SUMMERTIME is about to end and soon, the wet months will be upon. That brings to mind what happened last year — the devastating super hurricanes that have left a swathe of destruction in the affected areas several thousands of miles away from us — Harvey, Irma, Maria chief among these super weather events . That brings to mind how well we have taken to heart lessons learned, how effective our own disaster plans would be if any one of these weather extremes pass our archipelagic country, how good enough will these plans be in minimizing casualties, in checking disaster-inflicted damages. Are we in fact adapting to a world whose climate swings have been behaving rather harshly, punishingly if you will, as if in retribution for what we’ve been doing, and failed to do, in the last centuries?
A country such as ours lies in the Pacific of Fire. That means extreme natural disturbances are a dime a dozen, when they develop and grow into the weather monstrosities that Filipinos, especially in coastal communities and along moutain ridges, have long been inured as part of their national experience. Natural tragedies these are.
More often than not, whatever typhoons come our way, we just accept them as par for the course, expected to pummel everything and everyone on their lethal path. Last year, the nearest experience we can recall is that of a mini-storm making a cross-sectional path across the Cordillera and Ilocos regions enroute to southern China. A puny weather disturbance vis-à-vis the super hurricanes that swept the Caribbean and South America islands, this small weather system did not pose a direct threat to us here in the Cordillera highlands, except the usual mountain slides and flash-floods that usually take place in menacing minutes. Remember how there was more nonchalance than disturbance, and how we saw more people swamping up the malls than checking up whatever ramparts could hold homes away from any damage.
Sure, for us in Baguio, strong rains carrying stronger winds are the closest we can relate to severe weather aberrations. Perhaps, the 1990 killer quake and the subsequent huge typhoons in the 90’s are just about the natural aberrations capable of evoking memories of tragic events, of provoking malingering anxieties that while we survived all these, kinfolk who didn’t were simply at the wrong place. To this day, the decade of the nineties still presents a grim reminder of lessons learned and sadly, seemingly forgotten.
When the earth let out a mighty heave on July 16, 1990, doomsday scenarios immediately loomed life-size as 26 seconds of roller-coasting movement rocked many of us to our knees. Casualties by the thousands were record-high simply because buildings of recent vintage were erected on vulnerable mountain slopes and awakened fault-lines. To this belated day, we remember loved ones gone, but in sad reembrance, we forgot how better built structures should be saving more lives, how adaptive to today’s climes — and they’re getting harsher by the day — we could have been. To this belated day, public and private construction works still go on frenziedly, characterized by the traditional shortcuts and without regard to geohazard risks that we have been told are proliferating in our part of the country.
Even noted urban planner and architect Felino A. Palafox Jr. has been espousing the right way of building things, amid climate change, insisting that today’s edifices must go through adaptation: “What is certain is that climate change causes natural disasters to worsen, as pointedly shown to us by our Yolanda experience. That being now the new normal, as architects, we should foresee these kinds of disasters and construct buildings sturdier than before, stronger and more resilient.”
What have our building planners and designers been doing in the last several decades? Have they in fact focused on sustainability in keeping with the adverse effects of climate change? Have we had a fair share of green buildings that allow minimum energy consumption and reduced waste production? Have newer technologies been in fact introduced that pave the way for innovative building materials, lighting, ventilation, and other mechanisms which increase efficiency but are low in energy consumption. In brief, have our buildings been shaped responsibly and in accordance with nature now?
Surely, in any post-event analysis after a disaster, going green makes absolute sense, given how climate change has affected much of our day-to-day life. In today’s climes — when events of greater force and ferocity are taking place with impunity, when super weather afflictions quickly develop in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans — that makes super sense. Too bad, we quickly forgot all about that, and by our inaction these recent years, continue to glorify archaic architectural and engineering practices that ignore climate change-induced weather and geologic disturbances. Too bad that business as usual has been good for business, while being bad for the rest of us puny inhabitants of the only planetary home we have.
Clearly, in the aftermath of Harvey, Irma and Maria and during earlier times of Sendong, Ondoy and Yolanda, life can never be as usual, sweeping aside the new normal that climate change has bred. Natural disasters will always take place, intensifying each time they strike. Earthquakes will occur more frequently without warning and in greater ferocity. Typhoons will get stronger, lashing at wider areas than before.
True, nature has its own way to take its course, but we have the option not to allow inaction to breed from our own indifference. Leaders may come and go, but people is constant. There will always be victims among us. But we can opt not to be willing victims when natural disaster inflicts its deadly force on vulnerable communities. We can lend a voice to the global cry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have caused, for centuries now, much of the global warming that our planet has absorbed from our own economic activities.
Time and again, savants have been telling us in telling warning statements that we ought to be doing enough to reduce our contributed carbon footprint through self-chosen activities that disengage us from our motor vehicles, even if a bit of a time each time? Time and again, we are told that too much carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is massively polluting our world, causing global temperatures to rise, making our oceans heat up by the day. Reason why our polar icecaps are melting, why the Saharas are experiencing snow, why our seas are getting warmer, why Harvey, Irma and Maria quickly develop into signature catastrophic events?
Being prepared and being bold enough to apply what must be done is doing the right thing. Extremes in weather behavior may not be avoided, but knowing there are ways of reducing the risk to life and property is doing things the right way. Come to think of it, there shouldn’t be ifs and buts about it, when time’s up.