Typhoon Haiyan Leads the Storm Arms Race

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of Typhoon Haiyan, Jim Pe, vice mayor of the town of Coron on Basuang, said the 150-plus miles-per-hour winds were “like a 747 flying just above my roof.” Or as Alan Boyle reports for NBC News:

Experts say Typhoon Haiyan was about as strong as it could theoretically get when it swept through the Philippines. … If the higher estimates are correct, the warning center said Haiyan’s maximum strength would exceed that of its previous record-holder: Hurricane Camille, which hit the northern Gulf Coast in 1969 with sustained winds of 190 mph. [But] climate models suggest they will keep rising over the decades to come, with the potential for bigger and more devastating storms.

“Geography, meteorology, poverty, shoddy construction, a booming population,” play key roles. But, as Walden Bello writes in his new FPIF column:

The message that Nature was sending via Yolanda [aka Haiyan]–which packed winds stronger than Superstorm Sandy, which hit New Jersey and New York last October, and Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005–was especially meant for the governments of the world that are assembling in Warsaw for the annual global climate change negotiations (COP 19) scheduled to begin on November 11.

“Is it a coincidence,” Bello asks, “that both Pablo and Yolanda arrived at the time of the global climate negotiations? Pablo smashed into Mindanao during the last stages of [COP 18] in Doha last year.”

Yes, considerate of the storms to arrive at the end and beginning of climate change conferences. Why [if you’ll excuse a moment of levity at a time like this], it’s like a cry for help, as if the storms want to be restrained from hurting us.

In any event, storms need a disarmament treaty of the kind that can begin to be hammered out at COP 19. Speaking dispassionately, they have just become too expensive. At Bloomberg, Karl Lester M. Yap explains.

The Asian Development Bank estimates losses from typhoons to earthquakes [in the Philippines alone] average $1.6 billion annually. … Haiyan’s total economic impact may reach $14 billion, about $2 billion of which will be insured, according to a report by Jonathan Adams, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Industries, citing Kinetic Analysis Corp.

In today’s world, storms, like nuclear-weapons programs, bust the budget and must be scaled down. As it stands now, a typhoon like Haiyan resembles a small nuclear exchange in intensity. Even beyond reducing poverty, bringing construction up to code, and attempting to resettle those living in high-risk areas, we need a wholesale reduction in the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere.