The literary arts have long romanticised the beauty and splendour of nature’s most valuable gifts: cherry blossoms blooming with pink hue, soothing aroma of rain, cool ocean breeze, and so on and forth. But, literary praises like these are at risk of running dry.
Today we hear tales of climate change that constantly seem to point us to a dark and menacing future. Average global temperatures are rising. This year, Nawabshah, a district of Sindh province, witnessed the hottest temperature ever recorded in the month of April anywhere in the world. Lengthy heat waves continue to make startling headlines every summer and they are always accompanied by accounts of droughts and erratic weather patterns. Extreme weather events have become a global occurrence and experts agree that global warming is partially responsible for nature’s berserk behaviour.
Climate change affects some countries more than others. The Global Climate Risk Index (2018) by Germanwatch places Pakistan on 7th position on the list of countries most impacted by climate change. The biggest threat comes in form of dwindling agricultural output. 25 per cent of Pakistan’s GDP (gross domestic product) is tied to the agriculture sector. Compare this to China and India where the counterpart figure is 8 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. This reflects Pakistan’s high dependence on agriculture. Moreover, 42 per cent of the nation’s labour force is employed in the agriculture sector.
“Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to climate change because it generally has a warm climate and lies in a geographical region where the temperature increases are expected to be higher than the global average,” Dr Abid Niaz, Convener, Climate Change Research Center, Ayub Agricultural Research Institute (AARI), Faisalabad, told TNS. He further added that severe climatic variations are leading to uncertainties in existing agricultural production systems in Pakistan.
Continued adversity in the climate will further add to the food insecurity situation and cripple the nation’s economy. All these challenges call for an unprecedented effort to tackle climate change. To some extent the damage done to nature is irreversible but we can change the future trajectory of climate change through knowledge intervention.
Schools and universities remain as the chief institutes of change. Schools can support a nation’s effort to raise environmentalists to cope with climate change. Dr. Muhammad Tariq, Director of Barani Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Chakwal, believes that creating awareness about climate change is the first step in realising this goal. “Schools and universities should provide education about conserving the environment. This should become a part of their curriculum,” Dr Tariq told TNS. “Institutes of higher education should develop strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
Academic institutes can actively contribute in this respect by developing programmes to harvest rain water, carrying out tree plantation drives, developing recycling stations, saving electricity through renewable energy, and so on. According to Dr Tariq such efforts should always be “interactive” by which he means that schools should involve all stakeholders including students, teachers, researchers, and the community at large.
“It is only recently that academic institutes have started to realise the importance of doing something positive for the environment,” Mudasar Abbas, Director Agricultural Information, Agriculture Department, government of Punjab, told TNS. “Universities, especially those offering agricultural studies, should play an active role in helping the country to cope with climate change. Research should be their primary focus.”
Namal College, which was established in 2008 by Imran Khan, is one of the few institutes in Pakistan which is taking active steps to deal with climate change. Recently it held a tree plantation drive whereby more than 1,000 olive trees were planted on its premises. There are plans to turn 1,000 acres of land, currently owned by Namal, into a bustling “knowledge city” which will be encapsulated in lush green forest. The college, with help of students and local community, is also introducing initiatives to harvest solar energy in its effort to become a self-sustaining campus.
Many institutes like Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and University of Central Punjab (UCP) have already installed solar power plants on their premises. Other institutes can follow this example and minimise their carbon footprint. An educational institute’s stance on conservation will eventually be inherited by students and this will eventually lead to a change in habits of a wider population.
Colleges and universities offering agricultural research and studies can offer promising solutions to combat the dreadful effects of climate change. According to Dr Inam-ur-Rahim, Chief Executive Officer, Foundation for Research & Socio-Ecological Harmony, research on causes and possible ecological and economic implications of climate change have remained under focus in Pakistan during the last two decades. The Foundation, in partnership with University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS), Lahore is researching on solutions for adapting to climate change.
“Our key areas of research include disaster prone areas like Karakorum mountain range, flood prone areas, and drylands. The principle economic and resource use activity in these zones is livestock production and herding,” said Dr Inam-ur-Rahim. “For example the communities in mountain areas have changed their pasture occupation duration and pattern due to drying springs, shrinking permanent snow zones and degradation of low elevation rangelands as a result of climate change.”
Maybe knowledge is the most powerful tool at our disposal to fight climate change. Both schools and universities around Pakistan are slowly embracing the idea of addressing this issue and taking it head-on. Schools can provide awareness at basic level and help develop consumption habits that conserve nature. Universities have a bigger role to play. They can be a hub of research and “ecopreneurship” (environmental entrepreneurship) to harvest new solutions and help mitigate the effects of climate change. To truly win as a nation, we must all become environmentalists.