Beyond Heat Stroke Breaks

by Juan L. Mercado

‘”Heat stroke break” is shorthand for daily 30-minute “time-outs” that Metropolitan Manila Development Authority authorized Monday. Blistered by the sun, traffic cops to street sweepers may dash for the shade in  shift. 

Temperature peaked at 35.2 degrees celsius on April 3. That’s no “heat wave” — yet, Pagasa says. To qualify, temperature should  ratchet “3 degrees higher than average for 3 consecutive days.”

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

Will others follow  suit?  Despite brief showers, the mercury won’t ebb soon. Peak of summer comes last week of April.  And while clouds form mid-May, rains fall towards 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 Benigno  Aquino groused during the Team PNoy rally at Burnham Park.  “You  knew  you’ re near [Baguio] when you smelt  the pine trees. Mountains were full of flowers…” That’s past tense.

Half a  world  away from  Baguio, former World Bank chief economist Nicolas Stern an told International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington of “climate change way outside human experience.”

Effects of climate change were unreeling   faster than he forecast  in 2006, he admitted.. Without radical changes, the world “has roughly a 50 percent chance that temperatures will soar to five degrees celsius  above pre-industrial 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 sea level rise of  two meters, a couple of hundred million people would have to move.”

Rising sea levels could uproot  13.6 million Filipinos levels in 2050, Asian Development Bank estimates. in it’s  study: “Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific.”  We   ranked  fifth globally in  “ number of  individuals” :that’d  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 , 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 Aquino’s  Baguio  and 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  in a   $9.2 million project. For what? 

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

Antarctic ice shelf remained relatively stable despite having lost ice in recent decades. Under the current  warming rates,  how  long  will  theRoss  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  are scary  too. They  could shrink by a quarter as their metabolic rates alter in warmer seas,  says Dr Walter Cheung of 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% for every 1C increase in night-time temperature,” BBC’s  environment reporter Richard Black wrote  earlier. Can we reach rice self sufficiency, stop costly imports and  sustain  first promising  exports of  “fancy”  rice?

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

“All  over  Asia, rice  yields  rose  as farming methods improved”, a  National Academy of Sciences  journal reports  “:But  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 said.

Will  today blistering summers  becoming routine for our grandchildren?  And what  will  they do to their  food shelves?  That  underpins  those ‘”heat  stroke breaks”.


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