THE BLOG

Our Moral Call on Climate Change -- But Are We Listening?

11/20/2013 09:01 am ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

A man tells the story of his brother's struggle for survival after Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in their hometown in the Philippines, and the devastation he describes as staggering. "I struggle to find words to describe how I feel about the losses and damages we have suffered from this cataclysm" he says, his voice breaking with emotion. "Up to this hour, I agonize while waiting for word as to the fate of my very own relatives."

The man is Naderev "Yeb" Saño, the Philippines' lead negotiator to the United Nations international climate change summit. He spoke these words at the opening session of the summit, just three days after Haiyan tore through the Philippines as one of the most powerful storms ever observed, in an impassioned appeal to world leaders for climate change pollution reductions.

Although it's impossible to say any one storm is directly caused by climate change, the latest IPCC report tells us that it is likely that as the oceans heat up, a change that has already been widely measured, tropical cyclones around the world will have faster winds and heavier rainfall. In addition, relatively fast rising sea levels in the Philippines Sea may have also played a part in greater storm surge. To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, said Saño, "I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian Ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels... And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now."

Until now, many of us have had the luxury of regarding climate change as a scientific matter a policy issue, or an environmental cause. But today, as we hear Mr. Saño's pleas for his reeling nation, tackling climate change becomes a moral obligation.

We don't have to look across the globe to see the moral imperatives of acting now and boldly on climate change. Our own communities in the United States are suffering from increasingly intense storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires.

A year after Superstorm Sandy, some 26,000 families in New Jersey's Ocean County alone still aren't able to return to their homes, and many more are waiting for insurance payouts.

Farmers throughout the country are telling their stories, too, as more than 50 percent of the continental U.S. is now in a drought -- that's every state west of the Mississippi. Brandon Whitt operates a struggling family farm in Tennessee, recently hit hard by unusual conditions like extreme droughts and floods. "If that's not climate change," Whitt told the Murfreesboro Post, "you tell me what is." Meanwhile, agriculture-rich California is on course for its driest year on record. These changes reach us all at the supermarket checkout.

Such impacts are even causing climate change deniers to change their tune. "For a long time I denied it," said former climate denier and U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, who now operates a beef cattle farm, at a press conference he called in October to discuss how climate change is hurting farmers.

For these people and so many millions more, climate change is personal. And if it's not personal to some of us yet, it will be soon.

By 2050, it is estimated that New York City, New Orleans, and Miami will be spending close to $2 billion each year on flood costs, affecting untold families and businesses. And this is to say nothing of the unjust price that small island states and developing nations are paying for the U.S.'s climate change pollution.

"I speak for my delegation," said Yeb Saño. "But more than that, I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm. I also speak for the people now racing against time to save survivors and alleviate the suffering of the people affected by the disaster. We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons are a way of life."

As Yeb Saño speaks for the suffering and pushes leaders for bold action on climate change, we must too. It has become our moral duty.