Just in time for the UN climate change treaty in Warsaw, typhoon Haiyan came crashing down on the Philippines, killing 10,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands without homes.
Some at the treaty blamed climate change. Olai Ngedikes, head negotiator of a group of island nations, said, “The tragic aftermath of Supertyphoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms in history, serves as a stark reminder of the cost of inaction on climate change and should serve to motivate our work in Warsaw.”
The supertyphoon certainly had uncanny timing, coinciding with the treaty as though Mother Nature somehow planned it that way. And perhaps this timing will help the world take climate change more seriously, and take bigger steps to preserve the environment that keeps us all alive and fed.
But it’s also important not to jump the gun. Although climate change will almost certainly create larger storms in the future, we can’t pin it as the culprit for isolated storms quite yet. And if we make speculations without proof, we just give climate-change deniers more ammunition.
Like Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote for Scientific American, “It’s complicated. Climate scientists are very hesitant to blame a single event on global warming.”
So while we shouldn’t gloss over the possibility that global warming contributed to those 10,000 deaths, we should also know beyond a reasonable doubt before we convict climate change for this particular tragedy.
What we should do is take a lesson from this supertyphoon, as it gives us a glimpse of the devastation that just one storm can wreak. Even if it wasn’t caused by escalating temperatures, similar storms are very likely to happen in the future if we don’t get our act together. So Warsaw, bring on the solutions.