If We Fail to Act on Climate Change, The Future Holds Stronger, More Frequent Typhoons

Despite the enormous amounts of evidence, there are still people who do not believe that climate change is real. We are not sure what drives them to this kind of thinking, but unfortunately, in the Philippines, climate change deniers, and those who barely care about it at all, still thrive.

Recent events like strong typhoons should be thought of an adverse effect of climate change. The behavior of typhoons has changed immensely compared to decades ago, and its trend continues over the years.

We’ve experienced consistent destructive typhoons in this millennium so far: Winnie (2004), Reming (2006), Frank (2008), Ondoy (2009), Pepeng (2009), Sendong (2011), Pablo (2012,) Yolanda (2013), and the latest two, Rolly and Ulysses where are only almost a week apart.

Compare this to the recorded strong typhoons before 2000: Yoyong (1951), Trix (1952), Sisang (1987), Ruping (1990), Uring (1991), and Rosing (1995). Although naming a typhoon as “destructive” is arbitrary, all the mentioned ones had wreck havoc and made international news due to the inflicted damages and lives lost. Records can also show the maximum sustained wind speeds, measuring the intensity of any typhoon which is then placed into Category 3, 4, or 5 which are the strongest.

A before-and-after photo of a devastated area in the Philippines. Via Telegraph

It’s almost as if every Filipino has a story about their worst experiences of unforgiving winds and torrential rains brought about by typhoons. The bad news is that it looks like we are going to get more of these, no thanks to climate change.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led by Prof Wei Mei discovered that the destructive power of the typhoons that savaged across not only Philippines but also China, Japan, and Korea has intensified by 50% in the past 40 years due to warming seas. The study was published in 2016, and it did prove to be correct four years later.

“It is a very, very substantial increase. We believe the results are very important for east Asian countries because of the huge populations in these areas. People should be aware of the increase in typhoon intensity because when they make landfall these can cause much more damage,” Prof Wei Mei said.

To be more precise, the study considered data from 1977 until 2016. It showed that typhoons in the north-west Pacific had intensified by 12% to 15% on average, translating to 50% rise in destructive power.

Photo via IB Times

The culprit is the warming of coastal areas due to, well, global warming, providing more energy to growing storms as well as enabling their wind speeds to increase more rapidly. This abnormal change of temperatures in sea surfaces is what causes typhoons to form differently than before.

“We want to give the message that typhoon intensity has increased and will increase in the future because of the warming climate,” Mei added.

An earlier research by Prof Kerry Emanuel, an expert on tropical cyclones or hurricanes (typhoon is the most commonly used term in Asia) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said pretty much the same: hurricanes are likely to get stronger and more frequent.  The study was conducted in 2013.

There are far more studies with the consensus to prove the point, but what’s important at this moment is to do whatever it takes to control the effects of climate change and use science and engineering to plan and minimize destruction in the future.

A huge step is the Paris Agreement. It serves as humanity’s master plan to control how climate change now controls the world we live in.

However, we need to take more active, collaborative steps in different scales to meet the target of limiting future warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. One of these is to promote the use of renewable energy like solar, wind, and geothermal – it’s all about reducing carbon emissions. Another is to lay out how energy efficiency should be integrated to buildings and infrastructure in the future. One more is to promote sustainable practices.

All these are easier said than done, yes. Until we all realize how our individual decisions and plans affect each other, here in the Philippines, we are well positioned to become a target of more damaging typhoons in the future. A climate emergency like this must be taken how it was named – like an emergency.

Top photo by Larry Monserate Piojo via Facebook

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