Global HotSpots, Richter Scale

Climate Change as Terrorism Against the People

In view of the typhoon in the Philippines, has the United States misplaced its global priorities?

Super-Typhoon Haiyan crossing the Philippines, November 8, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

Takeaways


  • From the vantage point of Filipinos and many poor people around the world, #climate change is terrorism on them.
  • Why is there still no domestic consensus in the United States that there is such a thing as climate change?
  • Climate change is a far bigger threat to people’s physical safety than all the things the US is trying to sell them.
  • Americans asking why the Philippines were so unprepared for disaster relief must have forgotten New Orleans.
  • We need a very real debate about the constant militarization of U.S. foreign policy.
  • Clearly, the West can't do it all. We need to have more of a regionalization of these efforts.
  • Asian countries need to invest in infrastructure to be better prepared for disasters for their very own sake.

As part of the pivot to Asia, the U.S. government has ramped up its counterterrorism cooperation with the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere. This has, understandably, sparked debate there over the wisdom of increased U.S. military presence.

But the bigger question from the perspective of Filipinos, in light of the natural disaster they have just experienced, is this: Why is it that the United States still doesn’t have a domestic consensus that there is such a thing as climate change? When we talk about a global community, we at least ought to be able to start with that item at the top of the agenda.

The vantage point of Filipinos

For Filipinos and many poor people around the world, climate change, in effect, is terrorism conducted on them. And that is a far bigger threat to people’s livelihood and physical safety than all the things the United States is trying to sell them in order to have its troops’ forward positioned in the Philippines.

The United States, notwithstanding its recent rescue missions in the disaster area, hasn’t put enough emphasis on fighting climate change, despite its extensive security implications. The U.S. may have the world’s largest military, but it is this question that it will be faced with time and again. Is the world’s mightiest country going after the right issue at the top of the global pecking order?

The typhoon in the Philippines is a useful reminder that we need to think more about what can be done, both on climate mitigation and on disaster preparation.

U.S. perspectives

The U.S. reaction to the situation in the Philippines was curious. A lot of room was given to asking why the Philippines were so unprepared. Why indeed? It is a very poor country.

Americans starting to lecture about doing disaster relief leaves a sour taste in other peoples’ mouth. Few outside the United States have forgotten the lack of U.S. preparedness in New Orleans.

Another instinctive reaction is to point to China. Sure, it hasn’t helped enough – and, yes, China has higher CO2 emissions than the United States, but it is the latter that is supposed to be the advanced and responsible power.

China also comes in for quick criticism that, if and when it engages, it acts in quite a self-interested manner in global infrastructure projects in places like sub-Saharan Africa.

True, but it also gets the job done. The Chinese bring in their workers and get it done quickly. Too often, when one looks at those areas, Western powers for centuries have promised to do infrastructure and they haven’t exactly delivered. So the Chinese can hold that in their favor.

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Beware the constant militarization

But the more important point in the global context is that we need a very real debate about the constant militarization of U.S. foreign policy. That taking this approach simply “sells” better in Congress compared to more soft-power infrastructure projects certainly isn’t good enough a reason. Neither is the fact that this approach allows some folks in D.C. to pay for ever-larger villas in the suburbs.

What needs to be addressed in this context is that there are many people in the Washington establishment who have strong incentives to ensure the United States takes a more aggressive posture in the Pacific, whether through lobbying fees or pricey defense appropriations.

The return on these “investments,” while high for a few Washington insiders, is actually much lower than on building better highways and seawalls, which benefit everyone.

But while it would be a positive step for the United States to invest more in long-term development projects to aid emergency preparedness, there are other means to achieve the same ends.

Asia investing in its own future

In Asia, for example, there is the Asian Development Bank, suitably enough based in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. What better tool is there than to take out long-term loans — on behalf of all the poor countries backed by the credit rating of the ADB – so that these countries can invest in being better prepared for the next climate event?

Clearly, the West can’t do it all. We need to have more of a regionalization of these efforts. And these countries – independent of the discussion about who’s at fault for climate change – need to be prepared for their own sake.

Either way, the investment in infrastructure also makes commerce easier, allowing countries to grow their national economies and promote tourism. So it’s an investment in their own future and they need to do that.

Individual countries can’t shoulder that burden alone. The Philippines remains a very poor country. President Benigno Aquino III has been doing quite well on fighting corruption and the economy has been growing a little bit faster than in the past.

But the Philippines would probably need to have 20 years of solid economic growth before they could be adequately prepared on key emergency preparedness infrastructure in their own right.

Editor’s note: This essay is based on Stephan Richter’s comments during the November 15, 2013 broadcast of the Diane Rehm Show.

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About Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist.

  • Richard Straub

    Sorry dear Stephan Richter – you jump to conclusion that are too simplistic. To link the Typhoon to climate change is not based on sound scientific judgement. The Typhoon seems to be instrumentalized by the climate change lobby as a welcome straw for their lost cause. This does not mean to deny climate change as such – but what has happened so far driven by opinions, political interests, power games and religious fervour has caused more harm than good. If you take a serious look at the German Energiewende you will understand what I mean. Policies with the firm intention to do good have ended up in increasing the CO2 levels and pushed many into energy percarity. Well, it is easy to have high flying slogans – but it is difficult to get to a rational definition of the world’s priorities (beyond the current group think) and to address those in a way that is adequate for today’s complex world.

  • 20eric

    Richard Str
    Sorry dear Stephan Richter – you jump to conclusion that are too simplistic.
    Me thinks that Richard Str jumps to conclusion, not Stephan Richter. Almost all Climate scientists agree that climate change takes place and we can see the effects not only in that immense and never before experienced typhon in the Phillipines, but in many places. Germany shut its nucler power station down because it does not want to risk a Fukoshima, of which the cost in human lives/radiation sickness, contaminated land and sea, has yet to be seen. Climate change was secondary. The only thing simplistic/stupid about anthropogenic climate change is our behaviour. We just don’t get it that our numbers and lifestyles are not sunstainable on planet with a very precariously balanced atmosphere.

  • Vincent Maldia

    france using 1980’s and
    1990’s technology currently only uses fossil fuels for 10% of its
    electricity. it is the environmentalists and their propaganda effect
    among the masses (ironically) who prevented the USA and other countries
    from following in france’s footsteps in reducing carbon emissions

    germany spent so much installing solar and wind. they now have
    extremely high power rates compared to france which has low rates. And
    even then the german output of greenhouse gases continues to rise. This
    is because unlike the german politicians, the german engineers are
    smart. They know that 100% renewable power sources is impossible to do with current tech since solar panels dont work at night and the wind doesnt always blow.
    So side by side with construction of renewable power plants they also
    build coal fired plants

  • Vincent Maldia

    shutting down germany’s power stations because of fukushima is like getting rid of all your boeing 777’s and airbus a380’s because the comet jetliner of the 1950’s was prone to crash. Fukushima was an obsolete model. Newer model reactors are much safer

  • Vincent Maldia

    the germans should have constructed thorium + renewables instead of coal +

    renewables

  • Richard Straub

    Enthusiasm alone is not sufficient – try to change our style of life in a short time and you will see the consequences. We are caught in a complex economic ans social ecosystem if we like it or not. Even if we would agree on a direction to change our energy systems it is very long term plan and needs intelligence and pragmatism – not the fanaticism that is currently shown by many do-gooders. Declarations don’t hep – sound and realistic approaches do. This is what is totally missing in the green movements and in the green-inspired German Energiewende.

  • Richard Straub

    This is my last comment on the Globalist – since Stephan Richter does not take the time to respond to any inputs he gets I wonder how this is compatible with online publication like his. It should be manageable though, since there are not tons of comments. Anyway – too many half baked thoughts that reflect the current group think of ideology inspired currents. The lack of realistic assessment was also demonstrated with the comment of Stephan in the FT about Angela Merkel’s likely coalition with the Greens.

  • Vincent Maldia

    3 M I was a success story. no one got killed or sick proving that even nuclear plants a decade or 2 more advanced than fukushima can safely contain a meltdown. newer plant designs are even safer

    and as for waste, new designs such as thorium and standing wave reactors championed by bill gates burn up spent fuel.

    i’m not sure if fukushima used the cheapest reactors of the time but for sure they used designs that were available at the time and those designs are old