Climate Change

16 December 2012

If there are still some who do not believe in ''climate change,'' the disastrous effects of extreme weather changes (Sandy in the United States and Pablo in Southern Philippines) should convince them. Even the present warm weather in December in Metro Manila makes one immediately think of ''climate change.''

Surfing the Internet, one is swamped with studies, research results, opinions, and still some debate on the issue. What is clear and now universally accepted is that human combustion of fossil fuels for energy is causing global climate change that threatens all countries and the survival of their population. The obvious conclusion would be to decrease our reliance upon fossil fuels, and to seek energy from alternative sources.

However, the population in developed countries will not easily give up the benefits of energy in the home and offices while those in underdeveloped nations, still relying on firewood, would like to jump to the conditions of a developed society. Cheap, reliable, and widely distributed energy (usually from fossil fuels) for both mobile and stationary utilization is responsible for the convenience in developed nations and is sought after by the underdeveloped ones.

The reality of ''climate change'' should be accepted by nations and form the basis for a national policy. I suggest a two-pronged approach - one that prepares for and manages the disastrous effects of ''climate change'' and the other that attempts to either slow down or hopefully reverse the process.

The first means that both the government and the population should be prepared to make needed changes - moving populations from vulnerable areas, stockpiling supplies, establishing and improving transportation infrastructure, educating and training communities to anticipate, respond to, and overcome disasters. Within each community, a corps of disaster response teams should be formed. It would greatly help if the ROTC is resurrected in all colleges and universities with a focus on disaster management knowledge and skills so that upon graduation and the students return to their hometowns, they will be the core of these corps.

The mind-set of government officials and staff should change. It has been noted that while we easily see the images of physical damage in the wake of disaster, we do not see the long-term health effects like increased rates of tetanus and respiratory disease to post-traumatic stress disorder. Therefore, there is the need to integrate information about climate change into their disaster preparedness and response mechanism. Equally important is the basic act of drawing experts from diverse disciplines to deal with the issues, the way Dr. Celso Roque in the '70s formed us (social and natural science professionals) into a team to come up with a Science and Technology Plan for the Philippines.

Energy conservation programs and support to renewable energy projects should be the second pillar of the government's action plan. In a visit to Sarawak, I saw how water continued to be a major source of energy because as State Deputy Minister Tan told me, ''We protect our forests.'' I also met advocates of solar energy who assured me that new technology is bringing down the cost of producing the solar panels and that it is now possible to produce and use solar panels in local communities. Dr. Endriga of the Quezon City government informed me of plans to transform the garbage of the city into energy through a conversion plant at Payatas. More initiatives and creativity from the national and local governments are needed.

Climate change is here and we (government and the private sector as well as us individually and collectively) need to act now.

Business Bits. Best wishes to a true brother in UP Vanguard, a stalwart in business and industry, and a servant leader during his stint in government celebrating his Birthday today - Ted Javier.