Super Typhoon Haiyan: Realities of a Warmed World and Need for Immediate Climate Action

It is with a heavy heart and a respectful hand that I write this. Super Typhoon Haiyan has only just passed, and the devastation cannot yet even be fully understood. With that in mind, please consider a donation to the Philippine Red Cross.

But that will only aid those impacted by this storm. Not the next. Or the one after that.

Damage from Haiyan, Photo credit: Creative Commons, EU ECHO via Arlynn Aquino, 2013

This was the feeling captured by Yeb Saño, the Philippine’s lead negotiator to this year’s United Nations Climate Talks (COP). As he tearfully pleaded with the delegation gathered in Warsaw, Poland, he powerfully pressed them for action and challenged those who stand it its way. He dared those still unconvinced by the need for climate action to do a little sightseeing, and take in the impacts of rising sea levels as they surge inland in front of storms, of melting glaciers as they flood the land they once nourished, of drought-induced famine as it destabilizes weak nations and of unprecedented hurricanes and typhoons that have pounded the U.S. and Asia alike.

For now, super storms are still rare. However, models suggest more frequent and intense storms in a warmed world. A number of scientists suspect that certain recent storms like Sandy and Haiyan exhibited characteristics outside the range of natural variation.

Although exact measurements are hard to come by (there were no flights in the Western Pacific to provide direct measurements) satellite images along with readings of ocean heat seem to suggest that Haiyan was an unnaturally powerful storm. The science is hinting that this storm may not have been so catastrophic in a world without warming.

The unusually deep, unusually warm pool of water that provided the initial fuel is unlikely to have existed in a world without warming. Global warming-induced sea level rise contributed to the 20-foot storm surges that caught victims off guard, much as it contributed to Sandy’s record 13-foot coastal surge that flooded substantial sections of New York and New Jersey. These events would not have been as severe in a world without warming.

But herein lies the crux—we no longer live in a world without warming. Given that 1985 was the last year with temperatures below the 20th century average, and 2000-2010 was the hottest decade on record, it has become impossible to say for certain that any given storm is free from the influence of our warmed world.

While contrarians may dislike it when activists or actors like George Clooney point out the linkage between climate change and extreme weather, the bottom line is this: climate change makes tropical storms more damaging. Not only through increased wind speed and rainfall, but most notably through rising sea levels. This means greater damage and loss of property and life.

There are those who suggest that it would be easier to simply retreat from the coasts that get battered by these storms. But I imagine many people would agree with Yeb Saño, who said:

"We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons are a way of life, because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life. We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, become a way of life. We simply refuse to."

Let that call echo, and be heard in response to those who would insist on waiting for the next storm to take action.


Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University and author of "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars", now out in paperback with a foreword by Bill Nye "The Science Guy."

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic. 

Show Comments ()
glasseyes view / Flickr

Global Carbon Emissions Rise for First Time Since 2014

Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy increased for the first time in 2017 after three years of remaining flat, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Thursday, meaning the world remains far off course in curbing planet warming emissions.

Carbon emissions reached a record-high of 32.5 gigatonnes in 2017 due to global economic growth and increased energy demands that was met mostly by fossil fuels. As the Financial Times noted, that growth—an increase of 460 million tonnes—is the equivalent to the emissions of an additional 170 million cars.

Keep reading... Show less
A fire broke out at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California in 2012. Pascal POGGI / Flickr

Chevron Presents on Climate Science While Oil Companies Move to Dismiss Landmark Case

This was a big week for the suit brought by San Francisco and Oakland against the five largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies for the costs associated with adapting to climate change.

First, the five companies in question—Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell—filed a motion Tuesday to dismiss the case, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had dismissed similar cases in the past because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, not private companies, is responsible for setting and enforcing carbon dioxide levels, Forbes reported.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump Administration Offers 77 Million Acres in Gulf of Mexico to Oil Industry

The Trump administration is holding the biggest offshore oil and gas lease auction in U.S. history Wednesday, offering all 77 million acres of unleased, available federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

The sale comes as administration officials seek to rescind drilling safety rules approved after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, reduce royalties paid by oil companies, and expand offshore drilling into every ocean in the country.

Keep reading... Show less
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt. Mitchell Resnick

Pruitt to Restrict Use of Scientific Data in EPA Policymaking

In the coming weeks, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is expected to announce a proposal that would limit the type of scientific studies and data the agency can use in crafting public health and environmental regulations.

The planned policy shift, first reported by E&E News, would require the EPA to only use scientific findings whose data and methodologies are made public and can be replicated.

Keep reading... Show less
Mity / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

20% of U.S. Diets Responsible for Almost Half of Country’s Food-Related Emissions, Study Finds

If you've been deliberating about going vegetarian, a study published Tuesday in Environmental Letters might give you the final push.

Keep reading... Show less
Sea Shepherd small boat assists the Liberian Coast Guard to chase down the F/V Hai Lung. Sea Shepherd

Notorious Toothfish Poacher Arrested by Liberian Coast Guard, Assisted by Sea Shepherd

A notorious Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish poaching vessel, famous for plundering the Antarctic, was arrested on March 13 in waters belonging to the West African state of Liberia by the Liberian Coast Guard, with assistance from the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.

The F/V Hai Lung, known to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) by its previous name "Kily," was transiting through Liberian waters when it was boarded and inspected by a Liberian Coast Guard team working alongside Sea Shepherd crew on board Sea Shepherd's patrol vessel M/Y Sam Simon.

Keep reading... Show less

7 Must-See Films at the 42nd Cleveland International Film Fest

It's that time, again!

EcoWatch is proud to be a media partner of the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF), now celebrating its 42nd year. This year, EcoWatch is honored to be sponsoring Anote's Ark. This documentary spotlights Kiribati, a small remote island facing devastating effects due to climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: 'We have approved Bayer's plans to take over Monsanto because the parties' remedies, worth well over €6 billion, meet our competition concerns in full.' EU Commission Twitter

EU Approves Controversial Bayer-Monsanto Merger

The European Union approved Bayer's takeover of Monsanto, a major hurdle in the $66 billion merger that would create the world's largest integrated seed and pesticide conglomerate.

The European Commission said the German chemical-maker's takeover of the St. Louis-based agribusiness giant is "conditional on an extensive remedy package, which addresses the parties' overlaps in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture."

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!