Decision-making is usually based on cost-benefit analysis. It gets a little more complicated when costs incurred today are expected to yield benefits in the future. Often, despite proof that it would be preferable to bear the cost for the sake of huge returns in the future, people are unable to make that decision.
That last cookie in the jar is just too tempting to be given up for the sake of a diet that will not yield visible results for weeks. The instant gratification of inhaling cigarette smoke is too desirable to be skipped in favour of avoiding lung cancer 20 years from now.
Conversations related to climate change are a good place to observe this facet of human nature. Overwhelming evidence proves that climate change is not just some dystopian vision of the future created by gloomy scientists; it is an ongoing worldwide event whose effects will only get worse with time. The earth’s temperature is expected to rise by four to six degrees by the end of the century if carbon emissions are not reduced further, and extreme weather events are becoming more and more common.
Yet at this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, which is being held in Doha, Qatar (November 26 to December 7), little is expected to be achieved in the way of any treaties being signed to redouble global efforts in combating climate change. The Kyoto Protocol is nearing its end and many of the countries that participated in it appear reluctant to sign on for something similar perhaps because it has had very little effect in reducing global carbon emissions.
Unless the countries attending this year’s conference manage to come up with a framework for a second treaty that has a wider scope, the fight against climate change will face a huge setback. The global community will become even more fragmented on this thorny issue with every country doing as it pleases. Even now many countries, including Qatar, are unwilling to act responsibly and bear the costs that would ensure more environmentally friendly practices.
One of the reasons that talks on climate change often stall is the growing difficulty of reaching consensus between developed nations that call for more stringent measures and developing nations, which cite their lack of resources as a reason for being unable to comply with such measures.
The argument goes that since developed nations are the ones whose excessive fuel consumption has landed us in this mess in the first place, they should not critique or place restrictions against the practices being employed by their poorer counterparts.
Meanwhile, as the global community continues to squabble, more bad news about the health of our planet continues to roll in. A recently published study brings to light the unprecedented damage that has been inflicted upon the polar ice caps. In the past 20 years, four trillion tonnes of ice from Greenland and Antarctica has melted away causing sea levels to rise by 11mm. Climate change is about to tip past the point of no return unless adequate steps are taken soon.
For us Pakistanis, living as we do in the midst of daily chaos with terrorism, a collapsing infrastructure and a failing economy chipping away at the quality of life, problems like climate change appear remote. Yet it is poorer countries like ours that are unable to cope with the effects of extreme climatic events like floods, storms and heat waves.
All of us are affected by climate change and should do our small part to reduce the damage. So the next time you exit a room, don’t forget to turn off the lights!
The writer is a business studies graduate from southern Punjab. Email: asna.ali90@ gmail.com