To the 64-year old Munawar Jafri, an ex-army officer, the one word that instantly comes to mind when he hears the term climate change is “pollution”. Ali Rind, editor of a popular Sindhi fortnightly, Affair, equates it to “unbearable heat” and cultural critic, Shaila Andrabi, can only think of “plastic bottles… mountains of them and plastic bags flying everywhere”.
Novelist Maniza Naqvi, however, becomes all poetic with her explanation. “The earth heating up steadily much like a fevered body, drying out, organs failing and sporadically shivering in a false sense of cooling,” she says.
What was once a topic (still not fully understood) discussed by scientists till it became a favourite among government organisations, today the collision course between human beings and the natural world is on every human being’s mind.
Peshawar-based photographer, Shabbir Hussain Imam is worried it will result in low agricultural productivity and Zarmina Bakhtiar Khan for deforestation.
True, the man on the street may not know the science of it well, may not even know the difference between weather (the short-term behaviour of the atmosphere) and climate (the broader system in which weather happens), but most are clear and acknowledge that the shifty weather is ripping through their daily lives. The hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts, heatwaves and the epidemics of diseases they had never heard of till a decade ago, have spared no one.
But unlike the United States President, Donald Trump, who never gets enough of saying he does not believe in climate change or the “man-made global warming”, there is reason enough for most Pakistanis today to agree that humans are complicit in the demise of the planet, through “prolonged misuse of earth’s resources” as Iram Ansari, a Lahore-based teacher puts it.
Read also: A matter of policy
Writer and journalist, Bisma Tirmizi, emphasises, “Nature is saying: ‘No Means No!’” to which Syed Javed Sadiq, a public affairs specialist warns the “indifference of humans” will turn nature’s blessings into “lessenings” if we don’t heed.
Earlier this month, 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a dire second warning to humanity that unless we mend our ways, we “will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know”. Twenty-five years ago they had given the first warning.
Reams upon reams of scientific research followed by international meetings (including the recently concluded COP23 in Bonn) points to emission of huge amounts of carbon dioxide — that comes out from vehicles, from coal-powered power plants, industries — destroying the climate of planet Earth. They warn that unless we eliminate fossil fuels from our lives, we will face dire consequences.
Rashida Dohad, executive director, Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, finds it unfortunate how “human greed is gnawing at nature’s intrinsic balance.”
“I hate the term!” points out Rabia Ezdi vehemently. An associate professor at the department of architecture at the National College of Arts in Lahore, she explains the reason for her repugnance, “It takes away attention from the root of the environmental crisis being a human-induced thing, and makes it sound like it all just boils down to this uncontrollable thing descending from the heavens and causing a change in climate!”
“It [the earth] is sick because of what we’ve done,” says novelist Naqvi, adding, “If there is one thing that we can do to slow things down is to stop using cars, air conditioners, planes and grow our own food and plant trees.”
And if she had any control over policy in Pakistan, she would “ban production of low-cost high fuel emission cars” and focus on clean energy. “We don’t need more cars and overheads and underpasses, we need a clean energy smart mass transit system,” she says. “I would absolutely ban golf courses, place a prohibitive tax on individual household swimming pools, all new housing construction would need to have solar and wind energy provisions and old buildings would need to be retrofitted.”
As an afterthought, she adds: “I’d also make plastic bottles prohibitive by taxing the source heavily.”
Ezdi is all for an integrated public transport system and an “extremely pedestrian friendly city, where the city is designed for walking, as opposed to the current practice of creating zero cross-ability on foot by turning roads into signal-free corridors and relegating pedestrians to pedestrian bridges and broken or non-existent footpaths”. In addition, she is all for planting native trees throughout urban centres as they act as natural carbon sinks.
But not all of it is greed and callousness. According to environmental activist, Tofiq Pasha Mooraj, the change that should have happened over thousands of years has taken place in an accelerated pace is due to the population explosion. “This is our greatest challenge,” he says. “Because if we continue with the population growth trajectory, so will our consumption and need for energy.”
In the last 25 years since the world’s scientists gave their first notice in 1992, the world’s population has grown from 5.5 billion to 7.6 billion. During the same period, the populations of every other mammal, reptile, amphibian, and fish have declined by almost 30 per cent.
Nearly 300 million acres of forest have been cut down to make way for humans and the percentage of fresh water available per person has decreased by 26 per cent. At the same time CO2 emissions have increased by 62 per cent.
Now that science has settled that we are the ones destroying the planet, it is time we shed off the air of indifference and bother about the prospect of the planetary calamity. We need to understand the connection between melting of Polar ice caps to rising sea levels and the submerging of Pacific islands and even closer home, in the Indus Delta.
There is time still to be smarter and be part of those who are advocating for renewable energy and opposing fossil fuel. We have to start from within ourselves and make difficult lifestyle change decisions of eliminating use of plastic from their daily lives, recycle and reuse more, remember to turn off the tap when brushing our teeth or use water more judiciously when taking a shower. At the same time, we need to support those advocating for women’s reproductive rights and health and support contraception and birth spacing.