Defining and understanding climate change is already half the battle

Published September 23, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Johannes Chua

EDITORS DESK

We often read or hear about climate change. The topic, admittedly, is not “exciting” and would not even go viral online. A friend even told me that talking about climate change is too gloomy with all the negative forecasts and doomsday scenarios. I agree. But not talking about it now is just delaying the inevitability that we have to face the effects of climate change as a nation sooner than later.
That friend asked me to explain climate change as if he was a child. Fair enough. As journalists, we have the responsibility to “talk” to a wide audience, especially to those who need to understand it most. Climate change, I said, is change in the usual climate of the planet caused by human activity. Because of this “unbalance,” the sustainability of the earth is threatened. Simple enough?

To dig deeper into climate change is to have a macro view of the definitions surrounding it. Part of addressing climate change is understanding what it truly is. For example, the United Nations (UN) defined climate change as “long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.” The UN noted that these shifts may be natural…but since the 1800s, “human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.”

The Manila Bulletin is organizing the first ‘Sustainability Forum’ on Nov. 23-24, 2022 with the theme ‘Beyond Green.’ The two-day event will include a virtual forum highlighting best ESG (environment, social, and governance) practices, and a recognition night at the City of Dreams Manila where Manila Bulletin will honor programs and initiatives that have made our planet better.

The UN further added: “Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures. Examples of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change include carbon dioxide and methane. These come from using gasoline for driving a car or coal for heating a building, for example. Clearing land and forests can also release carbon dioxide. Energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture and land use are among the main emitters.”

Compare the UN definition from the one provided by the US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It said that climate change is a “broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gas to the earth’s atmosphere. These phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, but also encompass changes such as sea-level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower and plant blooming; and extreme weather events.”
See any difference? It sounds like they just copied from one another.

In our country, it is the Climate Change Commission (CCC) that is mandated by law (Republic Act 9729: The Climate Change Act of 2009) to serve as the “lead policy-making body tasked to coordinate, monitor, and evaluate action plans of the government related to climate change.” For the CCC, climate change is caused by man’s lifestyle. “Our lifestyle has led to the accumulation of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. These gasses trap heat from the sun, making the earth warmer. Manifestations of a warmer world include rising mean temperatures, sea level rise, and increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like droughts and greater rainfall.”

IT’S GETTING HOT IN HERE. The earth is now about 1.1-degree Celsius warmer than it was in the late 1800s. (Photo from UN.org).

Referring to these definitions, one could already sense a pattern. First, it is man’s activity in pursuit of progress that changed our climate. The UN warned that “greenhouse gas concentrations are their highest levels in two million years.” “Emissions continue to rise. As a result, the earth is now about 1.1-degree Celsius warmer than it was in the late 1800s. The last decade (2011-2020) was the warmest on record.”
“Because the Earth is a system, where everything is connected, changes in one area can influence changes in all others,” said the UN. Consequences of climate change include catastrophic events such as intense droughts, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice, devastating storms, and declining biodiversity.

Now, climate change is part of President Marcos’ speech in front of the UN General Assembly. There is much to discuss there as he asked for nations who have the highest greenhouse gas emissions to help countries such as the Philippines, which is the “fourth most vulnerable country to climate change.”
This is an issue that I personally agree with the administration. I would even join the President in calling for “climate justice.” Whatever politics or ideologies we may have, we all agree that there is one — only one! — earth. And starting to clearly define climate change, and making the majority of the 110 million Filipinos truly understand what it truly means, is already winning half of the battle.

Johannes L. Chua is the editor of the Environment & Sustainability section.

 
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