Typhoon tears: we need an emergency climate pathway


When Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda slammed into the Philippines last weekend it brought human tragedy and devastation on a scale that’s sadly becoming all too familiar, whether from tsunami or typhoons. The death toll is heading for 10,000 and more, making it the most damaging storm in the country’s history. This unmissable speech by Yeb Saño, the Philippines Climate Change Commissioner at the UN’s climate conference in Warsaw — in which he promises to fast until the UN talks face up to the need for action, makes the inevitable link between climate change and the protection of vulnerable populations — the people in the firing line.

The Philippines define that firing line — they experience more tropical storms than any other country on the planet. Tropical storms brew in the warm waters of the western Pacific, turn into typhoons and pummel the islands. In the last year alone they have experienced three record-breaking multi-billion dollar weather disasters. In December 2012 Typhoon Bopha killed up to 2,000 people and caused US$1.7 billion in damage. In August this year, flooding from the rains associated with Tropical Storm Trami killed 18 people and caused $2.2 billion of damage. Haiyan looks certain to eclipse those numbers in the most tragic manner. The images emerging from the country are appalling, but are they the shape of things to come?

The answer, all too sadly, is almost certainly yes. To use the broadest of brushes, if we carry on adding energy to the climate system — which is what our addition of greenhouse gases achieves — then we can expect the weather to become more energetic. Heavier rain, stronger winds, and if you live in the tropics, more intense tropical storms. The detail, as always in climate matters, is more complex (and fascinating), and our best modelling is ambiguous about the prospects for tropical storms, typhoons and hurricanes in a warming world. At the very least, they are expected to become more intense, because warming oceans feed energy into storms, and the warmer the water becomes, the bigger the storms can be. In this case a vast pool of warm water provided a dagger of fuel pointing at Tacloban, as the maps at this post by Scienceblogger Greg Laden demonstrate all too clearly.

As Yeb Saño (he was a star last year, as well) puts it, we need “an emergency climate pathway”. We need to start making steep cuts in carbon emissions with an aim to capping atmospheric greenhouse gases at the lowest possible level. To do anything less is to load the guns of the firing squad and issue the command to fire.

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  1. Haiyan is the strongest storm ever measured.

    “With sustained wind speeds of more than 310 kilometers per hour, Haiyan was the most powerful tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history.”

    The silence is deafening.

    As the elephant in the room becomes more restive, the efforts to ignore it become more painfully obvious.

    Thank you Gareth and Russel for trying to break through the silence.

    In the wake of the 10,000 killed in the Philippines, the efforts to silence all mention of climate change is becoming more blatant, more obscene.

    In parliament, the oil industry’s veteran thug inside the Labour Party, Shane Jones tried to shout down Russell Norman of the Green Party for reading out Yeb Saño, the Philippines Government Climate Change representative’s call for urgent action on climate change.

    The sickening efforts by Labour to maintain the silence, and their continuing refusal to be drawn on where they stand on climate change is painful to watch.

    In September as a signatory to the Majuro Declaration For Climate Leadership New Zealand alongside the other Pacific Nations promised to “phase down carbon emissions”. Within a month of signing the Majuro Declaration John Key turned his back on the Declaration, instead gifting and loaning tens of millions of dollars to Solid Energy to maintain coal production.

    National tried to claim that the bail out was all about saving jobs.

    But National never lifted a finger to save Hauauru Ma Raki, or indeed, “tens of thousands” of other job losses.

    Gareth Hughes of the Green Party said that the money for the bail out would have been better spent paying for a just transition of the coal workers “to jobs that don’t fry the planet”.

    The Labour Party refused to be drawn on where they stood. Though Labour’s Colin Cosgrove made a cryptic statement that Labour would have “done more sooner”.

    In a comment I posted on The Standard, I likened this refusal to be drawn, over where Labour stand on coal mines, to the similar bind that Democratic Virginia Candidate Terry McAuliffe found himself in, when under pressure, he also refused to be drawn on where he stood on coal mining. This rather mild comment about the pressures on politicians to keep their silence in the face of the fossil fuel lobby, attracted the fury of Lyn Prentice who typically stuck to his line of refusing to allow any talk on the substantive issue I was trying to raise. To justify the policy of censorship and self censorship rigorously enforced at The Standard over where the Labour Party stand on climate change, Lynn accused me of telling The Standard authors what to write.

    In trying to maintain the false consensus over climate change Lynn Prentice chief moderator of The Standard, (despite Gareth Hughes strong statement), tried to claim there were no differences between Labour and the Greens over coal mining. Mickysavage another Labour Party author at The Standard said that the bailout of Solid Energy “is a post that I am working on”. But instead of publishing his post on Solid Energy, just like Senator McCauliff, mickysavage succumbed to the pressure to censor himself, and kept his mouth shut, deciding to go along with the rigidly enforced political line of The Standard in refusing to be drawn over where Labour Stand over climate change, in particular, where Labour stand in regards to deep sea oil drilling, or coal mining.

    Shame on Martyn Bradbury and Selwyn Manning for also bowing down to this pressure, and in the wake of these tragic deaths not putting the Labour Party on the spot over where Labour stand on climate change.

  2. After spending over a $100 million on Solid Energy and gifting over $30 million to Tiwai Aluminium Smelter to keep damaging the climate. I wonder how much the New Zealand government will give in emergency relief aid to the Phillipines?

    In all justice, NZ should be prepared to spend as much as we have recently spent to damage the climate.

  3. Gareth Renowden headlines this post:

    “…..we need an emergency climate pathway”

    The immediate actions we need to take on the way to this emergency pathway are obvious and lying all around.

    Ban extreme oil. No deep sea oil drilling.

    Stop the biggest coal mine in New Zealand’s history from going ahead in Denniston.

    Put in place the “right policy settings” to Fast track Hauauru Ma Raki and similiar projects.

    End all subsidies to the fossil Fuel industry.

    Ratify the Majuro Declaration on Climate leadership.

    Basic achievable and common sense actions that can be taken right now.

    Actions that on the whole will not cost the government money but in fact will save money. As well as in the case of Hauauru Ma Raki and other similar projects create thousands of jobs.

    Will the Labour Party commit to these simple and principled actions?

    Or is David Parker right in saying that Labour will not be much different from National? Will a Labour led governmentcontinue Business As Usual?

    Labour’s finance spokesman, David Parker, says his party’s policies on oil, gas and mineral extraction are close to those of the Government.

    “I don’t think we are much different from National,” Parker said.
    labour National “close” on mining NZ Herald

    • Do Shane Jones and David Parker speak for Labour over climate change?
      (Is this the reason for Labour’s official reluctance to be drawn on climate change issues?)

      Green Party co-leader Russell Norman dared to stand up for the people of the Philippines, by reading out Yeb Sano’s plea to the world to do something about climate change, only to be screamed at by Shane Jones, (Labour).

      Tau Henare and Jami Lee-Ross, (National), joined Shane Jones in trying to shout down Russell Norman.

      Right wing Herald columnist Audrey Young likened Norman’s speech to a lecture on smoking, and lauded Shane Jones efforts in trying to shut him down.

      It is unlikely that the National MPs Henare and Ross would have had the nerve to attack Russel Norman without the encouragement of Shane Jones lead. The same for Audrey Young.

      The question is:

      Will Shane Jones be disciplined by Labour leader David Cunliffe for his outrageous behaviour?

      Or, is this bully boy attack on Norman, an example of what the Green Party MPs will suffer at the hands of Labour MPs when they are in government, if they dare to raise taking action against climate change?

      In Warsaw, Poland were he gave his speech, Yeb Sano was greeted with a standing ovation by assembled representatives of governments from around the world. In the New Zealand parliament where Russell Norman read out the same speech, he was derided and mocked and told to sit down by both Labour and National MPs.

      No Right Turn
      November 13, 2013

      “…..its not just embarrassing and indecent, its also stupid. Our government’s laughter at the Philippines’ suffering, and their refusal to consider doing anything about it, will not have gone unnoticed. And that means our negotiators, in Warsaw and possibly elsewhere on other issues, will find it that much harder to convince people to support their positions. After all, no-one wants to deal with arseholes – and our Parliamentary knuckle-draggers have just done their very best to paint us as such to the world.”

  4. I feel sick watching the news, reporters are there cameras are there but no food or water? When the world knew this was going to be a huge storm the biggest typhoon ever recorded why didn’t a drop off of containers full of disaster relief arrive before the storm hit? It seems crazy when it was seen coming that they are all waiting for supplies now. First world countries needed to have disaster relief already there they had time to drop solid storm proof containers full of food off before the storm arrived. If storms like this is going to become the new normal then relief needs to be already in place, not days later this is revolting to watch. Things must be able to be done better than this!

  5. Interesting analysis by Greg Laden: Why Was Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda So Powerful, and is this a trend?


    He looks at sea water temperatures at different depths along the path of the Typhoon and makes some startling observations:

    “At 100 meters depth, the sea was warm enough to form a typhoon. That, dear reader, is extreme.”

    We know prodigious amounts of heat are going into the oceans and that heat has to go somewhere. Welcome to the Anthropocene. Who will be next?

    • Thank you for this Hank, especially for the link to Greg Laden’s post analysing the causes of Hurricane Haiyan,

      I think that Gregs analysis is so important that I have copied it again here. I strongly recommend that everyone read it.


      I particularly liked the last five words that ‘Greg Laden ended his post with.

      “It is time for action.”

      When public figures here in New Zealand like Shane Jones Audrey Young and Lynn Prentice are trying their hardest to shut people up. It is important that there are people like Russell Norman, and Yeb Sano, and Gareth Renowden, and Greg Laden that refuse to sit down and shut up, and instead have the courage to stand up and call for change.

      “Shut up, and sit down”

      “Norman’s climate change lecture strikes the wrong note”

      “It was like getting a long lecture on cigarette-smoking instead of a eulogy at the funeral of someone who had died of lung cancer.

      By now heckling National MPs and Labour’s Shane Jones had reached their level of tolerance.”

      Audrey Young NZ Herald November 13, 2013

  6. Excellent post by Gareth and comments by Jenny on Labours position, or rather lack of it, on global warming. If you read Labour’s official policy on the issue, you will find it avoids denial and sounds okay, as if they are on to it. Then again, so does the official National Party policy. But they can’t face up to it in the real world. Can’t face the implications of their own, theoretical of course, acknowledgement of AGW.

    David Cunliffe is presenting as a more left-wing labour leader than Shearer, and making encouraging noises about not selling our sovereignty in trade deals. But when it comes to climate change, and AGW in particular, the left wing can become as uneasy as the right wing; after all they are both committed to the growth theorem and the use of fossil fuels is intrinsic to that as they see it. The labour movement had it origin in the mines of 19th Century Britain. The fight for such jobs has become a fight for work that is disastrous on a global scale, and the labour movement, as represented by people like Shane Jones, finds that a hard one to swallow.

    The left wing response to AGW is on the line here. The strain is starting to show in the rage of Shane Jones and others. Sooner or later Labour will have to bite the bullet on this, or go down the sleazy, lying road of John Key.

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