Population affects climate change too

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By Trish Vega

When we think of climate change, scenes from movies like The Day After Tomorrow come to mind. But why does WWF-Philippines CEO Lory Tan think of climate change as a disease, and what does population have to do with it?

When people think of the impact of global warming and climate change, there is a tendency to visualize in terms of cataclysmic situations: sudden surges in sea levels, or extreme fluctuations in temperature – the stuff blockbuster Hollywood disaster movies are made of. While all these grim effects are indeed possible, what is overshadowed by these doomsday predictions is climate change’s long term impact on such mundane things as ATM withdrawals or making phone calls.

At the recent Dialogues @ Starbucks featuring climate change, WWF-Philippines CEO Lory Tan veers away from scientific discussion, focusing instead on the human face of climate change. “The greatest threat of climate change is not rising sea levels, but population movement,” he said, noting that – both locally and abroad – some of the most overcrowded urban areas are also the most prone to flooding. When the flood levels rise – as Metro Manila and Luzon experienced during typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng – residents find themselves displaced and move to less flood-prone areas. This leads to overcrowding in some areas, which are not equipped to handle the sudden influx of people; in the case of more permanent displacements, this entails a rethinking and rebuilding of infrastructure (banking systems, energy lines, etc.)

Tan likened climate change to lifestyle diseases like diabetes and rheumatism – ailments that are 1) exacerbated by excessive lifestyle choices; 2) manifest in sudden attacks amid a seemingly normal daily existence; and 3) manageable – if not totally curable – by change of habits and a conscious effort to live a healthier lifestyle. The climate change experienced today is the effect of decades of pollution, and will take decades more to reverse. The best course of action then is to adapt to climate change, while searching for its solution.

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Planning is key. But in the course of developing more environmentally-responsive urban areas, sustainable business practices, and conservation of natural resources and ecosystems, policymakers and government officials must take into consideration the growing population. Philippine population is estimated to reach 180 million by 2050. With the way natural resources are being misused in this country, having enough resources to support the existing population is already a problem. As such, population management becomes part of climate change adaptation practices and is a step towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

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