The island of Mindanao in the Philippines couldn't be much farther away from New York City, but this week they've been inextricably linked by tragedy.
This Tuesday, as volunteers from Occupy Sandy spread out across Red Hook to help with another day of recovery, a monster-typhoon slammed into the Philippines. By Friday, the death toll from Typhoon Bopha had reached over 500, with more than 400 people in the region still missing. More than 310,000 people lost their homes to the storm and are now crowding into packed evacuation centers.
"I want to know how this tragedy happened and how to prevent a repeat," said President Benigno Aquino III on a recent visit to the area worst hit by the storm. His interior minister repeated the need for an inquiry, "We are going to look at what really happened. There are allegations of illegal mining, there are allegations of the force of nature."Halfway around the world, those allegations were being made clear at the UN Climate Meetings in Doha, where a negotiator from the Philippines told Democracy Now!:
Hurricane Sandy, and now Typhoon Bopha that's wreaking havoc in the Philippines right now, these are clear examples that we need to call for urgency and that climate change is really happening.
Elsewhere in the conference center, Naderev Sano, the Philippines' lead negotiator, addressed fellow delegates in tears, saying, "As we sit here in these negotiations, even as we vacillate and procrastinate here, the death toll is rising. I appeal to leaders from all over the world to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face."
Climate change is the piece of DNA that makes Sandy and Bopha sisters. Hurricane Sandy was born in the unusually warm waters of the North Atlantic, waters that have warmed five degrees in the last century since we started filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Bopha was conceived in equally unnatural circumstances. As Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters explained, Bopha was "the strongest typhoon ever recorded to hit Mindanao, which rarely sees strong typhoons due to its position close to the Equator."
Normally, a storm so far south can't generate enough energy from the Earth's rotation to gear up into a full blown typhoon, but as global warming adds more heat, in other words energy, into the system, terrifying new results are possible.
While the road will be hard, New York and New Jersey will surely recover from Hurricane Sandy. This Thursday, NJ Governor Chris Christie was in Washington, D.C. lobbying for tens of billions dollars more in disaster relief on top of the $50 billion that the White House is expected to give to the states. No amount of money can make up for lost lives, but repair efforts will continue and someday in the not-too-distant future, life will return to normal for the majority of people in the region.
It's unclear if the same can be said for the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes in the Philippines. The entire GDP of the Philippines is $224.75 billion, just over four times what Christie wants in relief efforts. Many of the places where people once had homes are now completely impassable and it's unclear when, if ever, people will be able to return.
And the storms, of course, will continue to come. According to the Global Climate Risk index, the Philippines is fourth on the list of countries most at risk from climate disasters. In 2011, the country had the world's highest death toll caused by weather related disasters, with 1,659 people losing their lives to typhoons, floods, landslides and heavy rains.
It's high time that the world begins to connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change, and the fossil fuel companies that are causing the problem. Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Bopha are both children of Mother Nature and Father Exxon, Chevron, and Shell. And unless we can cap the flow of carbon dioxide these companies are dumping into the atmosphere, more freaks of nature will continue to be born.
WATCH Naderev Sano address fellow delegates: