Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cyclone names and do we blame him/her?

I do believe that one of the main drawbacks of putting people's names on tropical cyclones is that we tend to put on human attributes on these natural phenomena. The practice of putting names on TCs started with an Australian meteorologist in the early 20th century who in true Aussie fashion, christened cyclones with the names of politicians. However long before that time especially in Spanish controlled territories, cyclones were given names based on the Roman Catholic calendar. In WWII it became practice to give cyclones feminine names partly it was believed by male meteorologists (whoever heard of a female meteorologist then?) the cyclone accurately depicts female behaviour! It was only in the 1979 when true gender equality came to the cyclone world. It was only in the 1990s that the Philippines followed suit. The new World Meteorological Organization (WMO) naming convention seems to be more gender neutral than before. But tradition is hard to dump. We tend to associate cyclones with females.

There is a need to give a cyclone a name to distinguish it from other cyclones. Also its serves as a historical record of how bad was the storm or if it had inflicted damage. Cyclone names that inflict much damage are retired from the list.

Today an editorial in the PDI says "All are to blame" This must be the blurb's way of closing the subject on Ondoy(Ketsana) and Pepeng (Parma) and moving on to other issues and on to Christmas. While blaming humans like us (the saints and the scumbag politicians, informal settlers, real estate developers, government bureaucrats etc in our species) is very reasonable (after all we do have free will!) the editorial falls flat on its face when it concludes

"We could go on and on, and perhaps make a list of 100 or 1,000 things that people do to degrade the environment. They forget that Nature is also governed by the physical law of action and reaction and the ethical law of karma. They should realize that in harming the Earth, they are also harming themselves, and worse, killing themselves."

Well nature is governed by physical laws that is sure, but nature governed by the "Ethical Law of Karma"?!?!?!? Perhaps the PDI editors have been confounded by the human names of our cyclones.

Nature has no will. It is coldly impersonal as Darwin reluctantly noted and Richard Dawkins' preaches.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer in the end blames nature. It is people that are governed by ethical principles.

1 comment:

Jesusa Bernardo said...

Nice overview of gender politics (or gender bias?) in cyclone naming!

Perhaps, the PDI editors got confused over the "ethical law of karma" point--probably just wanting to overemphasize the cause-effect relationship of human actions that degrade, or fail to consider, nature. My guess is that the editorial writer also has global warming in mind. I'll include failed urban planning in the cause-effect scenario.

Or is it a case of excessive editorial use of personification?