The United Nations Climate Change Conference began this week in Warsaw, and it’s hard to say what’s more ironic: the devastating events preceding it or the wallowing inaction that is likely to follow. In a sort of perverse opening ceremony, a leaked scientific document on the potential impact of global warming, followed by one of the most devastating storms in history, provided timely examples of why the major world powers need to act immediately. The first day of the conference saw many speakers invoking the typhoon in the Philippines as proof that the time for debate is over. They’re not wrong, but if said world powers, particularly the United States, behave in their usual fashion, the sacrifice of the Filipinos will not only have been in vain; it will be an act of genocide committed by the indifference of the West.
Last week, a leaked report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed the panel’s conclusion that climate change could reduce global food production by two percent, every year, for the next decade. This turn of events, according to the IPCC, would cause mass hunger and starvation, leading to an exacerbation of worldwide poverty, scarcity and war and condemning millions to death. This leaked document was not a few pages potentially taken out of context; this was a full-length draft of the IPCC’s upcoming report to the UN. The report isn’t due for official release until next year, but the leak comes mere months after the IPCC’s previous report, published in September, in which it predicted a rise in sea level of three feet by the end of the century and said it was 95 percent certain that global climate change was caused by human activity.
Mere days after the leak, Nov. 8, Typhoon Haiyan hit the island nation of the Philippines. Reportedly the most powerful typhoon to make landfall in human history, the storm’s unprecedented ferocity is feared to have left more than 10,000 Filipinos dead. Many of those who lived have found themselves with nowhere to go as their homes were washed away by enormous waves; more than 600,000 people have been displaced. Additionally, those who survived Haiyan’s onslaught have been largely unable to access food or medicine, pushing the casualty count even higher. Al-Jazeera reporter Jamela Alindogan described going to a hospital, “which is working under really awful conditions, with no electricity, no clean water, and people — doctors who have been working over 24 hours on injured that are being brought in, and people just basically dying in the dark . . .”
Haiyan is the second major storm to hit the Philippines in the past year, and just the latest in a string of extreme weather incidents that should have shaken the developed world out of its comfortable science-denying stupor years ago. The effects of climate change have not been limited to faraway island nations, either, but have become recurring tragedies here in the U.S. Drought sweeps the Midwest while the northeast suffers devastating floods. Wildfires rage across our own state of Arizona and force evacuations in neighboring Colorado. Worst of all, Superstorm Sandy levels New Jersey only seven years after Hurricane Katrina did the same to New Orleans, both disasters notable for the failures of the corporate puppet du jour in the Oval Office.
President George W. Bush never accepted the reality of climate change, and his reaction to Katrina was to praise the good work that FEMA wasn’t actually doing. President Barack Obama has been much more vocal about the issue, but actions spoke louder than words in 2009, when he treated the world’s cry for help like a joke at the conference in Copenhagen. The conference in Warsaw will likely prove no different. Does anyone really believe that Typhoon Haiyan has more power to shift American policy than Superstorm Sandy? How can it, when our energy industry bribes scientists to promote false research and our media gives credence to bald-faced lies? When the future of the human race comes into conflict with the profits of Exxon Mobil and General Motors, what side do you really think our leaders are going to choose?
The rest of the world takes its cues from America, and despite Obama’s crowd-pleasing rhetoric, America has proven again and again that it has no intention of addressing climate change. Maybe the West is content to let the rest of the world burn (or drown, or starve) as long as the last people standing are rich white men, but even they need to eat, drink and breathe. In the long run, our indifference to climate change isn’t just genocidal. It’s suicidal.
Originally published in The Lumberjack (http://jackcentral.com/opinion/2013/11/warsaw-and-the-philippines-give-america-another-chance-to-show-it-doesnt-care/)