FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

It is striking that the weather experts have used the same adjective to describe Typhoon Karding and Hurricane Ian: explosive.

Both weather disturbances intensified rapidly over a short period of time. In both instances, unfortunately, both rapidly escalated before they hit land.

I listened intently as one meteorologist explained the cause for what appears to be a new feature of tropical depressions. He attributed this apparently novel behavior of hurricanes to ocean warming. The warm waters, he said picturesquely, act like steroids for the hurricanes.

Reviewing the damage wrought by the last typhoon to hit, President Marcos asked no one in particular whether this rapidly escalating storm was due to climate change. The meteorologists answer that query: Yes!

The seas around our archipelago are getting warmer, threatening our corals and very likely our fish stock. Soon we might need to import our fish from cooler waters in the north.

Not only that, the last report says our seas are rising three times the global average. This multiplies the possibility of bigger storm surges when major typhoons hit.

In a word, severe weather events will likely become even more severe. There is no indication greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere have declined. The planet is nearing tipping point.

Over the past few years, building resilience became a frequently occurring word in our bureaucratic language. There is a lengthening list of public works projects justified by the need to build resilience. The other day, the militant lawmakers grabbed enough media time by demanding a law that requires local governments to build permanent evacuation centers.

In the name of building resilience, we have become an “Ayuda Republic.” There are direct subsidies to be had for every imaginable reason: victims of calamities certainly, but also subsidies for public transport to afford fuel, subsidies for students to afford school, free bus rides and discounts for the elderly. Local governments, soon to have their share of the budget boosted, are offering all sorts of emergency employment to clean the streets. There are monetary rewards for centenarians, an incentive for everyone to try and live forever.

Being a senior citizen, I enjoy the discounts for the food I eat and the medicines I take. But the enjoyment is mitigated by the thought that these discounts are possible only through cross-subsidies. Young people who are starting their lives have to pay more so that old people who might have more in life could pay less.

The so-called progressives want a longer list of “ayuda” beneficiaries. They want subsidies for single parents and possibly for health workers. They seem to think government has inexhaustible funding for all imaginable dole-outs.

At any rate, we seem to be in a race with the devastating consequences of climate change. The storms will become fiercer and many of our coastal settlements will become more vulnerable. “Ayuda” will not save us.

As a country, we contribute only 0.3 percent of total global emissions. We can tighten regulations even further and try not to exhale. But the fact remains to be that all our efforts will not matter much in reversing global warming.

We have to fight for climate justice with the richest and most powerful countries of the world. Saving the planet should be a shared responsibility.

Energy backbone

Nevertheless, all our efforts at building resilience appear to have delivered results.

Powerful typhoons, like the last one that cut through Central Luzon, took a bigger toll in casualties and infrastructure in the past. This time, the death toll is reported at 11, including those five brave rescuers who drowned on their way to save submerged villagers.

In the past, a typhoon of this intensity normally tore down our energy backbone, causing power outages that lasted many days. The outages magnified the damage to the economy that natural calamities bring. Supply chains are disrupted and workers are kept out of their work.

Our energy backbone held strong the last weekend while most of us huddled at home. There were few areas in Rizal and Bulacan that lost their power supply because the storm took down electric posts. But they were restored immediately, even as the winds lashed. In the Mega Manila area, power was uninterrupted.

This means a lot for the economy. The Mega Manila area is the core of our national economy, the center of gravity of our GDP. It means a lot that the power stayed on.

Credit will have to be given to Meralco, the power distribution utility. Ahead of the storm, they had their crews pre-positioned. Their teams were ready to tackle any transformer that conked out or any electric post that might be felled by the strong winds. Over the past years, the old wooden poles have been replaced by sturdier concrete posts.

Meralco spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga was all over the place. He seemed omnipresent in all the media channels, reassuring consumers that distribution system was intact and power supply was continuously available. Seeing Joe’s face on television was never as comforting.

There is much others can learn from Meralco about building back better. In many areas, especially in newly built communities, the power lines have been relocated underground and safe from the howling winds. It will, of course, cost a lot to bury the power lines in old communities such as the City of Manila where dangling wires have become iconic. But we should start getting there.

It feels like progress going through a typhoon without power outages.


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