Last few months have proven that climate change is a reality, and is knocking at our door. Climate change is a lethal phenomenon that can stall the economy and day-to-day operations of people residing in a specific region, causing losses to life, property and economy. The torrential rainfall and the resultant flash flooding wreaked havoc across the country. Millions were rendered homeless, and thousands lost their lives. In short, millions of Pakistanis faced the wrath of climate change.
Climate change was not considered a serious threat to the survival of mankind until late 1980s. Advancements in the fields of science and technology enabled scientists to examine weather and climate patterns spread over a large distance and time interval. The observations attained by the world-renowned scientists continue to haunt the public and intellectuals up to this day. The story of climate change starts with the initiation of the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution was a pinnacle of modern-day history, and it has profound effects on the eight billion individuals living in the early 21st century. In the early 19th century global powers like Great Britain, countries in Western Europe, and the then evolving USA were expanding their grip and reign over power and resources. These global powers correctly identified that the sustainability of their nations depended upon industries and transportation. As a result, Great Britain undertook concrete steps to improve and modernise the state of industries and transportation. Industrial revolution coincided with the Victorian era and, according to many analysts, Queen Victoria took deep interest in the reforms introduced in the industrial and transportation sectors. This era also witnessed a boom in scientific inventions and dynamic shift in the fields of medicine, astronomy and engineering. Patent offices were set up to ensure the intellectual rights of inventors.
The invention of steam engine revolutionised the locomotive industry forever. However, steam engine required tons and tons of coal to keep them running, and this meant that coal had to be extracted at an accelerated rate. Many industries began to flourish during this time. Industries and large scale manufacturing entities required coal for their operational and energy requirements. Houses and industries were powered by the energy produced by coal in the mid-19th century. However, coal produces carbon dioxide when it burns. Carbon dioxide and other pollutants released during combustion of coal are detrimental to our atmosphere and its stability. Global temperatures began to skyrocket during this age. However, the worst was yet to come.
20th century was a turning point in the lives of many. Enhancements and improvements in the health care sector meant that diseases which were once declared life-threatening were now curable. Increase in per capita income meant that public across the globe could afford materialistic possessions at affordable rates. Thus, consumer and automotive market exploded and amassed a large proportion of revenue. This boom in ownership of automobiles was a contributing factor behind the increase in pollutant levels. Automotive ownership per capita increased once affordable and cheap vehicles hit the road. In the mid-20th century, there was no regulation on level of pollutants released by auto vehicles. As a result, carmakers displayed little or no interest in promoting research and development programmes aiming to produce eco-friendly vehicles. 20th century is characterized by ruthless plundering of precious resources to meet short-term demands and needs. The over extraction of oil has led to the depletion of oil and gas reserves. Extraction of oil involves emission of deadly and harmful gasses i.e. carbon dioxide, methane sulphur dioxide, etc. The increased rate of extraction of oil meant humongous proportions of these pollutants finding their way into the atmosphere. By the late 1980s, the effects produced by our reckless actions started to become evident. Novel shifts in technology meant climate scientists could examine atmosphere with pinpoint accuracy. The full extent of climate change came to surface when ozone hole was discovered over the skies of Antarctica in 1985. Scientists discovered abnormally low levels of ozone in stratosphere. Ozone is a molecule which is responsible for filtering out the UV radiations and cosmic rays striking our atmosphere. Without Ozone the UV radiations could have a disastrous affect on health. The culprit behind depletion in level of ozone was identified as Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), used in manufacture of aerosol sprays, blowing agents for foams and packing materials, as solvents, and in refrigerators as coolant. Upon reaction with ozone CFCs can alienate large proportion of ozone molecules in a single round. As a result, global regulators banned the usage and manufacturing of CFCs in 1996. However, the damages induced could not be reversed. Ozone levels continue to deplete at alarming levels despite the fact CFCs were banned more than 30 years ago; a terrifying reminder that pollution can have a daunting effect on our environment for a prolonged period.
Global warming is a term that stemmed out from climate change. It basically means extreme discrepancy and fluctuation in the global temperatures. Global warming does not only mean summers getting hotter; winters are becoming chillier. This year we witnessed extreme discrepancy and fluctuation in the overall temperature and weather pattern firsthand. Heatwaves became a new norm across the globe during summer while record snow and rainfalls were recorded during the wee months of winter. There were periods of time when sudden dip in mercury alternated with extreme rise in the barometer. Global warming has now evolved into an epidemic. This sudden fluctuation in global temperatures is an indication that things are getting out of hands at an alarming pace. Numerous challenges arise from this phenomenon. Sudden dip or rise in mercury, occurring randomly, can have profound effect on agricultural sector. Different types of produce and crops grow during a certain weather and climate and sudden change in temperature can affect the quality and sustainability of the crops. This leads to under-production of edible products which ultimately leads to food insecurity. Despite being an agricultural country, Pakistan suffers from the dreaded phenomenon of food insecurity. Many crops i.e., wheat, barley and rice were destroyed due to flash floods that engulfed a great area of our country. Food insecurity manifests into malnutrition and stunted growth that is witnessed among toddlers and infants. Numerous regions across the globe which were once fertile are now barren and suffering from famine due to the loss of fertility and resources needed to sustain crops and produce. As a result, millions migrate from these regions to seek a better lifestyle and livelihood. These migrants are referred to as climate migrants. According to Climate Refugees - a human rights organization that calls for the protection and rights of those displaced by climate change: Climate Migration 2021 closed with yet another year of record forcibly displaced persons and the climate crisis played a major role driving over 84 million people out of their homes. We already know that in 2020, three times as many people - 30.7 million - were internally displaced by the climate crisis than by conflict or violence.
Global warming is also melting glaciers and polar caps at an astoundingly accelerated rate. Process involving glacier melting involves a sudden outburst of substantial quantity of water that may gush out and destroy infrastructure present in its path.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so we must take concrete steps to curb climate change, or it may endanger our very existence. Climate change is a global phenomenon. In order to curtail it at global level, governments must come together and frame a viable future course of action. Signatories must adhere to climate-based agreements i.e., Paris Accord, and must commit themselves to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80 to 90 percent in order to achieve sustainable outcomes.
The world is currently facing an energy crisis. The recent involvement of Russian forces in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed upon Russia have exposed how vulnerable we are to energy crisis. Currently, Europe cannot import gas and energy from Russia due to the sanctions and is bracing up for a prolonged winter ahead. One way to counteract energy crisis is to shift interest towards renewable energy i.e., solar energy. Pakistan is blessed with four seasons and receives 16 hours’ worth sunlight during summers and receives sunlight at an average of 10 hours during winter, making it an ideal country to shift towards solar energy. Household consumers can now buy solar panels and battery system and reduce their reliance on energy distributing companies. Government of Pakistan should import solar panels, in order to provide people with solar panels and battery system at affordable rates. Wind and tidal energy can also be utilized to produce electricity. The coastal regions of Pakistan are ideal locations compatible with the requirements needed to produce electricity via wind or tides.
In addition to this, the government is trying to attract the attention of the general public towards electric vehicles. Numerous companies that manufacture electric vehicles have made their entry into the Pakistani market, but their prices are too high for most of the people. Government should again reduce duty and taxes on the import of these vehicles and should invite foreign automakers to set up their production base in Pakistan in order to reduce the overall price of electric vehicles. A lot of effort in this regard is underway currently and the public is hoping for a win-win outcome. Successive governments have launched large-scale tree plantation drives and note-worthy among them is the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme to increase the forest cover of Pakistan. A special shift should be made towards green and blue economy. As individuals, we should plant trees put an end to the use of plastic bags. Plastic bags do not decompose as they are made of polyethylene, which is not an organic material. We should vow to use paper or cloth bags instead of plastic bags just for the sake of greater good.
If our government - and the general public, of course - takes concrete steps, we will be able to overcome the upheaval generated by climate change.