Editorial

An athlete on steroids

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Just reading the recorded temperatures is enough to raise one’s blood pressure. Even for this time of the year, after all, the figures are alarming: Pagasa recorded last April 5 the highest temperature thus far in Metro Manila for 2013—a sizzling 35.4 degrees Celsius.

The scalding truth is that it threatens to go higher, and the Department of Health has seen fit to issue a warning on the possibility of heat strokes. Throughout April, the mercury has hovered around 35 degrees, almost matching the highest on April 10, when Pagasa recorded it at 35.3 C. It seems infernal all over the metropolis, and the heat and the traffic (caused or compounded by various election campaign activities) bid well to result in cases of road rage.

The suffering is also felt in other parts of the country. A councilor in Camarines Sur and the mayor of Donsol, Sorsogon, simply keeled over and expired from the extreme heat. It was worse in Tuguegarao City in Cagayan Valley, where Pagasa recorded the highest temperature so far for 2013 in the entire country: 37 C last April 2. An area accustomed to dizzying heat, Tuguegarao has the distinction of stewing in the hottest temperature on record in the country: 42.2 C, last felt in 1969. It is not unthinkable that 2013 may even top those numbers (even if for now the tail end of a cold front is prevailing over extreme Northern Luzon). “We expect to hit 40 degrees this year, based on the readings we have gathered so far,” said Leo Buñag, officer in charge of the Pagasa regional services division for Northern Luzon. Pagasa has predicted temperatures as high as 34 C for the Visayas and 32 C for Mindanao.

While the Philippines has been enduring maddeningly warm weather even for Southeast Asia, the rest of the world has seen the other extreme. In March, late-winter snowstorms ravaged northwestern Europe and knocked out power lines, disrupted rail service, stranded motorists by the hundreds, and cancelled hundreds of flights everywhere from France to the Netherlands. North America was not spared, with the United States and Canada walloped by a huge blizzard in February. Australia withstood its hottest summer on record. The Climate Commission observed that “the Australian summer over 2012 and 2013 has been defined by extreme weather events across much of the continent, including record-breaking heat, severe bush fires, extreme rainfall and damaging flooding.”

Like an athlete on steroids—“the same thing is happening with our climate system,” said Climate Commission chief Tim Flannery in the course of echoing worldwide concerns that global warming and climate change are behind the strange weather. “And we’re seeing the actual costs now of inaction, of global inaction, to deal with this problem,” he said. United Nations scientists have been warning since 2012 that sea levels are rising 60 percent faster than initially forecast.

Out here, ordinary Filipinos try to cope as best they can, including taking a dip in the dangerously dirty waters of Manila Bay. That a ban on swimming in the bay has been imposed by the City of Manila for health reasons is apparently of no moment to those grimly determined to cool off in some way. The activity continues despite the presence of Manila police teams and the efforts of the Department of Social Welfare and Development to pick up children caught in the act.

Occasionally, the government makes commendable moves, such as the directive of Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino requiring outdoor personnel like traffic constables and street sweepers to take 30-minute “heat stroke breaks” in the afternoon to avoid overexposure to the murderous sun. This is wise advice to everyone, pedestrians and motorists alike. Pagasa forecaster Ricky Fabregas has also helpfully reminded the general public to bring water and umbrellas when going outdoors to prevent dehydration. “Better yet,” he said, “if you have no business to be out, stay home.” (As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.)

Judging by the crazy weather, the worst is yet to come, with global warming in full gallop. As we swelter, ancient sheets of ice are melting at an unprecedented rate. Humankind is now faced with the daily task of surviving extreme temperatures. It’s now reaping the whirlwind.

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