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Heat stroke breaks

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That’s shorthand for daily 30-minute “time-outs” that the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority authorized Monday. Blistered by the sun, traffic cops and street sweepers may dash for the shade in shifts.

The temperature peaked at 35.2 degrees Celsius on April 3. That’s no “heat wave”—yet, Pagasa says. To qualify, to make it a heat wave, the temperature should ratchet “3 degrees higher than average for 3 consecutive days.”

That technical hairsplitting meant nothing to an MMDA traffic cop who keeled over due to heat stroke. MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino vowed that he’d not abide a repeat. The US Marine Corps and Dubai use heat stroke breaks, he pointed out. The US Institute of Occupational Safety and Health studies document “occupational illnesses” stemming from sustained exposure to heat…

Will burgs clone the MMDA? Despite brief showers, the mercury won’t ebb anytime soon. The peak of summer comes in the last week of April. And while clouds form in mid-May, rains fall toward the end of that month. Knock on wood.

Tote an umbrella or cap when sallying forth, a Pagasa official suggests. “Five years ago, summer temperature ranged from 30 to 32 degrees Celsius. Because of global warming, summer is hotter every year.”

Baguio is no longer cool, President Aquino groused during the Team PNoy rally at Burnham Park. “You knew you’re near [Baguio] when you smelled the pine trees. The mountains were full of flowers…” That’s past tense.

Half a world away from Baguio, former World Bank chief economist Nicolas Stern told an International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington that today’s “climate change [is] way outside human experience.” He admitted that effects of global warming were unreeling faster than he forecast in 2006.

“Without radical changes, the world has roughly a 50-percent chance that temperatures will soar to five degrees Celsius above preindustrial averages in a century. We haven’t  seen that in about 30 million years…. When we were at three degrees Centigrade three million years ago, the sea levels were about 20-some meters (65 feet) above now. On a sea level rise of two meters, a couple of hundred million people would have to move.”

Rising sea levels can uproot 13.6 million Filipinos in 2050, the Asian Development Bank estimates. In its study, “Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific,” we ranked fifth globally in “number of individuals” that would be driven by rising seas.

Three typhoons in as many years lashed once-storm-free Mindanao. This lethal combo triggered coastal flooding. Most affected were communities, with surging populations, housed in low-lying coastal zones and eroding riverbanks.

Strengthen resiliency of local governments, the ADB urged. And “use migration as an adaptation tool rather than let it become an act of desperation.”

Set that in the context of a thawing western Siberia. An area about the size of France and Germany combined is melting for the first time since its formation 11,000 years ago. That could release billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’d be “a tipping point” that’d cause global warming to bolt, economist Stern said.

Half a world away from Mr. Aquino’s Baguio and the IMF’s Washington is arguably the coldest place on earth: Antarctica’s Roosevelt Island. For seven years now, University of Wellington scientists have been drilling there in a $9.2-million project. For what?

Ice cores, that’s what. “Each [core] is slightly longer than a baseball bat.” They record sediment that formed thousands of years back. “The ice records our climate’s past and could point to its future.”

The Antarctic ice shelf remained relatively stable despite having lost ice in recent decades. Under the current warming rates, how long will the Ross Ice Shelf hold before crumbling into fragments?

“West Antarctica holds enough ice to raise sea levels by between two meters (6.5 feet) and six meters (20 feet) if significant parts of it were to collapse,” said Nancy Bertler of the Antarctic Research Center. “From a scientific point of view, that’s really exciting. From a personal point of view, that’s really scary.”

Fish sizes could be scary. They could shrink by a quarter as their metabolic rates alter in warmer seas, says Dr. Walter Cheung of the University of British Columbia. “Most fish populations will edge towards cooler earth’s poles, probably at 36 kilometers per decade”—leaving Filipino fishermen with empty nets.

“In the Philippines, rice yields slumped by 10 percent for every 1C increase in night-time temperature,” BBC’s environment reporter Richard Black wrote earlier. Can we reach rice self sufficiency, stop costly cereal imports, and sustain first promising exports of “fancy” rice?

Valued at $100,000, this rice was shipped to Hong Kong, Dubai and the United States “as a long-term entry tool to global trade,” explained Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala. Exports of Mountain Province upland varieties are planned in September-October.

“All over Asia, rice yields rose as farming methods improved,” a National Academy of Sciences journal reports. “But the rate of growth slowed as nights have grown warmer.” Indeed, temperature increases more than 3C are stressful to all crops assessed and to all regions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cautioned.

Will blistering summers become routine for our grandchildren? And what will these do to their food shelves and lives? That issue festers in those “heat stroke breaks.”

(E-mail: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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