitled.

Some of our lawmakers are not really so different in mindset: They feel entitled to plunder the public treasury because, in their fevered minds, not unlike the looters whipped up by Yolanda, they have suffering constituents to take care of. The self-righteousness that accompanies their criminal act pacifies their conscience and makes them impervious to criticism. They think that those who criticize them know nothing about the realities on the ground.

I do not mean to imply by these observations that the looting in Tacloban is not a cause for serious alarm. I believe it is. But we could easily exaggerate its magnitude and overreact to it in a way that justifies the use of excessive force. This seems to be the drift of those who are calling for the declaration of martial law in the disaster-stricken regions of Central Visayas. They fear the barbarians at the gates—those who, in the words of Zygmunt Bauman, are viewed as “sitting in ambush inside the fortress of the civilized world and waiting for their moment to take revenge for the blows inflicted upon them by the civilizing process.”

We would be committing a fundamental mistake in perception if at any moment we thought that the main problem in the Visayas today is the breakdown in the peace and order situation rather than the immediate rescue of the disaster’s survivors from the real dangers of starvation and disease. There will always be opportunists everywhere who take advantage of disturbances in daily life to carry out their predatory schemes. But they are a small minority who cannot show their faces in public.

We ought not to add demoralization to the misfortunes of the Taclobanons by highlighting the looting that has taken place in their community, as if this is what defines them. While it is natural to feel disgust over the looting that took place in the aftermath of Yolanda, especially when viewed alongside the grace and serenity of the Japanese in the wake of the March 2011 tsunami, we must rather draw inspiration from the courage and the selflessness of the many who helped their neighbors even as they lost their own families. For it is these traits that bind us together as a people.

The outpouring of help from abroad has been heartwarming. This is due in no small measure to the dignity with which we have borne our sufferings. Instead of being paralyzed by the enormity of this calamity, we have summoned all our remaining strength—each one of us in his/her own way—to assist our countrymen. Never before have I seen our nation come together in such a determined way to face a common task. That, to me, is what culture is about.

* * *

Sam Miguel
11-15-2013, 09:35 AM
Getting warmer

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:59 pm | Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Supertyphoon “Yolanda” was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. There is some debate whether it was in fact the most powerful of all time to hit land, as measured by wind strength. American satellites tracked its winds at 195 mph, with gusts reaching as high as 235 mph; our own Pagasa measured its maximum sustained winds at 171 mph, with gusts recorded at 147 mph. But there is no denying that Yolanda (international code name “Haiyan”) was the strongest storm of the year—and no escaping the conclusion that we should expect more supertyphoons in our future.

The climate, really, is changing. The changes include higher ocean temperatures, and warmer ocean surfaces create stronger typhoons.

There are still a considerable number of climate change deniers, many of whom have found a hospitable home in the anti-science, determinedly isolationist precincts of extreme right American politics. This helps explain why the United States, despite being one of the leading producers of greenhouse gas in the world (its competitor for the title is China, the emerging superpower), has failed to exercise leadership commensurate with its responsibilities at the United Nations-sponsored climate change negotiations.

But at the 19th edition of those talks, currently ongoing in Warsaw, Poland, leadership is a scarce commodity. It’s not just the United States, or China; after the failure at Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009, the entire climate change conference track was recalibrated. Any real breakthrough can take place only in the Paris conference in 2015—if at all.

To be sure, the process is impossibly complicated. One of the fundamental issues that need to be resolved, for instance, is Gordian in its knottiness. The developed economies have had some 150 years’ head start to get to where they are; developing behemoths like China, India and Brazil have only had a generation or two of rapid development. Why (to phrase the problem from China’s point of view) should a developing economy bear the same burden in stopping climate change as a developed one? If China ends all use of coal immediately (to give one example), then it would not be able to benefit from that cheap (but very dirty) energy source as much as Britain did in the 19th century. Where, the simplified argument goes, is the historical justice in that?

Precisely because of complicated issues like this, the international community resorted to the old trick of kicking the can down the road.

This context of diplomatic pragmatism makes the emotional appeal of the Philippine lead negotiator at the Warsaw talks, Yeb Sano, all the more remarkable. Speaking at the opening session, Sano had everyone’s attention because Yolanda and the devastation it caused were very much in the news.

He thanked the international community for coming to the aid of the Philippines, he spoke about the catastrophe that had just befallen the country—and then he linked the calamity to a greater crisis: climate change.

“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 impact 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 confront 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 become scarce.”

Then he pointed to the brave example of young people protesting the fossil fuel industry, and drew hope and inspiration from their experience.

“We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where supertyphoons are a way of life. Because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where supertyphoons like Haiyan become a fact of life. We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, become a way of life. We simply refuse to.”

The entire assembly rose to applaud him. Here was leadership—only of the moral kind, true—but real and forward-looking nonetheless.

11-18-2013, 03:39 PM
On Long Island Coast, An Unexpected Gift From Hurricane Sandy

One year after the storm that caused it, an inlet blasted in Fire Island has led to the cleansing of a long-polluted bay.

Will James Nov 13 2013, 9:20 AM ET

In the mid-1980s, Long Island’s Great South Bay turned the color of Earl Grey tea. It was the first outbreak of an algal bloom known as the brown tide, and it would return year after year, fueled by pollution from the island’s septic systems. Over three decades, it would wipe out thousands of acres of underwater grass, contribute to the demise of a once-booming shellfish industry and make the shallow, 45-mile lagoon a symbol of the suburban island’s troubled relationship with water.

Then, a year ago, Hurricane Sandy blasted a new inlet through Fire Island, the slender barrier island separating the Great South Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. Fishermen began to spot river herring, fluke, weakfish, sea turtles—even a seal that popped its head up alongside a dock—in a formerly stagnant, eastern swathe of the bay. Scientists watched water there grow clearer and the brown tide weaken and dissipate more quickly. As the year passed, parts of the Great South Bay started to look a bit more like the body of water many Long Islanders remember swimming in as children and scouring for shellfish in young adulthood.

It’s now a year since Hurricane Sandy made landfall, and the new waterway remains a fiercely debated piece of the storm’s legacy in New York State. Teams of scientists putter around it in skiffs. Residents pack high-school auditoriums to argue over whether it represents a blessing or a threat. Anglers flock to the scattered shoals at its mouth, and beachgoers walk a mile down the shore to bathe in it. A trio of governmental agencies continue to consider plugging it with sand.

Some fear the breach—now roughly the width of two football fields laid end-to-end—will magnify the power of the next superstorm, allowing more water to fill the bay and crash along the coast. “It’s a giant hole,” said Aram Terchunian, a Long Island coastal geologist who has worked as a consultant on other breach-closure projects. “What do you think is going to happen? You’re going to get a storm surge, water’s going to come flooding in through the inlet and it’s going to fill up the Great South Bay. It’s not rocket science.”

Others see a positive development and symbol of nature’s power of self-renewal—an instance of the ocean breaking through a barrier of land to rescue a bay that overfishing and overdevelopment had rendered all but unrecognizable. The blueness of the water around the inlet forms a stark line against the brown tide, reminding some residents of just how far Long Island’s waterways had fallen.

“The bill came due in a lot of ways,” Marshall Brown said, “with Sandy and what it uncovered.”

Brown remembers the Great South Bay before the brown tide came. He was a kid growing up in Sayville, a Long Island hamlet that sits at the water’s edge. Native eelgrass grew so thick, he said, that boaters would have to reverse their outboard motors to spin slimy strands off their propellers. In the mid-1970s, when Brown was a teenager, baymen raked and dredged more than half the hard clams eaten in the country off the bay’s floor. Black-and-white photographs from that era show clam boats stretching to the horizon.

When Brown returned to Sayville for a high school reunion 35 years after he left for college, he walked his son down to the beach and found something entirely different. The water looked “disgusting,” he said —“dark, dirty, lifeless.” Fields of eelgrass were gone. So were the baymen. Just a handful still eked out a living off what was left on the bay’s floor.

What happened in between is one of Long Island’s most storied environmental collapses. Scientists blame, in part, overharvesting by the shellfish industry. But blame has fallen increasingly on the brown tide, which blocks sunlight and kills the eelgrass beds that shellfish use as nurseries. It also causes shellfish to close up and stop feeding, although scientists don’t know exactly why.

In recent years, studies have traced the brown tide to nitrogen pollution flowing from the island’s buried backyard septic systems. Long Island is home to 2.8 million people and part of the most populous metropolitan area in the country, but huge swaths of it aren’t connected to sewers, relying instead on septic tanks that allow wastewater to collect underground and leach into the earth. From there, nitrogen—a nutrient found in human waste—winds its way through the groundwater and into the bays, where it feeds the algal blooms.

Nitrogen pollution is emerging as a major environmental threat in many spots on the East Coast—like parts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Florida—where houses have sprouted up along the shoreline. Long Island, though, stands out. Christopher Gobler, a Stony Brook University marine biologist, calculates that nitrogen levels doubled in one Long Island aquifer and rose 40 percent in another between 1987 and 2005. New York State in 2010 added the Great South Bay to a federal list of impaired water bodies, citing the nitrogen problem.

This is what Brown found when he moved back to Long Island after a career building Wi-Fi networks in New York City parks. When he founded Save the Great South Bay, a conservation group, with some high school friends the summer before Hurricane Sandy, he planned to organize beach cleanups and advocate for stricter environmental controls. He didn’t anticipate becoming one of the loudest advocates of an inlet carved by a hurricane. “It’s been very much a battle,” he said, against “bureaucratic momentum and, let’s say, the misplaced desire to make people feel safe.”

The ocean bored through Fire Island sometime on October 29, 2012. It swept away a dock, a boardwalk and untold quantities of sand. Long Islanders dubbed it “New Inlet,” but it wasn’t exactly new – it came through at a low-lying stretch of beach where an older waterway once allowed oceangoing ships to cross through Fire Island and enter the Great South Bay. Some historical accounts say it closed in the 19th century, after a brig wrecked at its mouth.

Storms often carve new inlets in the barrier islands along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The breaches tend to last a while, changing shape, until sand chokes them off. As a series of nor’easters battered Long Island the winter and spring after Hurricane Sandy, the inlet stretched and narrowed and slid into a diagonal orientation. An ever-shifting array of sand islands and channels sprouted at its mouth. Last month, it had stretched to 1,302 feet—roughly the length of the Empire State Building laid on its side.

Charles Flagg, a Stony Brook oceanographer, said the inlet has evolved into something of “a stable system” in recent months, but, like all inlets, it will eventually “squeeze itself off.” “It gets long and skinny and vulnerable, and then something happens and that’s it,” he said. “When that’s likely to happen, god only knows.”

Some don’t care to wait. Opposition to the inlet has evolved over the past year, but a common theme unites it: The breach may be flushing out the bay, but it is dangerous, and cleaner water isn’t worth sacrificing more homes.

11-18-2013, 03:40 PM
^ (Continued)

Fire Island residents see the breach as a disruption in the barrier island’s already scant infrastructure. The narrow tract of land—32 miles long and about a half-mile wide—is a national park where thousands of people have summer homes but only about 400 live year-round. One of them is Mary Parker, one of two people who live out the winter in Davis Park, an outpost of bungalows and twisted trees about five miles west of the inlet.

Like most of Fire Island’s 17 communities, Davis Park has no roads. Its infrastructure consists mostly of boardwalks stretching from the bay to the ocean. Parker, a retired Wall Street stocks-and-bonds researcher, said she once could drive her aging Jeep Grand Cherokee east along the shore, over the Smith Point Bridge and onto the mainland in a few minutes. Now that the inlet lies in her path, she has to drive west to another bridge, an hour away. “It made a big difference for me. I would drive off and get groceries and do laundry, go to meetings,” said Parker, president of the Davis Park Association, a civic group. “Now, it’s a major undertaking for me to leave the island in the winter.”

Parker, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter, fears the breach could prove more than an inconvenience if Davis Park’s wooden bungalows went up in flames. The Great South Bay sometimes freezes in the winter, blocking passage by boat. Mainland emergency responders used to be able to speed over the Smith Point Bridge and down the barrier island’s shore. Now that the inlet blocks their path, they could take an hour longer. “There are people who live here and there are people who have homes here – and they’re not inexpensive homes – who don’t have protection during the winter,” Parker said. “You’d have to sit and watch them burn.”

Chris Soller, the superintendent of the Fire Island National Seashore, the National Park Service unit that oversees the island, doesn’t share those fears. Soller, who lives on Fire Island part-time, said high tides often block the shore route, inlet or no. “I hear them,” he said, referring to residents like Parker, but closing the breach is “not a guarantee that they’ll have emergency services. They’re vulnerable because they live five miles out in the ocean on a barrier island, and there are fewer and fewer emergency personnel living there than there ever was.”

The safety concerns pit concerned residents against environmentalists—a change from the alliances of the past, according to Lawrence Levy, the executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University and an expert on Long Island politics. “A lot of people who live on the south shore of the main island would normally be part of the environmental movement, because they have interest in protecting the values of their properties,” he said. “Superstorm Sandy changed their calculation of what is a threat.”

Long Islanders on the mainland fear the inlet could whip the bay into a destructive force when the next hurricane strikes. “The amount of water going into the basin is going to increase,” said Terchunian, the coastal geologist. “It has to flood. There’s no other way. Where is the water going to go? It’s not like there’s a force field keeping water away form the developed areas.”

And Terchunian, like others in his camp, said leaving the breach open is a cheap and irresponsible way to cleanse the Great South Bay – it ignores the pollution at the heart of the problem. “We have a water quality issue,” he said, “and we need to address the water quality issue.”

Many scientists studying Long Island's dying waterways have turned their attention to the inlet over the past year. On a freezing morning about a week before Hurricane Sandy’s anniversary, Florian Koch and Ryan Wallace, two Stony Brook researchers, crisscrossed the Great South Bay in a skiff, leaving behind a trail of wake that looked vaguely like watered-down whiskey. The brown tide had struck earlier in the fall, giving the choppy bay the appearance of dried mud stretching from Long Island’s southern coastline to Fire Island in the distance.

Koch, a postdoctoral researcher, said nitrogen is natural – living things need it, and it makes plant fertilizer work – but it can over-nourish some life.

“Food's not bad for the human body, but obesity is, you know?” said Koch. “You can almost think of nitrogen pollution like we’re making the bays fat. It’s like the obesity epidemic of the bay, right? Because we’re feeding it to death.”

They sped closer to the inlet and, in an instant, the water changed. It turned a granite color and sandy ripples came into view on the bottom. The two scientists measured upswings in water clarity and salinity – an indication that ocean water was flowing in – and a drop in chlorophyll, indicating the brown tide had thinned out.

Gobler, the marine biologist, has found that average water clarity near the inlet increased 35 percent this year over historical averages, meaning that, for perhaps the first time in decades, part of the bay meets state standards for swimming. The brown tide’s density near the breach last month was just 2 percent the density in an adjacent section of the bay.

Gobler admits the inlet’s cleansing power is limited to an eastern swathe of the Great South Bay, but said that area has changed so much it’s now operating almost like “a totally different system.” And he sees an opening there for marine life to get a foothold again. “A lesson from the inlet is that if water quality is addressed,” he said, “the ecosystem can improve.”

Many environmentalists want policymakers to let the inlet live out its natural lifespan, allowing those improvements to continue. Brown wants to go further, and plant eelgrass and shellfish near the breach. Maybe, he said, the clams’ tiny filters will cleanse a greater swathe of the bay and spark a feedback loop. “I think it’s a good idea in theory,” he said, “and I’d like to hear a counter-argument.”

The inlet’s fate, though, will be determined by three governmental entities: The Army Corps of Engineers, the Fire Island National Seashore, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Army Corps of Engineers said it is waiting on a decision by the other two. The Fire Island National Seashore, a branch of the National Park Service, said it would like to study the inlet’s environmental effects before making a decision, but has so far failed to obtain funding to do so. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has been silent, and has not returned calls seeking comment on the issue for several weeks. Terchunian estimated the job would cost $20 million and require more than a million cubic yards of sand.

If policymakers are waiting for the public to settle on one perception of the inlet, they may have to wait a long time. The debate over the breach has grown to encompass many of the issues facing Long Island at this point in its history: the downsides of suburban development, the degradation of its water, the question of whether movements of sand should be viewed as natural or as damage in need of repair, and, of course, the looming danger of the next superstorm.

“We’re talking about balancing the benefits of cleaner bay water, which you can see every single day,” said Levy, the political expert, “versus the need to protect yourself from something that may not come for many, many years.”

Sam Miguel
11-25-2013, 08:05 AM
Gov’t declares coastlines no-build zones

By TJ A. Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:17 am | Monday, November 25th, 2013

President Benigno Aquino III has ordered Environment Secretary Ramon Paje to keep coastlines off limits to homes after huge waves spawned by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” swamped seaside villages in central Philippines.

At the same time, Congress is proposing to give Mr. Aquino at least P55 billion to rehabilitate typhoon-wrecked areas.

Given the huge cost of rehabilitation, the Senate and the House of Representatives are also seeking to authorize agencies to spend P21 billion in calamity funds in 2013 until the end of next year.

This is on top of the P14.6-billion supplemental budget in 2013 and the P20-billion rehabilitation fund in the 2014 budget earlier proposed by the Senate to deal with the aftermath of Yolanda and past storms.

As the government grappled with the aftermath of what was believed to be the most powerful storm to hit land, the President directed Paje to draw up a comprehensive program on environment protection against storm surges, flooding and landslides.

“Part of the President’s directive to the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) is to establish ‘no-build zones’ on coastlines to ensure the transfer of residents to safe resettlement areas,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said over radio.

In the country, the easement or setback from the shoreline high-water mark is currently at 20 meters. In other countries in the Pacific, the easement is from 50 m to 200 m, according to environmental planners.

Long shoreline

An archipelago with more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines has one of the world’s longest shorelines at 36,289 kilometers, data from the National Statistical Coordination Board show.

When it tore through central Philippines on Nov. 8, Yolanda (international name: “Haiyan”) spawned huge waves of 5 m to 7 m, cutting down homes, buildings and crops in its path and reducing many areas into a virtual wasteland.

Residents of seaside villages in Tacloban City in Leyte, Samar and other nearby provinces bore the brunt of the typhoon’s fury.

Yolanda left in its wake at least 5,235 dead and 1,631 missing and destroyed P11.9 billion in infrastructure and P10.5 billion in agricultural products.

The government blamed local officials’ lack of preparations, the residents’ indifference to warnings and their poor understanding of the weather bureau’s advisories on storm surges for the high death toll.

The country is buffeted by an average of 20 cyclones every year. Yolanda was the 25th storm to strike the country this year.

Coloma said Filipinos should learn from the painful lessons of Yolanda, as well as Tropical Storm “Sendong” and Typhoon “Pablo” that also spawned heavy flooding that left a high death toll among residents living near inland waters years ago.

He said areas that had been marked “danger zones” based on the geo-hazard mapping of the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau should be cleared.

“We should keep these lessons in mind so that we can build back better,” he said over government-run dzRB.

Replant mangroves

At the same time, the President directed Paje to replant mangroves in coastal areas as a natural buffer against storm surges.

“The mangroves are being prepared so that planting could start, because it takes five to seven years to grow this,” Coloma said.

He said victims displaced by the storm were allowed to stay with their relatives in Metro Manila. But those who have none could stay in the bunk homes set up by the government in their own provinces.

Cash for work

As the typhoon victims picked up the pieces of their lives, government agencies had begun offering cash-for-work program for 3,000 residents from 22 barangays in Tacloban and 70 barangays in neighboring Ormoc City, Coloma said.

The government is offering cash to the victims for clearing and cleaning up highways, public markets and plazas, clearing esteros and waterways of debris, and constructing schools and government buildings.

This would be expanded to other provinces and regions in the coming weeks, Coloma said.

“We’re also thankful for the assistance offered by the International Labor Organization to allot up to $300 million for the cash-for-work program for some 290,000 residents of Tacloban, Roxas City, Busuanga town in Palawan, Cebu, and the provinces of Negros Occidental and Bohol,” he said.

In the meantime, health and social welfare workers are ready to attend to 800,000 women who have given birth, or have yet to give birth, Coloma said.

“There are sufficient obstetrics kits for mothers delivering babies and there are sufficient number of midwives,” he said.

While mayors focused on rehabilitation, Department of Health officials have been authorized by Memorandum Circular No. 61 to man health and sanitation facilities in the calamity-stricken areas, he added.

Health personnel are ready to administer vaccines against measles, polio and tetanus.

“With regard to the risk of malnutrition faced by 1.5 million youngsters or children in the calamity zone raised by Ms Valerie Amos of the United Nations, the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) through its National Nutrition Council has the sufficient infrastructure for this,” Coloma said.

Joint resolution

Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. will file a joint resolution to extend the validity of funds for calamity response in the 2013 budget by another year.

“This is the first time we’re doing this given the situation,” Drilon said on the phone.

The resolution would extend the authorization to spend this year’s appropriations for calamity and other disaster and relief-related programs of some line agencies until Dec. 31, 2014, Drilon said.

The funds, estimated at P20.8 billion, were needed to “fully support the urgent relief and long-term rehabilitation” of calamity-stricken areas across the country, he said.

Free up funds

If adopted by both chambers, the joint resolution would free up the funds for agencies dealing with disaster-relief and rebuilding projects.

Otherwise, if they would remain “unobligated” by year-end, the funds would revert to the National Treasury and could no longer be used by the start of the next fiscal year, Drilon said.

“It will be adopted by both chambers,” he said of the resolution.

Both the Senate and the House are also pushing for the creation of a P20-billion rehabilitation fund for typhoon-stricken areas in the P2.268-trillion 2014 budget.

Drilon said the fund would address the damage brought about by recent calamities, including Yolanda, Typhoon “Santi” that hit Central Luzon, the siege in Zamboanga City and the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol and Cebu provinces.

After the Supreme Court ruled that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was unconstitutional, Drilon filed a bill authorizing the President to use the unspent P14.5 billion in PDAF in 2013 for repair and reconstruction.

The supplemental budget to be funded with the unspent pork barrel should be approved ahead of the 2014 budget, otherwise it could not be used, he said.

The calamity funds in 2013, the supplemental budget and the rehabilitation fund add up to P55 billion, and these will be at the disposal of the executive department, Drilon said.

Sam Miguel
11-27-2013, 09:08 AM
DENR cites ‘wildlife warriors’

By DJ Yap

Philippine Daily Inquirer

6:01 am | Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—For their achievements in seizing poachers and traders of endangered animals, 62 “wildlife warriors,” most of them soldiers and police officers, have been given recognition by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Fifty-nine members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, a barangay (village) chair and two civilians were given medals and commended for their “dedication to fighting wildlife crimes” at the inaugural of the Philippine Operations Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade (POGI) Enforcement Awards at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center on Tuesday.

Combat poaching

POGI is a multisectoral group organized by the DENR to combat wildlife poaching and illegal trade, particularly of endangered species.

The winners were cited for their contributions to five successful wildlife rescue operations conducted by the DENR in 2013.

Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) Director Theresa Mundita Lim acknowledged the importance of cooperation between the various government agencies in the enforcement of wildlife laws.

“Wildlife enforcement can only be strengthened if we collaborate with our local enforcement agencies,” Lim said in a statement.

Illegal trade

“The POGI Awards is our way of thanking these agencies for extending their support to our operations whenever we need their assistance,” she said.

Among those given recognition were members of the POGI team that conducted the July 3 raid on a house in Tondo, Manila, which yielded 109 threatened wildlife species—78 hill mynas, 12 blue-naped parrots, 5 saltwater crocodiles and 14 forest turtles. Only the turtles were rescued alive.

Charges filed

Criminal complaints have been filed against the owner of the house and his associates.

Also cited were members of the POGI team that arrested four persons and seized 178 heads of threatened Palawan species during an operation in Lucena, Quezon, and another operation that led to the confiscation of five monitor lizards and a cloud rat, all threatened species, in Batangas City.

The DENR also awarded Air Force Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino de la Cruz a silver medal for his assistance in the transport of wounded wildlife.

Sam Miguel
11-28-2013, 10:52 AM
Yolanda’s complex emergency

Preventing governance disasters

By Nikki de la Rosa

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:57 pm | Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Last year I wrote about the destructive impact of Typhoon “Pablo” and the lessons we learned from that disaster (Inquirer, Dec. 22, 2012).

Two weeks ago it was déjà vu of the worst kind after we saw similar images of destruction and the tragic loss of life after the onslaught of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”). What have we failed to learn from Tropical Storms “Ondoy” and “Sendong,” and Pablo that caused us to suffer immensely and react so poorly in the case of Yolanda?

Because of the typhoon’s awesome strength and wide reach, and the deadly effects of its violent storm surge—local, national and international responses to Yolanda will most likely stand as the benchmark of disaster response and risk management (DRRM) strategies in the country and the rest of the world for some time.

Let it not be a lesson of what not to do. It is therefore important to learn from this tragedy—assessing the responsiveness, or the lack of it, of different state and nonstate actors before, during and after the onslaught of the typhoon.

Complaints about the lack of sufficient food, water and shelter, and the government’s poor response to the disaster is commonplace in every crisis of this magnitude. This is partly due to trauma and to weak quick-response capacity.

Most of all, it represents the failure to understand the dynamics of complex emergencies and a recurring blindness to the social and political underpinnings of this tragedy.

Politics of complex emergencies

The crisis spawned by Yolanda is a complex emergency—a natural disaster with social and political signifiers—that worsens or mitigates the impact of a calamity.

Scholars of emergencies and disasters have often pointed to the inextricable sociopolitical dimensions and institutions that humanitarian aid workers need to navigate to ensure that problems of fragility and vulnerability do not lead to violent conflict and crime.

In short, complex emergencies rarely follow the relief-rehabilitation-development continuum and will require zigzags along the way. A strong understanding of the social and political context should enable the use of strategies and approaches that can mitigate the ill effects of fragility and conflict.

If supplies cannot reach the victims, bring the victims to the supplies.

Among the key social institutions that frame people’s responses to disaster is the aversion to being uprooted from their land. In Yolanda’s case, the ferocity of the typhoon destroyed any sense of social risk among the victims who were willing to abandon their houses, livelihoods and farms, and move out of their villages and towns.

It was clear from the outset that the dangers of starvation and disease had overwhelmed the social aversion to being uprooted from their communities.

Yet days after the typhoon left its trail of destruction, victims who were trying desperately to get out of Tacloban were met by relief agencies equally desperate to get in. Humanitarian aid workers in conflict areas are often involved in the creation of escape routes from the theater of conflict or disaster.

Part of their task is to establish safe zones where relief operations can be undertaken. This should have happened soon after the scale of destruction emerged. However, facilitating the exodus of refugees to resettlement sites near the areas of massive destruction was not organized in a systematic manner.

Instead, the refugees themselves established these self-settlement areas in places such as Catbalogan, Ormoc, Cebu and Pasay City.

Prioritize self-settlements rather than the construction of refugee camps

Camps have been known to dislocate the economic strategies of poor people, creating more dependency and, in some cases, extending their trauma. Long-term relief and rehabilitation need to harness people’s own survival strategies to allow them to restore dignity and bring back order into their lives at the soonest.

Setting up refugee camps have often been criticized for primarily serving the agenda of states and international aid agencies that wish to restore order and to control refugee populations to facilitate the provision of relief. Yet studies have shown that camps can be breeding grounds for disease and sites of violence themselves.

In Zamboanga, the refugee camp bred respiratory diseases and measles. Meanwhile, after the 2008 conflict flashpoint in northern Mindanao refugee numbers dwindled to a handful of families who sought shelter in refugee camps. This was because refugee camps became sites of rido or clan feuding. Approaches that are grounded on and buttressed by local knowledge and cultural sensitivities will allow a more effective and relevant response.

Informal economies as vital lifelines

The economy in disaster-affected areas does not disintegrate but often takes a different quality and shape. Shadow economies add another dimension to complex emergencies. They play an important role as a “lifeline” in times of crisis and as a coping economy for the poor. They thrive in conditions of crisis and predation.

However, informal economies are double-edged. They can trigger community-level conflict in the case of looting, or become a vital lifeline by providing precious goods and services in times of crisis—albeit at a higher price.

A more realistic approach in the case of Leyte and Samar requires a nuanced strategy that can allow continued access to supplies and services that people desperately need with the government shouldering the higher costs during the interim, especially in the case of transport.

Government incentives should have allowed all sorts of vessels, registered or unregistered, to ply the Matnog-Allen route, and the Cebu-Ormoc and Cebu-Tacloban route immediately after the disaster. The government could have also prevented private vehicles from using up vital space in roll-on, roll-off vessels and other ferries and ring-fenced these assets for the exclusive use of relief trucks or public buses.

Sensitivity to conflict risks

It is a well-known fact that a “live insurgency” exists in the major typhoon-affected areas of Eastern Visayas. Yet this element has received scarce media attention before, during and after the disaster.

People and communities living in the areas where the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) operates were equally affected by the wrath of Yolanda. There is reason to believe that these areas will not receive assistance and support without proactive government intervention.

This means at least two things: one, that interventions should be conflict-sensitive, and two, that a window of opportunity to broker a cessation of hostilities or a ceasefire can be utilized to create better conditions for the safe transport and distribution of relief supplies to far-flung communities where rebels thrive.

In the case of Aceh, Indonesia, the 2003 tsunami produced the conditions that led to a final political settlement between the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka and the Republic of Indonesia.

It is clear that conflict sensitivity, or the lack of it has determined the government’s response to the disaster and predicted the real dangers that may follow.

Sam Miguel
11-28-2013, 10:52 AM
^^^ (Cont'd )

Army or police protection

For example, a firm grasp of the conflict’s dimension must determine whether the military or the civilian police and bureaucracy should take the lead in the policing and protection of victims in disaster-affected areas.

Stationing government troops in such close proximity to insurgent forces heightens the risk of armed confrontation. Worse, the deployment of multinational troops in a live conflict area also risks internationalizing the conflict.

A sound policy should be to deploy the Philippine National Police for policing and avoid deploying the Armed Forces of the Philippines for tasks outside reconstruction and emergency transport and evacuation.

The government should also ensure that the multinational response does not hamper the task of trained and professional humanitarian relief organizations.

Ceasefire or no ceasefire

The increased frequency of typhoons affecting the insurgent areas in the eastern regions of the Visayas and Mindanao offers a distinct opportunity to restart the stalled government-National Democratic Front peace talks, as the lessons of the Aceh tsunami demonstrates.

A cessation of hostilities also ensures that communities influenced by insurgent groups will receive aid on time, with the people they trust or “proxies” facilitating the extension of humanitarian relief.

Critical is the bridging of government efforts such as those of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the initiatives of neutral nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and civil society that can enter these areas. As in the case of Pablo a year ago, ensuring an inclusive approach also prevents aid recipients from being a target of predation by excluded groups and insurgents.

The CPP issued a ceasefire declaration to all concerned commands to take effect from Nov. 9 to 24, assuring “all local and international relief organizations of safe passage through and into the calamity-affected guerrilla zones.”

Local and national NGOs, such as International Alert UK and Mindanao Peace Weavers Inc., have issued similar calls.

International aid should be inclusive and conflict sensitive

Foreign aid now amounts to about P14.9 billion and local relief assistance is estimated at more than P500 million. The amounts represent an enormous resource that if not managed well could end up hardening existing divisions and power dynamics, and fueling conflict. Therefore, conflict and risk assessment, and analysis of the programs’ potential impact need to be undertaken.

Responding to climate and disaster-induced community-level and insurgency-related conflict will become a necessary capability and capacity that national government agencies, local governments and civil society organizations will need in the future.

Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations should not circumvent government and national structures because better coordination and leadership are critical for the sustainability of relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts.

Focus attention, resources on rescue and relief effort during most critical early moments

Unless they are designated to take the lead, top government officials should avoid going to the site of disasters and crisis in the critical first week after a destructive event.

They divert attention and resources away from the rescue and relief effort and redirect it toward securing VIPs and their entourage. Site visits by high-ranking officials and their security contingents during these critical moments also compete for the precious passenger and cargo space available for transporting relief supplies and those who need urgent medical attention.

There is an appropriate time to visit a disaster zone and a time to stay away. All attention and resources of first responders and security officials should be focused solely on the victims and their families during the initial critical period following a calamity.

Decentralize national disaster response to the local level

While a central command is important to orchestrate a massive emergency effort, precautionary actions before the onset of a typhoon and DRRM have to be decentralized. The DSWD has correctly undertaken this shift and has responded in a holistic manner. Handling hunger and trauma is vital to its mandate.

However, more resources need to be deployed at the local level. It is also critical that local, village level institutions are harnessed during an emergency. Over the medium term, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) should strengthen its regional counterparts with resources, assets and funds for quick response and monitoring.

Discourse is critical

Many people expected Yolanda to be more furious than the usual storms they faced in the past and survived. NDRRMC’s weather advisory a day before Yolanda made landfall warned that a typhoon of this intensity could cause massive destruction and used the term “storm surge,” a concept unfamiliar to those in the path of the storm.

The experience teaches us that simple and accessible language is important and will spell the difference between action and inaction. Filipino sociologist Randy David admonishes us to communicate danger using language that is based on people’s social constructs.

The challenge is to rephrase disaster risk reduction and management strategies to make them familiar and accessible, and to push people to take appropriate preventive action.

In the end, one thing is at least certain—these typhoons and their destructive effects are now part of our collective experience and will surely shape our social constructs about danger and destruction, as well as our courage and humanity.

(Nikki de la Rosa is Mindanao operations manager of International Alert UK. She finished her masters in international development, with distinction, from the London School of Economics. She is the author of a related article titled “Cut and Paste Disaster Management,” published in Talk of the Town after Typhoon Pablo’s onslaught in Mindanao in 2012.)

Sam Miguel
11-29-2013, 08:07 AM
Mangroves shielded Sagay islets’ residents

By Carla P. Gomez

Inquirer Visayas

2:05 am | Friday, November 29th, 2013

SAGAY CITY, Negros Occidental—With monster winds, Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”) roared through the mangroves off Sagay City’s three islets of Molacaboc on Nov. 8, shearing branches and blowing them every which way, but failing to bring down any of the hardy trees.

“The mangroves are still standing, but there are circles in the middle where the branches of the trees had been sheared … They helped save us from the fury of Yolanda,” Milane Desamparado said.

Desamparado, who lives on Molocaboc Diut but teaches at Molocaboc Integrated School on Molocaboc Daku, believes the mangroves growing on many parts of the islet are buffers against the wind and waves.

Roger Rochar, the school principal, can attest to that.

“I was in the house when [Yolanda struck] so I did not see the action in the mangrove area. But by the looks of it, places where there are no mangroves were the ones badly hit,” Rochar said.

Yolanda’s powerful winds toppled many houses and heaved 5-meter storm surges that destroyed fishing boats. But the three islets that compose Molocaboc village suffered no casualties, village chief Antonio Pasaylo said.

The mangroves that line the shorelines of Molocaboc Daku, Molocaboc Diut and Matabas shielded the residents against Yolanda’s wrath, although it was the evacuations before the typhoon arrived that saved lives, he said.

Nevertheless, the national government has recognized the defensive value of mangroves to coastal communities and is encouraging local governments to develop green walls of mangrove and beach forests as natural protection against storms.

“Mangroves are natural barriers against tsunamis [and] storm surges [and they] should not be destroyed,” Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said in Manila on Wednesday.

Paje announced a P347-million project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that would see 19 million mangrove seedlings and seedlings of other beach-forest trees like the talisay planted on 1,900 hectares of coastline.

Paje said most of the coastlines damaged by Yolanda were once mangrove swamps and beach forests and they were converted into settlements by informal settlers or for development.

“Had the mangroves in Leyte and Eastern Samar provinces not been decimated, the storm surge in those areas would have been dissipated by 70 to 80 percent,” Paje said.

Paje cited a study by the Department of Science and Technology that showed that the strength of an 8-m storm surge is concentrated within the lower 6 m, with only the upper 2 m having tidal power.

“The surge can destroy the leaves, but it cannot uproot the mangroves because they are so deeply rooted and strong,” Paje said.

The Molacaboc islets are found in the eastern part of Sagay, bound in the north by the Visayan Sea and in the south by the Tañon Strait.

The islets can be reached by boat in 20 to 45 minutes from the Vito and Old Sagay ports.

Molocaboc Daku has an area of 147 hectares and a population of about 1,600. It is 7 kilometers away from the mainland at Vito Sagay.

Molocaboc Diut has an area of 120 hectares and a population of about 600. It is connected to Daku by a footwalk.

Matabas is 80 hectares and it has a population of 250.

Pasaylo said Yolanda battered the islets for almost four hours starting at mid-morning on Nov. 8. Luckily, it was low tide.

“There was zero visibility. You could barely see a person a foot away. The winds roared like airplanes flying toward you,” he said.

Jose Dalisay, principal of Matabas Elementary School, said the mangroves on one side of Matabas served as pads against the rushing waves.

“I discovered that on the other side [where there were no] mangroves, the solid stone was destroyed by the big waves… . We attempted to plant mangroves in that area, but failed due to the waves. Mangroves for us are important to protect the entire island of Matabas,” Dalisay said.

Molocaboc village has 500 ha of mangroves, 100 ha of which have been reforested, according to Lilibeth Cordova, an environmentalist who works closely with the island communities.

The three islets are part of the 32,000-ha Sagay Marine Reserve where massive mangrove reforestation, regeneration of corals and marine habitat and a strict ban on illegal fishing have long been in force.

Former Sagay Mayor Alfredo Marañon Jr., now governor of Negros Occidental province, launched the marine sanctuary in the 1970s.

When he was a congressman, he authored Republic Act No. 9106, which called for the establishment and management of Sagay Marine Reserve. The law was enacted on April 14, 2001.

In Molocaboc, 85 percent of the residents rely on fishing for their livelihood, and they practice sea ranching.

By creating an artificial habitat on the seabed using used tires and large rocks, fishermen draw fish to their miracle hole and, in three to four months, harvest about 20 kilos of fish, Pasaylo said.

Desamparado said Yolanda’s winds began to hit Molocaboc Diut, where she lives, at 4 a.m., followed by a fog-like darkness that engulfed the place. By 9:30 a.m., the islet felt the full force of the typhoon.

“If you attempted to get out of your house, you had to crawl to avoid being blown away,” she said.

Earlier, many people sought refuge in stronger houses, but even some concrete houses were “pulverized,” Desamparado said.

“We were lucky Yolanda did not land at night and the tide was low, or we could have been washed out to the sea,” she said.

“Our mangroves took the brunt. Some were uprooted while the branches of the rest were broken,” she said.

Desamparado now believes that “it is important for islets like ours to have mangroves because they help mitigate the gravity of a typhoon.”

Haide Rublico, principal of Molocaboc Diut Elementary School, said four buildings of her school were damaged, but those in the area shielded by mangroves sustained no damage.

Mangroves also helped cushion the blows of Yolanda on Suyac Island, according to Melanie Mermida, secretary of Suyac Island Eco-Tourism Association and Suyac Island Fishermen’s Association.

Some of the houses were damaged, but no one died, Mermida said.

The 1.8-ha Suyac islet, 3 km from mainland Sagay, has a population of 782 and a 4-ha mangrove area.

Suyac Island Mangrove Eco-Park, where one can walk on a path through century-old mangroves, is a tourist destination, though it is temporarily closed for repairs.—With a report from DJ Yap

11-29-2013, 11:42 AM
Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene



Driving into Iraq just after the 2003 invasion felt like driving into the future. We convoyed all day, all night, past Army checkpoints and burned-out tanks, till in the blue dawn Baghdad rose from the desert like a vision of hell: Flames licked the bruised sky from the tops of refinery towers, cyclopean monuments bulged and leaned against the horizon, broken overpasses swooped and fell over ruined suburbs, bombed factories, and narrow ancient streets.

With “shock and awe,” our military had unleashed the end of the world on a city of six million — a city about the same size as Houston or Washington. The infrastructure was totaled: water, power, traffic, markets and security fell to anarchy and local rule. The city’s secular middle class was disappearing, squeezed out between gangsters, profiteers, fundamentalists and soldiers. The government was going down, walls were going up, tribal lines were being drawn, and brutal hierarchies savagely established.

I was a private in the United States Army. This strange, precarious world was my new home. If I survived.

Two and a half years later, safe and lazy back in Fort Sill, Okla., I thought I had made it out. Then I watched on television as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This time it was the weather that brought shock and awe, but I saw the same chaos and urban collapse I’d seen in Baghdad, the same failure of planning and the same tide of anarchy. The 82nd Airborne hit the ground, took over strategic points and patrolled streets now under de facto martial law. My unit was put on alert to prepare for riot control operations. The grim future I’d seen in Baghdad was coming home: not terrorism, not even W.M.D.’s, but a civilization in collapse, with a crippled infrastructure, unable to recuperate from shocks to its system.

And today, with recovery still going on more than a year after Sandy and many critics arguing that the Eastern seaboard is no more prepared for a huge weather event than we were last November, it’s clear that future’s not going away.

This March, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, told security and foreign policy specialists in Cambridge, Mass., that global climate change was the greatest threat the United States faced — more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers and North Korean nuclear missiles. Upheaval from increased temperatures, rising seas and radical destabilization “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen…” he said, “that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’

Locklear’s not alone. Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, said much the same thing in April, speaking to an audience at Columbia’s new Center on Global Energy Policy. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told the Senate in March that “Extreme weather events (floods, droughts, heat waves) will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism.”

On the civilian side, the World Bank’s recent report, “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience,” offers a dire prognosis for the effects of global warming, which climatologists now predict will raise global temperatures by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit within a generation and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit within 90 years. Projections from researchers at the University of Hawaii find us dealing with “historically unprecedented” climates as soon as 2047. The climate scientist James Hansen, formerly with NASA, has argued that we face an “apocalyptic” future. This grim view is seconded by researchers worldwide, including Anders Levermann, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Lonnie Thompson and many, many, many others.

This chorus of Jeremiahs predicts a radically transformed global climate forcing widespread upheaval — not possibly, not potentially, but inevitably. We have passed the point of no return. From the point of view of policy experts, climate scientists and national security officials, the question is no longer whether global warming exists or how we might stop it, but how we are going to deal with it.


There’s a word for this new era we live in: the Anthropocene. This term, taken up by geologists, pondered by intellectuals and discussed in the pages of publications such as The Economist and the The New York Times, represents the idea that we have entered a new epoch in Earth’s geological history, one characterized by the arrival of the human species as a geological force. The biologist Eugene F. Stoermer and the Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen advanced the term in 2000, and it has steadily gained acceptance as evidence has increasingly mounted that the changes wrought by global warming will affect not just the world’s climate and biological diversity, but its very geology — and not just for a few centuries, but for millenniums. The geophysicist David Archer’s 2009 book, “The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate,” lays out a clear and concise argument for how huge concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and melting ice will radically transform the planet, beyond freak storms and warmer summers, beyond any foreseeable future.

The Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London — the scientists responsible for pinning the “golden spikes” that demarcate geological epochs such as the Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene — have adopted the Anthropocene as a term deserving further consideration, “significant on the scale of Earth history.” Working groups are discussing what level of geological time-scale it might be (an “epoch” like the Holocene, or merely an “age” like the Calabrian), and at what date we might say it began. The beginning of the Great Acceleration, in the middle of the 20th century? The beginning of the Industrial Revolution, around 1800? The advent of agriculture?

The challenge the Anthropocene poses is a challenge not just to national security, to food and energy markets, or to our “way of life” — though these challenges are all real, profound, and inescapable. The greatest challenge the Anthropocene poses may be to our sense of what it means to be human. Within 100 years — within three to five generations — we will face average temperatures 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today, rising seas at least three to 10 feet higher, and worldwide shifts in crop belts, growing seasons and population centers. Within a thousand years, unless we stop emitting greenhouse gases wholesale right now, humans will be living in a climate the Earth hasn’t seen since the Pliocene, three million years ago, when oceans were 75 feet higher than they are today. We face the imminent collapse of the agricultural, shipping and energy networks upon which the global economy depends, a large-scale die-off in the biosphere that’s already well on its way, and our own possible extinction. If homo sapiens (or some genetically modified variant) survives the next millenniums, it will be survival in a world unrecognizably different from the one we have inhabited.

Geological time scales, civilizational collapse and species extinction give rise to profound problems that humanities scholars and academic philosophers, with their taste for fine-grained analysis, esoteric debates and archival marginalia, might seem remarkably ill suited to address. After all, how will thinking about Kant help us trap carbon dioxide? Can arguments between object-oriented ontology and historical materialism protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder? Are ancient Greek philosophers, medieval theologians, and contemporary metaphysicians going to keep Bangladesh from being inundated by rising oceans?

Of course not. But the biggest problems the Anthropocene poses are precisely those that have always been at the root of humanistic and philosophical questioning: “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to live?” In the epoch of the Anthropocene, the question of individual mortality — “What does my life mean in the face of death?” — is universalized and framed in scales that boggle the imagination. What does human existence mean against 100,000 years of climate change? What does one life mean in the face of species death or the collapse of global civilization? How do we make meaningful choices in the shadow of our inevitable end?

These questions have no logical or empirical answers. They are philosophical problems par excellence. Many thinkers, including Cicero, Montaigne, Karl Jaspers, and The Stone’s own Simon Critchley, have argued that studying philosophy is learning how to die. If that’s true, then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age — for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The rub is that now we have to learn how to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.

11-29-2013, 11:42 AM
^ Continued


Learning how to die isn’t easy. In Iraq, at the beginning, I was terrified by the idea. Baghdad seemed incredibly dangerous, even though statistically I was pretty safe. We got shot at and mortared, and I.E.D.’s laced every highway, but I had good armor, we had a great medic, and we were part of the most powerful military the world had ever seen. The odds were good I would come home. Maybe wounded, but probably alive. Every day I went out on mission, though, I looked down the barrel of the future and saw a dark, empty hole.

“For the soldier death is the future, the future his profession assigns him,” wrote Simone Weil in her remarkable meditation on war, “The Iliad or the Poem of Force.” “Yet the idea of man’s having death for a future is abhorrent to nature. Once the experience of war makes visible the possibility of death that lies locked up in each moment, our thoughts cannot travel from one day to the next without meeting death’s face.” That was the face I saw in the mirror, and its gaze nearly paralyzed me.

I found my way forward through an 18th-century Samurai manual, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure,” which commanded: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.” Instead of fearing my end, I owned it. Every morning, after doing maintenance on my Humvee, I’d imagine getting blown up by an I.E.D., shot by a sniper, burned to death, run over by a tank, torn apart by dogs, captured and beheaded, and succumbing to dysentery. Then, before we rolled out through the gate, I’d tell myself that I didn’t need to worry, because I was already dead. The only thing that mattered was that I did my best to make sure everyone else came back alive. “If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead,” wrote Tsunetomo, “he gains freedom in the Way.”

I got through my tour in Iraq one day at a time, meditating each morning on my inevitable end. When I left Iraq and came back stateside, I thought I’d left that future behind. Then I saw it come home in the chaos that was unleashed after Katrina hit New Orleans. And then I saw it again when Sandy battered New York and New Jersey: Government agencies failed to move quickly enough, and volunteer groups like Team Rubicon had to step in to manage disaster relief.

Now, when I look into our future — into the Anthropocene — I see water rising up to wash out lower Manhattan. I see food riots, hurricanes, and climate refugees. I see 82nd Airborne soldiers shooting looters. I see grid failure, wrecked harbors, Fukushima waste, and plagues. I see Baghdad. I see the Rockaways. I see a strange, precarious world.

Our new home.

The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.

The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.

If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.

Sam Miguel
12-12-2013, 10:10 AM
Multiple hazards for health and environment

By Christine E.V. Gonzalez

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:27 am | Thursday, December 12th, 2013

In1982, one of our community services in California was visiting orphanages. In one orphanage, we met a boy named Bryan, from the Navajo-Hopi tribes, who was particularly attached to us. He would cry whenever we left the facility. After a number of visits, we learned that the US Social Services had picked him up from a tiny apartment, where his mother lay dead. She was only 28.

Bryan’s mother, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all workers of the Black Mesa coal mine in Navajo Nation, Arizona. They all died of coal-related diseases.

In 2010, 35 years after I first met Bryan, I joined the Feast of the Forest in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. It is an annual reforestation project where residents of Puerto Princesa as well as national and international guests flock to the city to plant thousands of different tree species in denuded forest zones. More than two million trees have been planted to date, making Puerto Princesa the first city in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia to be declared “carbon-neutral” and “carbon-negative” using the international guidelines set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

That same day of the Feast of the Forest, I was asked to help organize a livelihood program at the city’s environmental estate using organic farming methods. I immediately wrote to a few friends in the United States asking for donations of organic seeds for the project.

We decided that the town of Aborlan, with its rich biodiversity, was perfect for our sustainable development projects: organic farming, assisting indigenous communities to achieve food sovereignty by increasing local and diversified food access and nutrition, and empowering people in the documentation and protection of their traditional knowledge and habitat. Eighteen percent of Aborlan’s population is composed of cultural minority groups such as the Tagbanua, Palawano, Batak and Molbog.

But now the provincial government has endorsed the construction of a coal-fed power generation plant in Aborlan. Even without the proposed coal plant, the community’s major health challenge is lung disease. The planned coal facility is seen to increase the incidence of serious lung ailments such as chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, fibrosis, and lung cancer. As well, it is expected that there will also be an increase in cases of prostate and breast cancer, heart disease, hormone disorders, generalized premature deaths, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and clinical depression because of pollutants from coal such as heavy metals, dioxins, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and even radioactive matter.

High levels of these pollutants have been linked to infant deaths, birth defects, reduction in IQ, negative classroom behavior, juvenile delinquency and increased violent behavior in children. We cannot expose our communities and children to such grave risks.

What can be the possible reason behind the proposed coal plant? It can’t be the development and progress of Aborlan. Is it greed? Palawan has numerous alternative renewable energy resources: hydro, biomass, geothermal, solar, and abundant natural gas. We can achieve progress and development in Aborlan and other parts of the country without destroying our environment, poisoning our children, and getting us all sick.

Coal-fired power plants are a thing of the past, and are being phased out in countries such as the United States. Last September, US President Barack Obama declared war on coal in his country. The US government is now using its influence to block new coal-fired power plants worldwide. Furthermore, the World Bank has announced that it will no longer provide financial support for new coal-fed power-generation projects.

“Each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, and combustion—generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment,” says Dr. Paul Epstein of Harvard Medical School. “Accounting for the true cost of coal conservatively doubles or triples the price of electricity from coal per kilowatt hour generated, making wind and other forms of non-fossil fuel power generation economically competitive.”

Coal contributes massively to climate change. Because we are never going to have as much money as the fossil fuel industry, we need to rebuild the kind of mass opposition that marked the 1970s: Bodies, passion, and creativity are the currencies we can compete in. With the combined forces of labor, faith communities, academe, environmentalists and frontline communities who have the longest experience in trying to shut down dirty power plants, we can develop leaders around the country and build a strong base of allies.

There is no other way; we have to win this. The science of climate change grows darker by the day, and the window for effective action is swiftly closing. But any chance we have requires people power to replace corrupt political and corporate power.

The proposed coal plant to be constructed in Aborlan threatens the health, public safety and economic vitality of our communities. We must all add our voices to the thousands of others opposing it and calling for the closure of all coal plants in the Philippines before it is too late.

We can do better. Our children deserve better.

02-13-2014, 01:04 PM
Nuclear fusion reactions mark a 'milestone'

Physicists create nuclear fusion reactions that produce more energy than was in the fuel involved — the power at work in the sun and other stars. It may be a step toward cleaner nuclear energy.

By Amina Khan

February 12, 2014, 6:11 p.m.

It took 192 lasers and a building big enough to contain three football fields, but physicists have finally produced a pair of nuclear fusion reactions that created more energy than was in the fuel to start with.

The reactions lasted less than a billionth of a second, and they released only a few thousand joules — enough to power a 100-watt light bulb for less than three minutes. But it marks the first time scientists have been able to harness the power of stars here on Earth.

"This is really an important milestone," said Warren Mori, a plasma physicist at UCLA who was not involved in the effort.

The experiment, conducted at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area, is still a very long way from "ignition," the point at which the reaction generates more energy than was required to kick it off with lasers. Scientists agree that significant hurdles remain before that goal can be reached.

But the tests, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, give researchers a promising sign that they're finally on the right path to reaching this goal — one that could ultimately lead to cleaner nuclear energy, safer weapons arsenals and a more profound understanding of astrophysics.

"We are closer than anyone has gotten before," said study leader Omar Hurricane, a plasma physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Nuclear fusion is the process of combining the nuclei of two atoms to create a heavier atom, releasing an incredible amount of energy in the process. It's what powers the stars and generates their light.

In some ways, it's the reverse of nuclear fission, which releases energy — and a significant amount of dangerous radiation — by breaking large atoms into smaller ones. Fission is used in nuclear power plants today.

Hurricane and his colleagues used a comparatively simple fusion recipe. For their fuel, they used two "heavy" hydrogen isotopes: deuterium (which has one proton and one neutron in its nucleus) and tritium (which has one proton and two neutrons). When they fuse together, they create a single atom of helium (two protons and two neutrons), along with a spare neutron — and a massive amount of energy.

In theory, that should prompt more atoms in the deuterium-tritium fuel to merge, triggering a chain reaction. It's similar to dropping a match on a pile of kindling — if you have the right match and the right wood under the right conditions, it's easy to make it burn.

But outside of a star, it's very difficult to create the high pressure and high temperature needed to get the process going.

"Mother Nature is pretty unforgiving," Hurricane said.

The scientists at the Livermore lab's National Ignition Facility tried to simulate the conditions in a star by using a formidable array of lasers to squeeze down and heat up a tiny jot of fuel. The lasers, arrayed around a cavernous building, shot high-energy beams through two tiny holes on either end of a pill-sized gold can.

When the lasers hit the can's interior walls, the surface gave off X-rays that bathed an even tinier plastic sphere about the size of a small bead. The sphere contained a layer of deuterium-tritium fuel that was just 70 microns thick, barely the width of a human hair.

With a precise combination of shocks from the laser beams, the pressure inside the sphere was several times greater than at the center of the sun. It lasted for about a seventh of a billionth of a second, long enough for the fuel inside to start fusing together, Hurricane said.

After two runs of the experiment, the scientists measured the energy output by tracking the energy level of the spare neutrons flying out from the tiny sphere. The first one released 14,400 joules of energy, slightly more than the 12,000 joules contained in the deuterium-tritium fuel to start with. The second run was better: 17,300 joules out for just 9,400 joules in.

Neither of these equations account for the 1.8 million or so joules of energy that streamed in from the lasers; when they're taken into account, 99% of the reaction's total energy was lost.

But it's a start — one that points scientists down a path toward ignition and perhaps making nuclear fusion a practical reality, scientists said.

"I think it's a promising advance," said Mark Herrmann, a plasma physicist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque who was not involved in the study. "I was excited."

Nuclear fusion would be a cleaner source of energy than the current generation of nuclear power plants because it produces relatively short-lived radioactive byproducts. It could also help scientists understand how to protect and maintain the military's nuclear weapons arsenal without performing full-scale nuclear tests, which the United States stopped doing in 1992.

02-24-2014, 03:48 PM
5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work)

By Son Tran February 23, 2009


Between the hybrids, the reusable canvas shopping bags and cloth diapers, everybody's doing their little bit to save the world. Entire industries have sprang up to cater to us socially-responsible types who want to leave behind a better world for the robots to inherit once they take over.

But, most of the time, making you feel better is about all it does. For instance...


Buying Organically Grown Food

Why People Do It:

Seems like a no-brainer. Organic food eliminates the use of chemical fertilizers, hormones and pesticides. Getting rid of all those nasty chemicals means healthier foods and less contamination to the planet.

And anything that's organic or natural has to be better for you, right? It's like you're eating the opposite of Twinkies here.

Why They Shouldn't:

So what's the problem with eating healthier food and saving the Earth? Nothing, except that the food may not be any healthier. And that's even if you can afford the (much) higher prices. Oh, and the impact on the planet may actually be worse.

The funny thing about those chemical fertilizers and pesticides is that they were invented for a reason, and that's to increase food production. Turns out organic farming is pretty damn inefficient. Holding hands and thinking peaceful thoughts does dick all against pests that want to eat your crops and weeds that want to choke them out. The current acre of farmland produces 200 percent more wheat than it did 70 years ago. The same goes for meat and poultry. The chemicals did that for us.

Take them away, and suddenly you're getting less food per acre of land. According to some guy who won a Nobel Prize, we could feed 4 billion people if we went all organic. This sounds great except maybe to the 2.5 billion people who would be left without anything to eat.

A tiny fraction of the people organic food would leave starving.

Despite all the claims that chemicals used in farming are bad for us, it turns out cancer rates have dropped 15 percent since farmers began using chemicals. How is that possible? Well it's mainly due to people being able to afford more fruits and vegetables, because the chemicals allow more to be grown. That's one reason the average life expectancy in the US went up by almost 10 years between 1950 and 2000.

As for the environment, it turns out organic farming has its own issues. Because it is much less efficient, there is actually a shortage of organic food available. This leads to people having the food shipped in from much further away. We're no scientists, but we think that doing things like shipping organic milk 900 miles over the highway in a truck belching diesel fumes is probably canceling out any environmental benefits you might have gained from going organic.

Oh, and did we mention organic farming uses a lot of manure to fertilize crops? This results in a greater risk of contamination. Although organic produce only accounts for one percent of the food supply, it accounts for eight percent of the E. coli cases in the U.S.

Basically, you are at greater risk of eating a shit sandwich, which is admittedly organic, but still.


Rejecting Vaccinations

Why People Do It:

Because the chemical cocktails in vaccines are poisoning our children! Depending on what websites or episode of Oprah you watch, vaccines contain poisonous mercury, and are causing everything from autism to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which is about as scary a medical term as you can have without using "flesh-eating" or "dick-melting."

Why They Shouldn't:

In a word: science. While the folks pushing the anti-vaccination agenda mean well (though some seem to be doing it out of a knee-jerk fear of "Big Pharma") their claims aren't backed up by the actual studies.

Apparently the whole autism scare was based on a 1998 report which has since been rejected by all the major health organizations, and was even retracted by its authors in 2004. In the scientific world, that's the equivalent of calling bullshit on yourself.

As for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, studies actually showed that the cases of SIDS actually went down 40 percent even as vaccination rates went up. This is science's way of saying "You are fucking wrong."

A lot of the arguments against vaccination focus on the fact that a preservative used in some vaccines contains mercury. There are only two problems with this: the type they were using wasn't dangerous, and they stopped using it in 2001.

We're not saying vaccines have no risk. As with any drug, there is a chance some kids may have a bad reaction. But the odds of serious side effects are fairly slim compared to the risk of catching the disease if children are not vaccinated.

The thing is that when enough parents decide not to vaccinate their kids, those little germ factories start doing what they do best and epidemics break out. Then you end up with a little snotty babies running around infecting people like some kind of really cute zombie apocalypse.



Why People Do It:

We've all been raised to believe that unless we all recycle, our forests will soon be barren and we'll be living among mountains of our own filth, Wall-E style.

Recycling is also supposed to use fewer resources and create less pollution. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Why They Shouldn't:

The image of the paper industry hacking down every tree until we were all gasping for lack of oxygen was always ridiculous; we've increased the number of trees over the last 50 years as logging companies plant more to ensure future supply.

Equally silly were the warnings most of us got hammered with growing up, about tales of overflowing landfills, full of trash that takes thousands of years to biodegrade. At least in America, we were never in danger of walking through streets of garbage. Some expert at Gonzaga University, with a lot of time on his hands, calculated that at current rates all the garbage in the US over the next 1,000 years would fill up a 35 square mile landfill 100 yards deep.

This sounds like one of those "Holy shit!" scary figures until you consider this is about one tenth of one percent of the land currently used for grazing in the US. Also, this would be the accumulation over 1,000 years by which time we should have bigger things to worry about, like overthrowing our robotic overlords.

As for saving resources by recycling, this is where it gets tricky. Partly this is because whether or not recycling saves resources depends on whether you consider human labor to be a resource (that is, the effort to pick up, sort and transfer the items to be recycled). Recycling requires more trucks, more crews and more people to oversee the entire process. In Los Angeles alone there are twice as many garbage trucks than there would have been without the recycling program. Just like those douchebags who drive to the gym to run on a treadmill but still hop in the car to go the one block to the corner store to pick up their pork rinds and soda, it's not clear just how much benefit there is at the end of the day.

Also, re-using something is not always better than just tossing it away. A chemist at the University of Victoria calculated that you would need to use a ceramic mug 1,000 times before you would see benefits over using disposable polystyrene cups for those 1,000 cups of coffee. This is because it takes far more energy to make that mug and takes energy and water to wash it after each use.

Now obviously you can't take that to the extreme and go to a lifestyle of all-disposable dishes and clothes, and where every ink pen is sold in box made up of three pounds of cardboard and plastic. But the problem was never as bad as they kept telling us.

02-24-2014, 03:50 PM
^ (Continued)


Using Antibacterial Soap

Why People Do It:

Bacteria makes us sick. The only way for us (and our precious children) to stay healthy is to kill the fuckers. We're, uh, referring to the bacteria there, not the precious children.

These days you can get antibacterial anything: hand soap, dish soap, hand lotion, edible panties, gun oil. We'll have those bacteria eradicated in no time!

Why They Shouldn't:

Nature is a funny thing. Not "knock-knock joke" funny, but "horrifying death preceded by agonizing suffering" funny. The thing about biology is that while it is really easy to kill a lot of something, it's a lot harder to kill all of something. And the survivors tend to be a lot tougher and pissed off.

Thus, there is concern that the stronger bacteria will become resistant as the weaker bacteria are killed off by our shelves of antibacterial products, leaving only the resistant ones behind. Darwinism works its magic.

This has already happened with the staphylococcus bacteria, which have developed strains that laugh at penicillin like Superman laughs at bullets, except Superman won't cause you to develop pus-filled boils and kill you afterward.

If the idea of super germs isn't scary enough, it turns out the same chemicals we're using to try and kill those germs may actually be making us sick as well. The active ingredient in antibacterial soap is now thought to have the potential to affect sex hormones and the nervous system both. In fact, the chemicals causing the concern have been found in the urine of 75 percent of people, which means the poison is probably in your wiener right now.

If all this still isn't ironic enough for you, then consider that getting rid of all those bacteria may actually be worse for us in the long run. Scientists believe that kids who are kept in sterile environments develop more allergies. The theory is that these kids are not exposed to the germs and their immune systems never develop the natural resistance to them. Basically it means our immune systems are playing Dungeons & Dragons instead of pumping iron and taking Karate and banging hot chicks.

The final nail in this comedy of errors and mixed metaphors is that studies found that using antibacterial soap is no better than using regular soap. Just one more marketing gimmick.


Buying Carbon Offsets

Why People Do It:

Unless you think it would be awesome to have have Earth turn into freaking Tatooine, you're probably in favor of stopping global warming.

Carbon offsets are supposed to make you carbon neutral, by paying to have someone else reduce their carbon dioxide output in an amount equal to the amount you are putting into the air with your decadent, Hummer-driving lifestyle.

Why They Shouldn't:

At the end of the day, much like buying your girlfriend a bracelet after a night in the champagne room, it's debatable whether you are doing anything except paying to clear your own guilty conscience.

You're buying a promise from someone else that they are going to reduce their own carbon emissions by a certain amount. The trouble is that currently there is no standard or authority that monitors the offsets.

Investigations found that often, people buying offsets have bought worthless promises. Even when the company offering the offset follows through, there still might not be any additional benefit because the company who took your credits was already planning to reduce its emissions anyway.

Take, for example, the company that sold carbon offsets based on a plan to reduce methane gas at a landfill. It sounded great until investigations revealed that the methane reduction plan was in place long before the offsets were sold. That part of the plan is all well and good, but it completely destroys the whole concept of buying and selling carbon offsets. Nothing was being "offset."

Man, if we can't trust a painless "something for nothing" scheme to save the world, what can we trust?

03-05-2014, 10:45 AM
5 Ridiculous Natural Disaster Myths You Probably Believe

By Jesse Clark March 22, 2013 1,136,068 views

Despite all the advancements we've made in weather prediction, disaster preparedness, and sandbag technology, most of us are absolutely screwed if Mother Nature decides to throw a fit. That's why extreme weather has become a sort of boogeyman for humanity, one we love making the bad guy in action movies because we are terrified of how helpless it makes us feel.

And like any boogeyman, the urban legends and old wives' tales have completely outpaced the original threat. So let's take a minute to put at least five of those absurd legends to bed right now.

#5. Opening a Window During a Storm Relieves Pressure

The Myth:

If you live in tornado country or have ever been through a hurricane, you've heard this one. When the storm comes, don't batten down the hatches -- open things up. Yes, some rain will blow into the house, but it will also keep the place from exploding like a wood-and-plaster balloon.

There's even some solid science behind it: Everyone knows that storms are caused by crazy pressure systems, and when those systems build into something as massive as a tornado or hurricane, you need to equalize the pressure. Otherwise, say goodbye to your roof, asshole!

The Reality:

The problem is that they're exaggerating the pressure difference. After all, you don't need a space shuttle decompression chamber each time you leave your house in a storm -- and your fleshy body is a lot less structurally sound than a house. So if a storm isn't sucking the eyeballs out of your head, Total Recall-style, there's really no chance it's going to tear the roof off your house. It's the 150-mph winds that do that.

Also, it's not like your house is airtight anyway. It isn't like an airplane, which needs to have oxygen pumped in continuously to keep you from suffocating; every house has little holes and openings that allow air to move through, so opening your window during a storm isn't doing anything that the faulty siding or misshapen door frame weren't already doing.

Actually, that's not true: Opening your window is allowing flying debris to come whipping into your house to rip your fucking face off. That's why opening a window during a storm, especially a hurricane or a tornado, is extremely dangerous. Most storms are a little like vampires in that they can't really get into your house until you invite them in, but once you open a window or crack a door, all manner of wind, rain, and debris that would otherwise be hitting the outside of your house is now swirling around your living room, too.

And in fact, the whole "preventing the house from exploding" thing is actually made worse by open doors and windows; allowing those winds to blow through a window is the equivalent of catching all that wind in a big wooden parachute. Boom: Goodbye, roof.

#4. A Giant Earthquake Will Cause California to Fall into the Pacific

The Myth:

If you read any of the news stories about how California is due for a massive earthquake, they sound suspiciously like excerpts from the book of Revelation. They promise massive fires, gaping chasms, swallowed cities, and tens of thousands of deaths. While those prophecies are grim, they aren't completely unreasonable -- California exists squarely on a fault line, which is basically like a perforated line showing Mother Nature exactly where to tear.

This has given rise to the idea that it's only a matter of time before there's a quake so big, it shakes California completely loose from the rest of the United States, giving Arizonians some beautiful beachfront property. That was, after all, the premise of Lex Luthor's scheme in Superman -- a nuclear explosion would prematurely trigger the fault line and all of California would slide right into the ocean, leaving Lex's evil empire behind. Concerned people Google this subject so often that if you type the phrase "Will California ..." into the search box, Google autocompletes it to "sink" and "break off" as the first two results.

The Reality:

It can never happen. Yes, tectonic plates are a thing, and yes, land masses do move. But continents don't drift around the ocean like icebergs -- not only would it be impossible for an entire state to just snap off of North America, but the movement of the plates on the fault line is actually pushing them across each other, not tearing them apart. The Pacific Plate and the North American Plate are grinding against each other like young, unlubricated lovers rolling around in the sand. All the drag from the friction means that the movement is choppy, which is why earthquakes are just as common in California as silicone.

Even if the plates were pulling away from one another, there would still be a better chance of California getting obliterated by an asteroid before it sinks into the ocean because of plate tectonics. Tectonic plates have a blistering top speed of about 100 millimeters a year. That's just not fast enough to make a 163,696-square-mile state rip itself from the mainland and swim away, at least not until millions of years from now.

So the doomsday preppers are right that California is due for a massive earthquake, but it's more likely to force Los Angeles and San Francisco to share real estate than turn the whole thing into an island.

#3. Overpasses Protect You From Tornadoes

The Myth:

Everyone wants to feel like they have some semblance of control during a catastrophe. We all know, for instance, that if there's an earthquake, you get under a door frame; if there's a nuclear attack, you crawl under your desk; and, of course, if there's a tornado, you take shelter under an overpass. While these are primarily designed to give worriers peace of mind, that last one certainly makes logical sense, right? Getting under a heavily fortified bridge during any disaster could save your life. You'll never see overpasses collapsed and strewn around the Midwest in the aftermath of a tornado, and just look how well it works for these newscasters!

The Reality:

Unlike the completely useless advice of getting under a door frame in an earthquake or "duck and cover" in an atom bomb explosion, taking shelter under an overpass is actually much more dangerous than just trying to make a run for it.

See, by climbing up the embankment to the tiny space under the corners of the bridge, you're getting higher up in the air. The winds from a tornado accelerate with height, so you're actively throwing yourself in the most dangerous part of the twister. Additionally, that tiny space you're huddled in creates pressure -- a pocket like that acts to focus and intensify the wind speed (visualize a person putting her thumb over the end of a running hose). That means that a small tornado could suddenly develop the power to rip you apart, but only as it passes over the one place you've chosen to hide.

So how did that camera crew survive? Well, in short, they got extremely lucky. The tornado didn't actually hit the bridge directly; it passed by them with just enough distance to save their lives. Also, the particular overpass they chose had tiny crawl sections between the steel supports at the very top of the embankment, which meant that they were essentially huddled in a tiny steel cave. Most overpasses aren't designed that way, yet that didn't stop the media from immediately announcing that overpasses were the safest place to be when gods start firing angry wind missiles at the Midwest.

As a result, some people even leave their houses during a tornado to go find an overpass because they think it's safer, and each time there are fatalities under those overpasses, even when there isn't a single death anywhere else that the tornado hit.

03-05-2014, 10:46 AM
^ (Continued)

#2. Pets Can Predict When a Big Earthquake Will Strike

The Myth:

We may be the most intelligent species on Earth, but everybody knows that animals have superpowers to level the playing field. Cats and dogs can sense when a person is evil, can see ghosts, and always know when a natural disaster is on the horizon. That's why there are hundreds of stories of animals freaking out before earthquakes, from snakes fleeing a city in China, to dogs howling moments before a big shock.

Animals, thanks to their finely tuned senses, are simply plugged into the world in a way that we humans lost thousands of years ago when we started wearing shoes and pooping in toilets.

The Reality:

While animals may notice an earthquake before humans, they don't have a built-in sixth sense that allows them to hack into cloud patterns and plate activity. Instead, they're likely using a strange and mystical technique known as "They feel the ground shaking under them and realize something is wrong."

Granted, it's tough for scientists to study just how good animals are at predicting disasters because we ourselves can't predict them, so the tests wouldn't be much more than watching a cat lay around until the Earth feels like moving again. But from the huge amount of anecdotal evidence, we can gather that, yes, there are some animals that can sense the tremors before humans ... but that's all they're doing. They're not predicting an earthquake before it happens, they're feeling it while it happens. The ground actually starts moving several minutes before the earthquake gets strong enough for us humans to realize that it's not just our phone vibrating in our pocket. The animals, who tend to be lying on the floor, just feel it first.

So that doesn't mean their strange behavior is the animal trying to say, "Hey, something huge is coming, everybody get out of the apartment complex!" In fact, it's probably closer to "I feel the ground moving and it doesn't usually do that."

People who claim that their pet was acting strange hours or days earlier because it supposedly smelled an earthquake coming are examples of humans ascribing normal pet behavior to a significant event. Dogs, cats, fish, and pretty much all pets do weird things, constantly. It's only after a natural disaster that owners look back and say, "He pooped in the kitchen because he has superpowers!"

#1. A Sudden Polar Shift Will Destroy the World

The Myth:

One of the more popular end-of-the-world theories is that it's going to take the form of a massive, sudden, and violent geopolar shift in which the North and South Poles suddenly switch places. You may remember this from the movie 2012 or from the actual theories around the 2012 Mayan apocalypse. A lot of people remain adamant that the shift is imminent, and they believe it will be so cataclysmic, the sun will start searing the planet in solar rays, entire continents will shift or just disintegrate into the sea, and volcanoes will erupt all over the world like acne on a teen's neck. It's going to be pretty miserable for everyone.

And to be fair to all those doomsday theorists, polar shifts can totally happen ...

The Reality:

Not only can they happen, they're happening right now. Experts estimate that the Earth's poles shift at a blistering rate of 1 degree every million years, so "shift" is actually a huge overstatement. That's why scientists usually refer to it as "polar wandering," which sounds a lot less like the Earth violently turning itself inside out and more like a lost tourist with an upside-down road map.

The magnetic field that determines the poles is created by the liquid core inside the Earth, which is why the poles aren't completely fixed. And while it's possible that the shifts can have minor effects on weather, the sun is more likely to burn out before the Earth's polarity shifts so dramatically that it destroys the world. It's the kind of thing you're probably safe to put on the back burner for now.

Sam Miguel
03-12-2014, 10:56 AM
‘Killing trees for roads’ or, For want of a ‘national gardening program’

CROSSROADS (Toward Philippine Economic and Social Progress)

By Gerardo P. Sicat

(The Philippine Star) | Updated March 12, 2014 - 12:00am

I had intended to write about some important world international economic issues at this time. However, an event that happened some weeks ago lingered in my mind. The subject deserves commentary. It demonstrates an aspect of nation-building.

“Killing trees along the highway.” When I motored to Baguio just before the Christmas holidays, I was held up in traffic somewhere in Pangasinan. Trees along the highway were being killed to make way for road widening. Many trees had already been cut and those still standing in the way were marked for death by chain saw.

Two weeks later, I read a story about the protest made by environmentalists and church groups to stop the killing of “1,829 trees that were marked for cutting or earthballing” in five towns and a city in Pangasinan – border to border from Tarlac and La Union.

I did not see any earth balling of young trees. I only saw the felling of large, standing trees, some of which were old, mature trees. In my teen years when I passed by the same road, these trees were already mature. Many of them are more than my age.

“A narrow highway needs expansion and widening for the new times.” I put the killing of trees in proper context. It explained to me why Pangasinan was behind the other provinces in the widening of the MacArthur Highway. The province held up as long as possible to save the trees.

For the last half decade, MacArthur Highway has been on its final widening into a four lane highway. The widening had been completed in Bulacan and in Pampanga, the latter, during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. And, during the years of the Noynoy Aquino presidency, the widening of the roads in Tarlac went on in earnest and is now completed.

The roads are now almost fully widened to the north up to the northern parts of Ilocos Norte. If the Pangasinan stretch were left behind in this project, then, that province would serve as the bottleneck in the north-south bound traffic. The road widening was justified, and along with it, regrettably, the execution of the trees.

“The need for national gardening culture to grow trees.” Few groups would complain if we had a “national gardening program.” This is a task for all – the Public Works and Transportation deparments, Environment department, and the concerned local governments. But is there one?

To line up our highways with trees appear to be a simple task. But who is doing it? We can begin with our limited expressways in the country. There is little activity on this front for years. There are wide gaps in distances where trees could be planted to break the views along these highways.

There seems to be no program that does this on a continuing basis. There is no one taking charge or we would see young trees being planted during the rainy season along the highway.

Above all, the presidency must be there to goad, to inspire and to translate plans into programs that are sustainable with public support. It should involve the private sector, local governments and the schools to work out on the plan. Arbor days – or tree planting days before the rains come – have largely been ignored because of national apathy.

“Tree-lined highways are mainly a dream still.” As a road traveller . I have often dreamt of highways lined with pleasant sights of trees providing landscape, contour, and seasonal grace, like when they flower in unison.

I dream of roads lined up with evidence of the varieties of native species of trees that we have plenty of. I dream of our forestry and agriculture schools instructing the nation on the care and propagation of native varieties of trees and to make our highways the display museums of our flora.

We seemed to have forgotten this part of the program. Planting trees requires encouraging nurseries, requires gardening club discussions, putting up of a literature that can be followed to tell us more about native varieties. This is a job not only for city planners and environmentalists, but mainly for our leaders – national and local to encourage.

“Reforestation in the hills and roadsides.” I have seen how other countries have rebuilt themselves through tree plantings. This is a determined effort where political will is part of the equation. Political will implies translating what the nation wants in terms of tangible outcomes.

Though trees can self-propagate in the wild, in our ordered world, the trees growing from time of planting toward maturity requires care and patience. At an early age, trees need nurturing and propagation, and there is where political will is important.

In 1966, I traveled across Israel on my way home from abroad. In that time I had the opportunity of traveling widely to kibbutz and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and talk with a lot of economic professionals. What impressed me then was the pleasant sight of many hills planted to rows of young trees across parts of the country.

Today, some of that desert country has become one transformed differently from other lands in the Middle East. There is a lot of greenery where once it was desert land. Though that land is not as blessed with rainfall, it is widely greened today.

I’ve seen the same scale of land improvements in South Korea and in Taiwan when I had the chance to travel also inland in those areas where these countries implemented major planting projects. Many of their barren hillsides are now forested, thanks to continuous efforts to build the forests.

“Lining highways with trees in the past.” There was a time when we planted more trees on the highways. But this activity appears to have ceased. In the late 1970s, there was massive tree plantings undertaken along the highways. The age of the trees in the NLEX and the SLEX is enough evidence of that.

Where is our present day effort?

03-29-2014, 03:20 PM
The fight for food and climate justice

By Naderev “Yeb” M. Saño

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:38 am | Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Just three days after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (known internationally as “Haiyan”), the biggest storm to ever make landfall, devastated my homeland, I attended the opening of the United Nations’ climate change talks in Poland. With a deep sense of anxiety about the fate of my family and friends, I pleaded with delegates to recognize that vulnerable countries, such as the Philippines, cannot cope with the overwhelming impacts of climate change alone.

Today, governments meet in Japan to discuss a major new scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report outlines the scale of the threat that climate change poses to people across the globe and suggests ways to help people cope.

One of the most serious risks we face is escalating hunger. No civilization can flourish without food. Many have perished with the crash of food and water systems.

Climate change is making people hungry. It will change what we all eat. Extreme weather events such as Yolanda, unpredictable seasons, increasing temperatures, and rising sea levels are already causing chaos for farmers and fisherfolk. Food prices are going up, food quality is going down. By 2050, 50 million more people—equivalent to the population of Spain—will be at risk of going hungry because of climate change.

Supertyphoon Yolanda devastated our country. Thousands of people perished and millions more lost their homes and livelihoods. My own family witnessed the storm up close. Along with millions of other survivors, they continue to be haunted by painful memories of their ordeal. Today, millions of my people live in damaged homes and continue to rely on emergency relief to survive. More than a million farming households and 20,000 fishing households are struggling to pick up the pieces, but the challenge is daunting. Thirty-three million coconut trees were flattened by the storm, more than 100,000 hectares of rice fields were ruined. The overall losses in the agriculture sector could come close to $1 billion.

But the story does not end here. The prospect of a serious global food crisis looms on the horizon because of the worsening impacts of climate change. Yet, as my own country’s experience and a new Oxfam report, “Hot and Hungry—How to stop climate change derailing the fight against hunger,” shows, our food systems are woefully unprepared for the challenge. However, while no country—rich or poor —can afford to be complacent, it is the world’s poorest and most food-insecure countries that are the least prepared and most at risk. They stand to suffer the most.

We are at a critical moment in history and the window of opportunity is narrow. Time is not on our side.

We need urgent support for adaptation, particularly in the poorest and most vulnerable countries, to stop millions more people from going hungry in the next two decades as a result of climate change impacts that are already locked in.

This need not break the bank. Poor countries’ adaptation needs are estimated to be around $100 billion a year—equivalent to just five percent of the wealth of the world’s richest 100 people.

We also need urgent and ambitious emissions reductions to avoid a runaway global food crisis that could have grave repercussions for our children’s lives. Our gluttony for dirty energy stands in the way of a global solution to the problem of climate change and food. We must end this fossil-fuels gluttony.

People all over the world are already fighting climate change. Unfortunately, too few governments and big businesses are taking the threat seriously enough. We must act together to put pressure on them, and make changes in our own lives, in order to stop climate change from worsening hunger in our world.

We are at war with climate change and hunger. It is a war we cannot afford to lose, but a war that I believe we can win together.

Commissioner Naderev “Yeb” M. Saño of the Climate Change Commission is the head negotiator of the Philippines in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties every year. This piece is part of Oxfam’s Food and Climate Justice, which was launched on March 25, in time for the opening of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Conference in Yokohama, Japan.

Sam Miguel
07-11-2014, 09:39 AM
DPWH, please save those trees

By Neal H. Cruz |

Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:08 am |

Friday, July 11th, 2014

“I think that I shall never see
a poem as lovely as a tree,
Indeed unless the billboards fall
I think I’ll never see a tree at all.”

Ogden Nash wrote that limerick as a parody of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees,” and also of the billboards that were mushrooming and dotting the highways of the United States. Had he been in the Philippines lately, he would have written the last two lines differently: that unless the DPWH stops killing trees along the highways, he would never see a tree at all.

Indeed, unless the Department of Public Works and Highways stops massacring trees along the highways in the guise of widening the streets, we will have no more trees in the near future.

Look at the situation: Most of our mountains are now bald. The loggers have cut all the trees and exported most of the logs. The second-growth trees are being cut by charcoal-makers. Trees in the extremely few parks we have are being cut to give way to the whims of local governments. Example: Trees in the Quezon Memorial Park (otherwise known as Quezon Circle) beside the Quezon City Hall are being cut to give way to parking lots and all sorts of buildings mushrooming inside the park. As I keep on saying, Quezon Circle is becoming less of a park but more of another concrete jungle.

The parks mandated by law to remain in the housing subdivisions are also disappearing and being replaced by barangay halls, shops, and whatever else local officials want to put there. But here’s one notable exception: Centennial Park inside Miranila Homes on Congressional Road in Quezon City is a lush mini-forest with full-grown trees and flowering plants growing lustily. Another exception: The forest park inside Miriam College on Katipunan Avenue, also in Quezon City.

Most of the other village parks in Metro Manila have disappeared or are disappearing. The only real park we have is Rizal Park in Manila, but parts of it are now being occupied by the giant fast-food chains. The park’s street in front of the Manila Hotel has become the parking lot of hotel patrons. The hotel itself has no parking lot.

Most of the big trees we can see now are those along the highways. Those trees were planted decades ago by those who built the highways. Now they are big, beautiful trees, giving shade to motorists, pedestrians and vendors.

But now the highways have become too small for the deluge of vehicles engulfing the Philippines. The highways and streets have to be widened, according to the DPWH.

But the trees are in the way, so they have to be sacrificed, says the DPWH. Right? No, it is wrong.

The streets can be widened without cutting the trees. Other countries have done it. The DPWH itself has done it—on Katipunan Avenue, behind the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.

Katipunan Avenue is the continuation of the C-5 highway. It crosses the very wide Commonwealth Avenue on a flyover, goes down to Luzon Avenue on the other side, which is lined with squatter dwellings, goes left to Congressional Avenue and all the way to Mindanao Avenue, which leads to North Luzon Expressway (NLEx).

Widened, Luzon Avenue is supposed to go all the way to the planned Republic Avenue in Bulacan, but squatter shanties are in the way.
At the back of the UP campus, Katipunan Avenue is lined on both sides by big acacia trees. To widen it, the trees had to be cut? Wrong again. All that was needed was a little common sense and imagination.

The DPWH made the line of trees a traffic divider, an island. It widened the northbound side of the avenue by expropriating a narrow strip of the Capitol Hills Golf Course. (Or was it donated?) It could have done the same thing on the southbound lane. That part, after all, is already inside the UP campus. But it is full of squatters, so the widening of that side will have to wait, I guess, until Vice President Jejomar Binay, the housing czar, stops campaigning for the presidency for a while and relocates and builds houses for the squatters.
What I’m driving at is that highways and streets can be widened without cutting big trees. The DPWH was also able to widen Kalayaan Avenue, at the eastern side of Quezon City Hall, without cutting trees. It simply made the line of trees a traffic divider. If the DPWH can do it in Quezon City, why can’t it do the same thing in Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Laguna, Iloilo and elsewhere?

A traffic divider made up of trees is safer than a divider made of six-inch concrete. When a driver loses control of his vehicle and crashes into a traffic island, it can easily jump across the six-inch concrete, into the opposite lane, and crash head-on into oncoming vehicles. A traffic divider made up of trees, however, can stop even a huge truck.

Furthermore, trees make a highway or street beautiful. They make driving more relaxing. There is a stretch of highway in Batangas or Laguna that is lined on both sides with fire trees. In summer, when the fire trees are in bloom, that stretch is very beautiful. Makes you feel like the Israelites being led across the parted Red Sea by Moses.

Sam Miguel
08-18-2014, 01:20 PM
Ultra-rare crocs survive in Palawan ‘Noah’s Ark’

Philippine Daily Inquirer 5:44 am |

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

PUERTO PRINCESA—A chorus of chirps filled the room as one of the Philippines’ top crocodile breeders checked on his wards in an overcrowded “Noah’s Ark” for one of the world’s most endangered animals.

The chick-like cries came from metal tanks holding the baby Philippine crocodiles, artificially hatched by incubators from eggs that Glenn Rebong and his team had poached from their mothers’ nests.

“We’re producing so many but there are few opportunities to release them in the wild. So they get stuck here and you get overcrowding,” Rebong told Agence France-Presse at the two-hectare Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center.

Crocodylus mindorensis once lived in large numbers in freshwater lakes and rivers across the Southeast Asian archipelago, and are endemic to the Philippines, but were decimated by illegal hunting for the fashion industry.

Fearful humans mistaking the timid creatures for their man-eating saltwater cousins and killing them, as well as a loss of habitat, have contributed to their demise.

By the time the Philippine government launched its captive breeding program in 1987, a survey found only about 250 were estimated to be in the wild.

Today there are likely fewer than that, as the areas they have been seen in recent years have got steadily smaller, according to Rebong.

The International Union of Conservation and Nature lists them as “critically endangered,” one step away from extinct in the wild.

The largest collection of the species now live at the center, while two smaller private breeding operations elsewhere in the Philippines and some small sanctuaries in the wild are also key to the crocodiles’ survival.

Meager budget

Built with Japanese development aid, the now financially struggling center in the city of Puerto Princesa is home to about 500 crocodiles, about half of them freshwater and the rest “salties.”

The center augments a meager government budget by putting some of the baby and adult crocs on display for tourists, who are warned not to stick their hands or feet into the enclosures.

The annual revenue of P12 million from the tourists’ entrance fees is just enough to pay for the fish that the reptiles are fed, as well as to cover the salaries of 45 staff.

Selling some of the saltwater crocodiles for their leather provides another source of revenue.

Selling them illegal

However, it is illegal to sell the freshwater crocodiles, because of their critically endangered status, and the center offers sanctuary for them.

The breeding adults are kept inside grassy pens segmented by low concrete walls, where females build mounds of mud and weed for nests.

The staff periodically raids the nests to transfer the eggs to the incubators, increasing their chances of hatching and ensuring an “insurance population” of at least 100 adults is maintained, Rebong said.

Shy animals

The species was hunted close to extinction even though the rougher skin on its flanks is inferior to those of Crocodylus porosus, the larger saltwater crocodiles that are a mainstay of the fashion industry.

Growing to not more than 3 meters (10 feet), the freshwater crocodiles are shy animals that eat smaller prey than their bigger cousins.

Unlike large crocodiles that defend territory, they tend to slink away from humans. Rebong said there was no record of any member of the species ever killing a person.

However, few Filipinos make the distinction between the aggressive salties and the freshwater crocodiles, wanting to kill either if seen.

This has been a big factor in so few having been released into the wild, as has been their relentlessly diminishing natural habitats.

Education program

Freshwater swamps that are their favored homes are rapidly being converted into farms, housing, or ponds for commercial fish culture.

In the nature parks where they have been released, the government has had to run education and incentive programs to try and ensure they are not hunted down out of fear or for their lucrative skins.

“You can’t simply release them anywhere. We have to make sure they are secure in a particular area, otherwise they could end up getting killed,” Rebong said.

“People moving into a crocodile habitat kill them mostly out of fear. To them, a crocodile is a crocodile.”

Protecting their habitat

In the biggest and most successful release, 50 freshwater crocodiles were let go over the past decade in the Northern Sierra Madre National Park, a sprawling 1,000-hectare spread of tropical rainforest in the north of Luzon.

Communities in the Northern Sierra Madre went along with the scheme in exchange for jobs and skills training, said park superintendent William Savella.

“They asked for incentives,” Savella told AFP, and 10 locals were eventually hired as forest rangers, helping the government protect their habitat as well as monitor the crocodiles’ progress.

Another 25 were set free last year at a nature park on the southern island of Siargao, but Rebong said there were no plans to release more into the wild anytime soon because of the habitat restrictions.

“The ultimate measure of success is, they will breed and become a viable adult population (but) even if you breed a million here, they are still considered endangered if you cannot find any in the wild,” he said. AFP

Sam Miguel
09-05-2014, 11:19 AM
The high cost of cheap meat

By Christine Chemnitz, Shefali Sharma |

12:14 am |

Friday, September 5th, 2014

BERLIN—Factory-style livestock production is a critical driver of agricultural industrialization. Its remorseless expansion is contributing to climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and human-rights violations—all to satisfy Western societies’ unhealthy appetite for cheap meat.

Europe and the United States were the largest meat consumers in the 20th century, with the average person eating 60-90 kilograms (132-198 pounds) annually—far more than is required to meet humans’ nutritional needs. Though Western consumption rates are now stagnating and even declining in some regions, they remain far higher than in most other regions in the world.

Meanwhile, in emerging economies—especially the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)—members of the burgeoning middle class are changing their diets to resemble those of their rich-country counterparts. In the coming decades, as incomes continue to rise, so will demand for meat and dairy products.

To meet this demand, the world’s agribusiness firms will attempt to boost their meat output from 300 million tons today to 480 million tons by 2050, generating serious social challenges and ecological pressures at virtually every stage of the value chain (feed supply, production, processing and retail).

One major problem with factory-style livestock production is that it leads to considerable greenhouse-gas emissions—and not just because the digestive processes of ruminant animals produce methane. The waste from the animals, together with the fertilizers and pesticides used to produce feed, generate large quantities of nitrogen oxides.

Indeed, the factory model implies significant land-use change and deforestation, beginning with the production of feed. As it stands, about one-third of existing agricultural land is used for feed production, with the total share used for livestock production, including grazing, amounting to about 70 percent.

With expanded meat consumption, soybean production alone would nearly double, implying a proportional increase in the use of inputs like land, fertilizer, pesticides and water. Increased crop diversion to feed livestock will put upward pressure on food and land prices, making it increasingly difficult for the world’s poor to meet their basic nutritional needs.

Making matters worse, the shift from mixed-use or indigenous systems of raising livestock to large-scale operations jeopardizes rural livelihoods, particularly in developing countries. Pastoralists, small producers, and independent farmers simply cannot compete with low retail prices that fail to account for the industry’s true environmental and health costs. And the industrial livestock system, with its low wages and poor health and safety standards, does not provide a good alternative for employment.

Finally, there is the public-health impact of industrial livestock production. For starters, excessively high levels of meat and dairy consumption are contributing to nutrition-related health problems like obesity and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, keeping large concentrations of animals in confined spaces facilitates the proliferation of infectious diseases that can spread to humans, such as avian flu. And measures used to mitigate that risk, such as the administration of low doses of antibiotics to prevent disease (and promote growth), are creating a public-health crisis by strengthening resistance to antimicrobial drugs.

Add to this the horrific conditions suffered by the animals themselves, owing to the industry’s resistance to applying reasonable animal-welfare standards, and one might wonder how the industry could have been allowed to grow so large. The answer lies in its oligopolistic power, which enables industrial livestock producers to externalize their true social and environmental costs, which must then be covered by workers and taxpayers.

The reality is that there are other ways to meet the world’s need for meat and dairy. In the European Union, only two key elements of the Common Agricultural Policy would have to be changed to reduce drastically the distortions in the production system. Implementing these changes would send a clear signal that European policymakers take consumers’ wishes seriously.

The first change would be to prohibit imports of genetically modified feed, and require that farmers produce at least half of their animal feed on their own farms. A clear set of rules on feed procurement would eliminate international imbalances in nutrients, and diminish the power of multinational agricultural biotechnology corporations like Monsanto. Moreover, slurry and manure would no longer be transported long distances, and could be used to fertilize farmers’ own land to produce feed.

Second, the unnecessary administration of antibiotics in feed and watering systems should be prohibited. This would force farmers to treat animals individually for illnesses, based on veterinary diagnosis.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration could ban the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics. And the US Department of Agriculture’s farm bill programs could provide increased support for free-range livestock operations, in order to encourage more sustainable approaches to meat production.

Of course, these actions would be only important first steps. As emerging-economy middle classes grow, it is vital to recognize that existing Western models of meat production and consumption do not provide a sound blueprint for the future. It is time to create a system that adheres to our ecological, social and ethical boundaries. Project Syndicate

Christine Chemnitz is head of the Department of International Agricultural Politics at the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Shefali Sharma is director of Agricultural Commodities and Globalization at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Sam Miguel
11-10-2014, 09:09 AM
Lessons yet unlearned

Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:45 AM |

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

A year ago today, Supertyphoon “Yolanda” made landfall at 4:40 a.m. in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

Already billed by world meteorologists as the strongest storm on record with its maximum sustained winds of 315 kph, Yolanda tore through a wide swath of Eastern Visayas and Palawan, triggering deadly storm surges that decimated entire coastal communities and obliterated anything else that hadn’t been blown away by the powerful winds. Survivors told stories of babies being wrenched from their arms by raging waters, never to be seen again; of whole houses getting uprooted and washed into the maelstrom with wailing families inside; of village folk ensconced in temporary shelters being forced to flee again as even evacuation centers located farther inland were also overwhelmed by winds and floodwaters.

Yolanda left a near-apocalyptic landscape: about 600 towns and 57 cities in 44 provinces flattened or damaged, more than 28,000 people injured and some 3 million affected in one way or another. The government stopped counting the dead—the corpses littered the coasts and countryside for weeks and sometimes months after the typhoon—at 6,293 last April, despite some 1,800 more persons reported missing. No one is sure of the exact number at this point.

When night fell on Nov. 8, 2013, on Tacloban and other areas devastated by Yolanda and no rescue or aid came, the hungry and desperate survivors roamed the pitch-black wasteland that was once their communities in search of food and water and their missing loved ones. A day earlier, President Aquino had gone on television to assure the public that three C-130 Air Force cargo planes, 32 military helicopters and planes, and 20 Navy ships were on standby with food and other provisions to immediately assist survivors in Yolanda’s aftermath. That aid didn’t come on the first day, or the next. According to reports, food packs began trickling in starting only on the third day, by which time the international media had descended on Tacloban and other parts of the Visayas and were beaming to the world not only the grim vista before them but also the heartbreaking, infuriating government paralysis they were seeing.

As Hurricane “Katrina” did with the presidency of George W. Bush in the United States, so Yolanda did with Mr. Aquino’s administration: It wounded it beyond anything it had ever experienced. Government officials from Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman down the line would explain the delay in aid and services as due to the overwhelming scale of the disaster; whatever provisions were on standby in the provinces, they said, were also damaged or washed away by the typhoon.

Perhaps it was a valid explanation. But on TV, the public could only note with mounting anger how, as the hours and days passed, survivors repeatedly said they had received scant attention from authorities, or none at all. Thousands of valiant volunteers were preparing food packs, locating missing persons, comforting the bereaved, taking stranded families into their homes, or, in Manila, welcoming survivors arriving at the airport and Villamor Air Base and driving them to their kin even as far north as Baguio.

It is inaccurate to say the government didn’t do its part; it also mobilized personnel on many fronts, from soldiers to social workers, to help in the rehabilitation and rebuilding. But the seemingly meager sense of compassion from the beginning—Malacañang disputing the death toll announced by a disaster official (and later sacking that official), Mr. Aquino’s unfortunate retort to a resident’s panicked but understandable request to put Tacloban under martial law to quell looting (“But you did not die, right?”)—helped immensely to cement the public perception that, in the aftermath of Yolanda, the government was weighed and was found clearly wanting.

That perception has not changed much—not when the master plan for rehabilitation and recovery was signed by the President only last Oct. 29, or nearly a full year after the disaster. Not when thousands of families still live in crumbling tents and bunkhouses. Not when the Commission on Audit itself has called out the Department of Social Welfare and Development for the warehouses filled with food packs that went to waste because of improper storage, and for the cash assistance that didn’t reach the survivors. And certainly not when lessons from the Philippines’ worst disaster—such as summoning the political will to ensure that communities are now rebuilt away from danger zones—remain dangerously unlearned.

Sam Miguel
12-15-2014, 08:59 AM
Climate summit OKs watered-down pact


Associated Press 1:31 AM |

Monday, December 15th, 2014

LIMA, Peru—Climate negotiators salvaged a compromise deal in Lima early Sunday that sets the stage for a global pact in Paris next year, but rejected a rigorous review of the greenhouse gas emissions limits.

More than 30 hours behind schedule, delegates from more than 190 countries agreed on what information should go into the pledges that countries submit for the expected Paris pact.

They argued all day Saturday over the wording of the decision, with developing nations worried that the text blurred the distinction between what rich and poor countries can be expected to do.

The final draft alleviated those concerns with language saying countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities” to deal with global warming.

“As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who was the conference chairman and had spent most of the day meeting separately with delegations.

The momentum from last month’s joint US-China deal on emissions targets faded quickly in Lima as rifts reopened over who should do what to fight global warming. The goal of the talks is to shape a global agreement in Paris that puts the world on a path to reduce the heat-trapping gases that scientists say are warming the planet.

Many developing countries, the most vulnerable to climate change’s impacts, accuse rich nations of shirking their responsibilities to curb climate change and pay for the damage it inflicts.

In presenting a new, fourth draft just before midnight, Peru’s environment minister gave a sharply reduced body of delegates an hour to review it. Many delegates had already quit the makeshift conference center on the grounds of Peru’s army headquarters.

It also restored language demanded by small island states at risk of being flooded by rising seas, mentioning a “loss and damage” mechanism agreed upon in last year’s talks in Poland that recognizes that nations hardest hit by climate change will require financial and technical help.

“We need a permanent arrangement to help the poorest of the world,” Ian Fry, negotiator for the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu, said at a midday session.

However, the approved draft weakened language on the content of the pledges, saying they “may” instead of “shall” include quantifiable information showing how countries intend to meet their emissions targets.

Also, top carbon polluter China and other major developing countries opposed plans for a review process that would allow the pledges to be compared against one another before Paris.

The new draft mentioned only that all pledges would be reviewed a month ahead of Paris to assess their combined effect on climate change.

“I think it’s definitely watered down from what we expected,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for the environmental group WWF, said: “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.”

Chief US negotiator Todd Stern acknowledged that negotiations had been contentious but said the outcome was “quite good in the end.” He had warned Saturday that failing to leave Lima with an accord would be “seen as a serious breakdown” that could put the Paris agreement and the entire UN process at risk.

Though negotiating tactics always play a role, virtually all disputes in the UN talks reflect a wider issue of how to divide the burden of fixing the planetary warming that scientists say results from human activity, primarily the burning of oil, coal and natural gas.

Historically, Western nations are the biggest emitters. Currently, most CO2 emissions are coming from developing countries led by China and India as they grow their economies and lift millions of people out of poverty.

During a brief stop in Lima on Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said fixing the problem is “everyone’s responsibility, because it’s the net amount of carbon that matters, not each country’s share.”

According to the UN’s scientific panel on climate change, the world can pump out no more than about 1 trillion tons of carbon to have a likely chance of avoiding dangerous levels of warming—defined in the UN talks as exceeding 2 degrees centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above 19th-century averages.

It already has spent more than half of that carbon budget as emissions continue to rise, driven by growth in China and other emerging economies.

Scientific reports say climate impacts are already happening and include rising sea levels, intensifying heat waves and shifts in weather patterns causing floods in some areas and droughts in others.

The UN weather agency said last week that 2014 could become the hottest year on record.–Karl Ritter with Frank Bajak and Nestor Ikeda

Sam Miguel
05-22-2015, 09:53 AM
5 Metro Manila areas highly vulnerable to quakes

Maricar B. Brizuela


Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:48 AM | Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Five areas in Metro Manila have been identified during the Earthquake Resilience Conference in Makati City yesterday as “highly vulnerable” in case of a 7.2-magnitude or stronger quake due to evacuation difficulties, being prone to fire and collapse of buildings and their big populations.

During the presentation of recommendations on the second day of the disaster preparedness seminar on Thursday, Ernesto Garilao, president of Zuellig Family Foundation, said these vulnerable areas were Bagong Silang and Batasan Hills in Quezon City, Addition Hills in Mandaluyong, Lupang Arenda in Taytay, Rizal province, and Baseco compound in Manila.

These places are not only those near the fault lines but also have a big population composed mostly of low-income families with limited access to basic services, he said.

Called to identify gaps in the disaster preparedness and response and areas where collaboration and coordination are needed, the conference was attended by some 200 participants from the government, nongovernment organizations, business groups, civil society and the media.

Garilao said it was estimated that 5 million out of the 12 million population in Metro Manila were considered “highly vulnerable” in case of a strong earthquake.

“The vulnerable sector is important because in case of an earthquake, initial chaos breaks out,” he said, noting that these people would do anything to have access to food, even forcing open stores and other business establishments.

Garilao said the present response capability in the capital was inadequate.

“Current local city management capability will always be inadequate primarily because of the magnitude of the disaster,” Garilao said. There is a strong need for collaborative efforts between the local government units (LGUs) and the private sector.

The LGUs of Quezon City, Makati City and Pasig City, which presented their disaster response plans for a strong earthquake, revealed that their response teams could only operate in the first 72 hours after the disaster.

If there will be no food and water for a day, the representatives of Makati and Pasig said they already have in place water purifying stations which will make use of the Pasig River.

In terms of emergency health services, the cities said hospitals could not accommodate the expected hundreds of injured individuals but said they will have field hospitals and personnel to accommodate residents.

Alexander Pama, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said the Valley Fault System Atlas, a handbook of large-scale maps of the possible disaster zone, was released by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) to inform people which areas would be greatly affected by a quake.

“The best way for us to be prepared is to inform and educate our people. This is our first line of defense,” Pama added noting a disaster only happens when people are not prepared for it.

The active fault line could generate a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that could pulverize communities along its path, Phivolcs warned.

An earthquake that strong could leave 37,000 people dead, cause 140,000 serious injuries and an economic loss of P2.5 trillion in an 11-million square meter area, according to a study released in 2013.

Francis Tolentino, chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, in a radio interview yesterday proposed a one-day Metro-wide earthquake simulation exercise for people to know what exactly they needed to do in case the disaster hits the National Capital Region.

He said every office or building should also have a public safety officer, echoing a proposal during the resilience conference.

06-04-2015, 11:20 AM
Batangueños vs planned coal-fired power plant

Ma. Ceres P. Doyo


Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:07 AM | Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Amen (or the Archdiocesan Ministry on Environment) is not saying amen to the 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant (CFPP) that JG Summit Corp. plans to build in Barangay Pinamucan Ibaba in Batangas City. Amen and the No to Coal-Fired Power Plant Coalition are leading the citizens’ protest. Coal is among the dirtiest sources of energy.

The furor over the proposed CFPP in Palawan has not drowned out the Batangueños’ own protest against a similar threat to their domain. Being a favorite tourist destination and the so-called last frontier of ecological diversity, Palawan has been getting a lot of attention. But Batangas City protest actions are gathering steam of their own. Fr. Dakila “Dak” M. Ramos, coordinator of the coalition and director of Amen, has written to Batangas City Mayor Eddie Dimacuha so that he would stand firm against the project that would dramatically change the city’s coastal landscape. Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles has given his support to the protest. The mayor said he has forwarded the letter to the City Council. The archbishop’s letter to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been acknowledged.

Those against the CFPP have Church pronouncements, scientific findings and legal arguments to back their vehement stand. The coalition quotes from the Catechism for Filipino Catholics: “The ecology crisis today highlights further our moral obligation flowing from our God-given stewardship over the earth… The tremendous advances in modern science and technology have heightened [our] moral responsibility since now, for the first time in history, we have the physical capacity to improve or completely destroy our earthly home.”

Batangas City was a recipient of the Gold Award from the International Awards for Liveable Communities in 2011. Its E-Code promotes development and utilization of renewable and cleaner source of energy in order to reduce dependency on fossil fuel. So the proposed 600-MW CFPP runs counter to the E-Code.

Dr. Evelina C. Morales, expert in ecological toxicology and environmental technology and management, has come out with a position paper that questions the CFPP. Environmental lawyer Ma. Paz Luna has a similar position paper.

The proposed power plant will use circulating fluidized bed combustion technology. Wrote Morales: “The rationale for this project to provide a new source of energy for the current existing processes in the petrochemical complex and the planned expansion and production of aromatics and butadiene is not enough to approve this project.” She said that using raw water from the sea will suck in tremendous loads of microorganisms, larval stages of bigger microorganisms, and adults of marine plants and animals.

She cited wastewater issues (oily, chemical and sewage) vis-à-vis the capacity of the treatment facility. Very likely, wastewater will be discharged into the Pinamucan river. The scenario she painted is horrifying. Cited, too, are solid waste issues (bottom ash, fly ash and spent limestone) that, she said, are not specified in the proposal. And what about air pollutant emissions not mentioned (mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, copper and zinc)?

Morales’ paper, though using technical language, is not difficult to understand and presents a worrisome landscape. She said a most important part that the proposal has missed out on is environmental risk assessment.

Amen has come up with a detailed eight-point statement that scientifically lays out why the CFPP should be scrapped. Interested parties may contact the coalition at St. Mary Euphrasia Parish in Kumintang, Batangas City (tel. 0915-8613434).

What is Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos’ stand on the issue? Good question.

* * *

Throwback Thursday: “Post mortem: Calaca” was the title of the 1992 Sunday Inquirer Magazine feature story I wrote after I visited Calaca in Batangas and interviewed people in a sooty barangay near a coal-fired power plant. Will Pinamucan Ibaba suffer the same fate that the people of Calaca did? Of the ghost of a barangay that I saw then, I wrote:

“San Rafael is dead. The barangay that bears the name of Calaca’s patron saint is no more. It has been erased from the map. In its place has risen the 300-megawatt Batangas Coal-Fired Thermal Power Plant, also known as Calaca I. Built by the National Power Corporation in 1981 at the cost of $250 million and operating since 1984, Calaca I is a showcase of controversy, a study in conflict… a nightmare-come-true…

“For all the things it has generated—acrimony and electricity among them—Calaca I should, from this day onward, be included among the cases for scrutiny by development planners, sociologists, environmentalists, health workers, economists, technologists, policymakers, government officials, foreign lenders and, most of all, by ordinary citizens whose lives are in danger of being made into a burnt offering on the so-called altar of development.

“If only for the lessons learned on how to pollute a town and send its residents into breathless paroxysms of helplessness against a government agency, Calaca I may have been worth it. Barangay San Rafael has been erased but Calaca, host town of Calaca I and soon of Calaca II, is still around. Sooted but unbowed. Visited by sulfur dioxide (acid rain in doomsday parlance) but somehow surviving. Somewhat weary now but still waving a battered, sooted flag of protest.”

I quoted Monsignor Marciano Dailo’s sarcastic remark then: “Ang sales talk ay ganire… Calaca will develop and become urbanized and progressive.”

The Calaca plant is now run by construction giant DMCI. I asked Father Dak what “ganire” is like 23 years later. His reply: “Adverse effects on the environment and the people. So many are getting sick.”

* * *

Sam Miguel
06-19-2015, 10:05 AM
Republican lawmakers shrug off Pope Francis' climate message

By Erica Werner and Matthew Daly (Associated Press) |

Updated June 19, 2015 - 9:16am

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis' call for dramatic action on climate change drew a round of shrugs from U.S. congressional Republicans on Thursday, while many of the party's presidential candidates ignored it entirely.

"I don't want to be disrespectful, but I don't consider him an expert on environmental issues," said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, a senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, in a comment echoed by a number of other Republicans.

Even Capitol Hill's many Catholics, despite their religion's reverence for the holy father, seemed unmoved by his urgent plea to save the planet. The reactions suggested that the pontiff's desire to translate his climate views into real action to combat greenhouse gases could fall flat, at least as far as the American political system is concerned.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic who invited the pontiff to address Congress later this year, said the pope is not afraid to challenge thinking on various issues. "I respect his right to speak out on these important issues," Boehner said, but he demurred when asked whether Francis' views, made public in an encyclical released Thursday, might spur legislative action by the Republicans who run Congress.

"There's a lot of bills out there. I'm not sure where in the process these bills may be," Boehner said.

In the encyclical, a landmark foray by the Vatican into the area of environmental policy, Francis called for a bold cultural revolution, framing climate change as an urgent moral issue and blaming global warming on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that harms the poor most. He urged people of every faith to save God's creation for future generations.

Francis is to address lawmakers in September in the first speech by a pope to Congress.

Despite his status as an exalted spiritual figure and leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, his pronouncements on climate were received much as a presidential address might be: with enthusiastic embraces from those who already agreed with him, and disavowals or silence from most everyone else.

President Barack Obama fell into the former category. "I welcome His Holiness Pope Francis's encyclical, and deeply admire the pope's decision to make the case — clearly, powerfully, and with the full moral authority of his position — for action on global climate change," the president said in a statement.

The Republicans vying to replace Obama were not so full-throated. A number of them, including Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, did not respond to requests for comment or avoided answering when questioned by reporters on the topic.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush questioned the pope's foray into climate science when discussing the issue Wednesday ahead of the encyclical's release.

"I don't think we should politicize our faith," he said.

A statement from a spokesman for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry did not directly mention Francis but said, "Gov. Perry believes the climate is always changing, but it's not clear what role humans have in it."

It's not the first time the Catholic Church's teachings on political or social issues have created complications for Catholic lawmakers who take a different view. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who is Catholic, faced questions in the run-up to passage of Obama's health care bill over her support for abortion rights in light of the church's opposition.

But with his entry into the contentious politics of climate, and his attempt to reframe the issue in moral terms, Francis opened a new chapter in the long-running debate over the intersection of politics and religion.

And it was one that most Republicans did not particularly welcome.

"I think the pope needs to continue to study this," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican. "I think it will be given respectful treatment, but I don't think it's going to change a lot of votes."


Associated Press writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.

06-24-2015, 09:15 AM
The most subversive text of the year

By: John Nery


Philippine Daily Inquirer

01:43 AM June 23rd, 2015

For a good many of us, “Laudato Si” (Praised Be) will be the most subversive text we will read all year, or indeed for many years. The extraordinary eco-encyclical from Pope Francis contains explosive truths, not about the science of climate change, but about the persistence of poverty, the excesses of a market economy, the fetish for technology and the technocratic solution, the consequences of middle-class aspirations, the failings of the media, even the role of the human in a “rapidifying” world.

“Laudato Si” offers the kind of radical reading that subverts our assumptions, challenges our deepest convictions, makes us see anew. The lengthy document attempts to give a truly global treatment of the ecological catastrophe we all face; some or many of the notes the Pope strikes will be familiar to us, but taken together, the whole acquires a resonance unheard since “Gaudium et Spes” signaled the reconciliation between the Church and the modern world.

Right on the first page, in Paragraph 2, we read: “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’ (Rom 8:22).”

The earth itself is poor. This powerful assertion flies in the face of the easy assumption that the planet is rich in still untapped resources, and that vulnerability is a human construct not applicable to it; the statement forces us to see that the connection between poverty and planetary fragility is intimate, as close as it gets.

* * *

Given the advice on homilies Pope Francis suggested in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” it is no surprise to find that Paragraph 16 helpfully lists the key themes which “reappear as the Encyclical unfolds.” There are 10 in all: “the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle.”

* * *

Some passages acquire a deeper shade when read against the Pope’s personal background. For instance, those of us who believe in the “aspirational” dimension of planned real estate communities will be disturbed to read Paragraph 45: “In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, ‘ecological’ neighborhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquillity. Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called ‘safer’ areas of cities, but not in the more hidden areas where the disposable of society live.”

This note reminds us of a disclosure Francis made, in that series of interviews Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin conducted with him when he was still cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, about his first trip abroad, in the 1970s: “In Mexico I came across a gated community for the first time, something that didn’t exist in Argentina back then. I was astonished to see how a group of people could cut themselves off from society.”

Paragraph 45 revisits that original moment of astonishment, but now sees in the phenomenon of the gated community another aspect of it: not the decision of “a group of people” to “cut themselves off from society,” but rather the effect that cutting off has on the “outsiders,” the “disposable.” Taken together, the “artificial tranquillity” that gated communities offer may come at too high a price.

* * *

Other passages hit us where we least expect it. Paragraph 47, for instance, is a startling critique of the media’s role in “mental pollution.” Startling because it comes unexpectedly in a section on the declining quality of human life, and because it does not pull any punches. It begins: “when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.” It continues: “True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution.” It concludes: “We should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.”

* * *

There are many more such passages; in a document that tries to see the greatest crisis facing the planet in the clearest terms, there is no room for fudging or word-mincing. The Pope’s visit to the United States in September will provoke an encounter with science-denying Catholic conservatives. The encyclical will not allow them to misunderstand Francis. Here, for instance, is Paragraph 67: “We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man ‘dominion’ over the earth (cf. Gen. 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.” That, it seems to me, is a subversion of the peculiarly American gospel of never-ending resource-rich prosperity.

* * *

10-20-2017, 10:09 AM
From the New York Times online ___

Climate Change Is Complex. We've Got Answers to Your Questions.

By JUSTIN GILLIS Illustrations by JON HAN.

We know. Global warming is daunting. So here's a place to start: 17 often-asked questions with some straightforward answers.

Part 1
What is happening?

1. Climate change? Global warming? What do we call it?

Both are accurate, but they mean different things.

You can think of global warming as one type of climate change. The broader term covers changes beyond warmer temperatures, such as shifting rainfall patterns.

President Trump has claimed that scientists stopped referring to global warming and started calling it climate change because "the weather has been so cold" in winter. But the claim is false. Scientists have used both terms for decades.

2. How much is the Earth heating up?

Two degrees is more significant than it sounds.

As of early 2017, the Earth had warmed by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (more than 1 degree Celsius) since 1880, when records began at a global scale. The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the world?s land ice is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, scientists say, the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would undermine the planet's capacity to support a large human population.

3. What is the greenhouse effect, and how does it cause global warming?

We've known about it for more than a century. Really.

In the 19th century, scientists discovered that certain gases in the air trap and slow down heat that would otherwise escape to space. Carbon dioxide is a major player; without any of it in the air, the Earth would be a frozen wasteland. The first prediction that the planet would warm as humans released more of the gas was made in 1896. The gas has increased 43 percent above the pre-industrial level so far, and the Earth has warmed by roughly the amount that scientists predicted it would.

4. How do we know humans are responsible for the increase in carbon dioxide?

This one is nailed down.

Hard evidence, including studies that use radioactivity to distinguish industrial emissions from natural emissions, shows that the extra gas is coming from human activity. Carbon dioxide levels rose and fell naturally in the long-ago past, but those changes took thousands of years. Geologists say that humans are now pumping the gas into the air much faster than nature has ever done.

5. Could natural factors be the cause of the warming?


In theory, they could be. If the sun were to start putting out more radiation, for instance, that would definitely warm the Earth. But scientists have looked carefully at the natural factors known to influence planetary temperature and found that they are not changing nearly enough. The warming is extremely rapid on the geologic time scale, and no other factor can explain it as well as human emissions of greenhouse gases.

6. Why do people deny the science of climate change?

Mostly because of ideology.

Instead of negotiating over climate change policies and trying to make them more market-oriented, some political conservatives have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science.

President Trump has sometimes claimed that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public, or that global warming was invented by China to disable American industry. The climate denialists' arguments have become so strained that even oil and coal companies have distanced themselves publicly, though some still help to finance the campaigns of politicians who espouse such views.

Part 2
What could happen?

1. How much trouble are we in?

Big trouble.

Over the coming 25 or 30 years, scientists say, the climate is likely to gradually warm, with more extreme weather. Coral reefs and other sensitive habitats are already starting to die. Longer term, if emissions rise unchecked, scientists fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in the Earth?s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world's coastal cities. The emissions that create those risks are happening now, raising deep moral questions for our generation.

2. How much should I worry about climate change affecting me directly?

Are you rich enough to shield your descendants?

The simple reality is that people are already feeling the effects, whether they know it or not. Because of sea level rise, for instance, some 83,000 more residents of New York and New Jersey were flooded during Hurricane Sandy than would have been the case in a stable climate, scientists have calculated. Tens of thousands of people are already dying in heat waves made worse by global warming. The refugee flows that have destabilized politics around the world have been traced in part to climate change. Of course, as with almost all other social problems, poor people will be hit first and hardest.

3. How much will the seas rise?

The real question is how fast.

The ocean has accelerated and is now rising at a rate of about a foot per century, forcing governments and property owners to spend tens of billions of dollars fighting coastal erosion. But if that rate continued, it would probably be manageable, experts say.

The risk is that the rate will increase still more. Scientists who study the Earth's history say waters could rise by a foot per decade in a worst-case scenario, though that looks unlikely. Many experts believe that even if emissions stopped tomorrow, 15 or 20 feet of sea level rise is already inevitable, enough to flood many cities unless trillions of dollars are spent protecting them. How long it will take is unclear. But if emissions continue apace, the ultimate rise could be 80 or 100 feet.

4. Is recent crazy weather tied to climate change?

Some of it is.

Scientists have published strong evidence that the warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense. It is also causing heavier rainstorms, and coastal flooding is getting worse as the oceans rise because of human emissions. Global warming has intensified droughts in regions like the Middle East, and it may have strengthened a recent drought in California.

In many other cases, though ? hurricanes, for example ? the linkage to global warming for particular trends is uncertain or disputed. Scientists are gradually improving their understanding as computer analyses of the climate grow more powerful.

10-20-2017, 10:10 AM
^ Continued

Part 3
What can we do?

1. Are there any realistic solutions to the problem?

Yes, but change is happening too slowly.

Society has put off action for so long that the risks are now severe, scientists say. But as long as there are still unburned fossil fuels in the ground, it is not too late to act. The warming will slow to a potentially manageable pace only when human emissions are reduced to zero. The good news is that they are now falling in many countries as a result of programs like fuel-economy standards for cars, stricter building codes and emissions limits for power plants. But experts say the energy transition needs to speed up drastically to head off the worst effects of climate change.

2. What is the Paris Agreement?

Virtually every country agreed to limit future emissions.

The landmark deal was reached outside Paris in December 2015. The reductions are voluntary and the pledges do not do enough to head off severe effects. But the agreement is supposed to be reviewed every few years so that countries ramp up their commitments. President Trump announced in 2017 that he would pull the United States out of the deal, though that will take years, and other countries have said they would go forward regardless of American intentions.

3. Does clean energy help or hurt the economy?

Job growth in renewable energy is strong.

The energy sources with the lowest emissions include wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric dams and nuclear power stations. Power plants burning natural gas also produce fewer emissions than those burning coal. Converting to these cleaner sources may be somewhat costlier in the short term, but they could ultimately pay for themselves by heading off climate damages and reducing health problems associated with dirty air. And expansion of the market is driving down the costs of renewable energy so fast that it may ultimately beat dirty energy on price alone ? it already does in some areas.

The transition to cleaner energy certainly produces losers, like coal companies, but it also creates jobs. The solar industry in the United States now employs more than twice as many people as coal mining.

4. What about fracking or 'clean coal'?

Both could help clean up the energy system.

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is one of a set of drilling technologies that has helped produce a new abundance of natural gas in the United States and some other countries. Burning gas instead of coal in power plants reduces emissions in the short run, though gas is still a fossil fuel and will have to be phased out in the long run. The fracking itself can also create local pollution.

"Clean coal" is an approach in which the emissions from coal-burning power plants would be captured and pumped underground. It has yet to be proven to work economically, but some experts think it could eventually play a major role.

5. What?s the latest with electric cars?

Sales are still small overall, but they are rising fast.

The cars draw power at night from the electric grid and give off no pollution during the day as they move around town. They are inherently more efficient than gasoline cars and would represent an advance even if the power were generated by burning coal, but they will be far more important as the electric grid itself becomes greener through renewable power. The cars are improving so fast that some countries are already talking about banning the sale of gasoline cars after 2030.

6. What are carbon taxes, carbon trading and carbon offsets?

It?s just jargon for putting a price on pollution.

The greenhouse gases being released by human activity are often called "carbon emissions" for short. That is because two of the most important gases, carbon dioxide and methane, contain carbon. (Some other pollutants are lumped into the same category, even if they do not actually contain carbon.) When you hear about carbon taxes, carbon trading and so on, these are just shorthand descriptions of methods to put a price on emissions, which economists say is one of the most important steps society could take to limit them.

7. Climate change seems so overwhelming. What can I personally do about it?

Start by sharing this with 50 of your friends.

Experts say the problem can only be solved by large-scale, collective action. Entire states and nations have to decide to clean up their energy systems, using every tool available and moving as quickly as they can. So the most important thing you can do is to exercise your rights as a citizen, speaking up and demanding change.

You can also take direct personal action to reduce your carbon footprint in simple ways that will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off unused lights, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food, and eat less meat.

Taking one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car or putting solar panels on your roof. If your state has a competitive electricity market, you may be able to buy 100 percent green power.

Leading corporations, including large manufacturers like carmakers, are starting to demand clean energy for their operations. You can pay attention to company policies, support the companies taking the lead, and let the others know you expect them to do better.

These personal steps may be small in the scheme of things, but they can raise your own consciousness about the problem ? and the awareness of the people around you. In fact, discussing this issue with your friends and family is one of the most meaningful things you can do.

01-29-2018, 08:43 AM
Another fake news: Trump's climate theory

Associated Press / 07:22 AM January 29, 2018

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump's description of the climate on planet Earth doesn't quite match what data show and scientists say.

In an interview with Piers Morgan that aired on Sunday on Britain's ITV News, the president said the world was cooling and warming at the same time and that claims of melting ice caps haven’t come true.

"There is a cooling, and there's a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn't working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place," Trump told Morgan.

Ten different climate scientists contacted by The Associated Press, however, said the president was not accurate about climate change.

Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis responded in an e-mail: "Clearly President Trump is relying on alternative facts to inform his views on climate change. Ice on the ocean and on land are both disappearing rapidly, and we know why: increasing greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels that trap more heat and melt the ice."

The facts: The world hasn't had a cooler than average year since 1976 and hasn't had a cooler than normal month since the end of 1985, according to more than 135 years of temperature records kept by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

4 hottest years on record

The last four years have been the four hottest years on record globally, with 2010 the fifth hottest year, according to NOAA.

Every year in the 21st century has been at least 0.4 degrees Celsius warmer than the 20th-century average and in the top 25 hottest years on record, NOAA records show.

And while a good chunk of the United States had a frigid snap recently, most of the rest of the world was far warmer than normal, according to temperature records.

'Not quite right'

Zeke Hausfather of the Berkeley Earth temperature monitoring program - initially funded by nonscientists who doubt that the world is warming - said in an e-mail: "The world has been warming steadily over the past 50 years, with 17 of the past 18 years being the warmest since records began in the 1850s. It is not accurate to say that the climate has been 'cooling as well as warming.'"

"The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they're setting records. They're at a record level," Trump said in the TV interview.

The facts: It is a bit more nuanced, but not quite right.

While a small number of experts a decade ago had predicted that the Arctic would be free of summer sea ice by now, most mainstream scientists and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not.

Instead they said Arctic sea ice would shrink, which it has, said Richard Alley, a Pennsylvania State University ice scientist.

Most scientists, including the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, are predicting that the Arctic will be free of summer sea ice sometime around the 2040s.

The Arctic set a record for the lowest amount of sea ice in the winter, when sea ice usually grows to its maximum levels, in March 2017.

In 2012, the Arctic set a record for lowest sea ice levels. Sea ice recovered slightly from that record and in 2017 in September, the annual low was only the eighth lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Continuous decline of sea ice

But the 10 lowest years of sea ice have been all in the last 11 years. Arctic sea ice is declining at a rate of 13.2 percent per decade, according to Nasa.

Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist, said the Antarctic sea ice pack, less directly influenced by global climate change, varied from year to year.

Antarctica hit a record low for sea ice in March 2017, the same month the Arctic hit a record winter low.

Antarctic sea ice also reached a record high in 2014.

"Both of the large ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are losing hundreds of billions of tons of ice per year. Sea ice continues to decline significantly in the Arctic decade by decade, and the thickness of Arctic ice is now less than 50 percent of what it was 40 years ago," a National Snow and Ice Data Center scientist, Ted Scambos, said in an e-mail.

02-28-2018, 09:57 AM
Icy Europe, warm North Pole: the world upside down

Agence France-Presse / 07:49 AM February 28, 2018

PARIS, France - Not for the first time in recent years, Europe has descended into a deep freeze while the Arctic experiences record high temperatures, leaving scientists to ponder the role global warming may play in turning winter weather upside down.

The reversal has been dramatic.

A Siberian cold front has spread sub-zero temperatures across Europe, carpeting southern cities and palm-lined Mediterranean beaches with snow.

On Sunday, meanwhile, air temperatures at the North Pole - which won't see the Sun until March - rose above freezing.

"In relative terms, that's a 30 C (54 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature anomaly," Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth in Washington, tweeted.

At the Longyearbyen weather station on the Island of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean, temperatures were 10 C above average over the last 30 days, according to Zack Labe, a climate modeler at the University of California Irvine.

At the same time, sea ice is covering the smallest area in the dead of winter since records began more than half a century ago.

In one region, around Svalbard, the area covered by sea ice - 205,727 square kilometers - on Monday was less than half the average for the period 1981-2010, the Norway Ice Service reported.

"Positive temperatures near the North Pole in winter are thought to have occurred during four winters between 1980 and 2010," Robert Graham, a climate scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute, told AFP.

"They have now occurred in four out of the last five winters."

This acceleration, experts said, circumstantially points to climate change, which has - over the same period - warmed the Arctic region twice as fast as the global average.

Transform the planet

Another clue may be the Arctic thaw/European deep freeze pairing.

"The surge of mild weather at the North Pole and the cold front in Europe are directly linked," Etienne Kapikian, a scientist at Meteo France, the national weather service, told AFP.

"Just how hot is the Arctic now?" tweeted Peter Gleick, president emeritus of the Pacific Institute and a member of the US National Academy of Science.

"Hotter than ever measured in winter. Human-caused climate change is beginning to radically transform our planet."

Gleick's larger assertion is no longer seriously contested, but the link between the "warm Arctic, cold continent" phenomenon and global warming has yet to be proven, other scientists say.

If the connection with global warming remains speculative, the mechanics of what scientists call "sudden stratospheric warming" - the weird winter weather's immediate cause - is well understood.

Strong winds in the stratosphere circulate west-to-east over the Arctic some 30 kilometers above Earth's surface. This is the polar vortex.

The jet stream, meanwhile, races in the same direction at bullet-train speed 10 kilometers overhead at the upper boundary of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere.

Sometimes the vortex dramatically warms and weakens, with winds slowing down and even reversing, explained Marlene Kretschmer, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

A cooling tendency

"When this happens, it can affect the jet stream where our weather is made," she told AFP. "That is exactly what has happened now."

Freezing Arctic air that is normally "locked" in the polar vortex breaks out, creating the Siberian cold front that has blanketed Europe.

Sudden stratospheric warming occurs, on average, every other year, so it is not a rare phenomenon.

But over the last two decades, the vortex's breakdowns have become deeper and more persistent.

"Overall, the global warming trend is clear," said Kretschmer. Earth's average surface temperature has gone up by one degree Celsius since the mid-19th century - enough to unleash deadly drought, heatwaves, and storms engorged by rising seas.

"But if you just look at winter temperatures since 1990, you see a cooling tendency in winter over northern Eurasia."

Still, the question remains: What drives changes in the intensity and duration of sudden stratospheric warming?

One theory holds that newly ice-free ocean surface - which absorbs the Sun's rays rather than bouncing them back into space like snow - releases warmth into the air that eventually disrupts the stratosphere.

"It is hard to say that any one event is linked to global warming," said Kretschmer.

"But there are a lot of studies now suggesting this pattern - warm Arctic, cold continent - could be linked to climate change."

"This much is certain - there is overwhelming evidence that changes in the Arctic will affect our weather," she added. /cbb

03-28-2018, 10:37 AM
When animals disappear, how are humans affected?

February 16, 2018

Dear Cecil:

Are there extinct species that we really wish we hadn't wiped out? I don't mean we now say, "Gee, what a shame." I mean, is there anything where we now say, "Oh $#!&, we screwed ourselves!"? Like when the Chinese thought getting rid of all the sparrows was a good idea.

Lumpy, via the Straight Dope Message Board

Cecil replies:

If you’re not as up on your People’s Republic history as Lumpy here, allow me to read you in. Having become concerned about sparrows eating the grain Chinese farmers were growing, in 1958 Mao ordered the birds’ extermination, and an estimated billion of them were killed. Problem was, those sparrows had also been eating locusts that liked to eat grain themselves, and with nothing keeping them in check, the bugs commenced to eat the fields bare. Together with various other agricultural policies of the Great Leap Forward, the sparrow campaign helped lead to the starvation deaths of tens of millions of people; as far as history’s gravest unintended consequences go, this one’s in the hall of fame. And as Lumpy suggests, it’s a particularly vivid illustration of how humans can bollocks up a functioning ecosystem by intervening without thinking through the bigger implications.

Are there others? Sure. Turn your attention to present-day India, where since just the early ’90s three once-abundant species of vulture have all but died — officially they’re critically endangered, but according to some scientists they’re “functionally extinct.” This one’s on us, too: the birds were feeding on the decaying flesh of cows that Indian farmers had fed with a particular painkiller, diclofenac. In cows it soothed aching hooves; in vultures it led to fatal kidney failure.

Appearancewise vultures don’t do much to pretty up a biome, true, but in south Asia their carrion-eating was a vital public service. Remember, these are birds that can put away an anthrax-infected carcass and go back for more. (Pity they couldn’t handle a common NSAID.) This made them a reliable firebreak between humans and some major infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and rabies, whereas the less hardy rats and wild dogs that have taken over the carrion gig tend to spread these around. With vultures on the ropes, India faces a public-health disaster.

So far we’ve yet to mention an animal that’s been wiped out altogether, but don’t get too hung up on extinction per se. Sure, the disappearance of the last member of a species is a grim milestone. The consequential problem, though, is a species’ general disappearance from an ecosystem, even if a few individuals keep on keeping on. Just a modest decline in the populations of key creatures can screw things up, and a steep drop can be devastating; however circuitously, those effects will come back to bite us. For instance:

In the late 1880s, Italian army livestock in East Africa introduced a highly lethal bovine disease called rinderpest: it devastated sub-Saharan herbivores from pigs to wildebeest, and starved a lot of people who relied on cattle for food, nomadic herders and colonial farmers alike. The deaths of all those grazers and browsers also led to a steep growth in plant biomass, leading to a century of worse and more frequent wildfires — leading in turn to property damage, fire-suppression costs, and tons of carbon dumped into the atmosphere.

These days sub-Saharan Africa is contending with the decline of its apex predators via hunting, habitat loss, etc. Fewer lions and leopards means, among other things, more olive baboons, who’ve encroached further into human territory, bringing competition for food and an uptick in intestinal parasites for both the humans and the baboons. This isn’t the worst to come out of the complex relationship between food chain and disease on that continent: Industrial overfishing in the Atlantic has led West Africans to increasingly seek other protein sources, including primate bushmeat. If you’ll recall, eating chimp flesh is thought to be the conduit through which HIV found its way to humans, and there are other scary primate viruses out there ready to make their move.

In the centuries since wolves were hunted out of the British Isles, deer have become rampant in the UK. With their numbers now at a thousand-year high, they’re responsible for some 50,000 traffic accidents annually, plus they impede forest regeneration by eating all the seedlings. The animals represent such a pain in Britain’s ass that there’s a project afoot (inspired by a successful initiative at Yellowstone) to bring back the wolves.

One hears a lot about how we’re in the midst of a mass extinction, the sixth in history. Ecologists believe that losing large carnivores will be the really big deal here, setting in motion the follow-on effects seen above: more fires, invasive species, carbon pollution, agricultural problems, infectious diseases, and on and on — widespread ecosystem malfunction that reconfigures the whole food chain, and whose costs to us keep compounding over time. The technical name for this process is “trophic cascading,” but I can think of more colloquial phrases that might work here too — “You break it, you bought it,” for one.