Tuesday June 25, 2024

Wounded ecosystem

By Ali Rehmat Shimshali & Ramsha Mehboob Khan
December 04, 2023

We have devastated the ecosystem and threatened our survival and are now chanting the slogan ‘Save the planet, the earth is dying, save the ecosystem’ – which seems merely deceptive.

The earth has undergone many climatic and environmental changes, evolved with time, and survived more successfully. We need to understand that this planet is known as the ‘land of the lost’ for many species. The land is there, but the species are lost. This planet has seen the Ice Ages, dinosaurs, and many other species, that have become extinct. It is time to understand that it is human lives that are in threat due to unsustainable anthropogenic activities, not the planet.

The sympathy we show towards the earth’s scars and wounds and its survival needs to be reconsidered. It is not the planet, but us humans who bear the scars and wounds. As humans, we have devised numerous ways to comfort ourselves, and yet these endeavours for a prosperous lifestyle are posing a threat to our very survival.

People with their belongings wade through the flood-affected area of Chanda Singh Wala village in the Kasur district on August 22, 2023. — AFP
People with their belongings wade through the flood-affected area of Chanda Singh Wala village in the Kasur district on August 22, 2023. — AFP

Consider how we have inflicted wounds upon ourselves – wounds we have never acknowledged as our own and scars we have always attributed to the planet’s survival rather than our own. These wounds extend beyond the environmental realm; they have permeated our societies, economies, and ecosystems.

Every living organism naturally strives for survival. However, the excessive exploitation of resources in the pursuit of survival also threatens our continued existence. It is both astonishing and disheartening to witness that humans – a species endowed with consciousness – have jeopardized not only their own existence but also that of countless other species.

A multitude of human activities, including overpopulation, pollution, the combustion of fossil fuels, and deforestation, exerts detrimental impacts on the physical environment. Consequences such as climate change, soil erosion, deteriorating air quality, and contaminated water resources are direct outcomes of these shifts. These adverse effects have the potential to significantly influence human behaviour, potentially resulting in large-scale migrations, and conflicts arising from disputes over access to clean and safe water sources and livelihood resources.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report 2023 shows that anthropogenic activities have caused global warming, with global surface temperature reaching 1.1 degrees C above 1850–1900 in 2011–2020. Every increment of global warming will intensify multiple and concurrent hazards. It also shows that approximately 3.3-3.6 billion people are highly vulnerable to climate change. Human and ecosystem vulnerability are interdependent.

According to the European Commission, the period from 2011 to 2020 marked the warmest decade ever recorded, with the global average temperature surging to 1.1 degrees C above pre-industrial levels in 2019. The increase of 2.0 degrees C compared to pre-industrial times is linked to severe adverse impacts on both the natural environment and human health.

This includes a substantially heightened risk of climate change, environmental degradation, pollution, and climate-induced disasters, displacing millions and wreaking havoc on human lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure. These are the vital signs that indicate that life on the planet is in peril.

The United Nations World Meteorological Organization, in an updated report released in May, tallied nearly 12,000 extreme weather, climate, and water-related events over the past half-century around the globe that have killed more than two million people and caused economic damage of $4.3 trillion.

An average of 189 million people per year have been affected by extreme weather-related events in developing countries since 1991. In 2022, the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan affected at least 33 million people, and costs were estimated at over $30 billion.

The flood response is not considered to be anywhere near enough to help the millions of people who have lost their livelihoods and homes and face hunger, disease, and psychological impacts. How will countries with grappling economies like Pakistan cope with such devastating disasters?

The elites might sustain themselves with amenities like air conditioning, purified water, and synthetic food, but what about those who are less privileged? It is interesting to observe how society tends to equate consuming bottled water with progress and luxury, and prioritizes the use of air conditioning, believing it leads to a comfortable life.

We are confined to our own thoughts and spaces. Consider the prospect of drinking water directly from streams, relishing the freshness of the air, or sitting close to a glacier to experience its cool breeze. While it is true that there are numerous challenges in meeting the needs of the entire population, there are also ways to infuse a natural and comforting essence into our lives.

There is a need to recognize the urgency of the situation and take decisive action, so we can mend the scars that harm our lives, environment, societies, economies, and future. This can be done through a concerted effort to transition to sustainable practices, adapt to the changing climate, educate, and empower future generations, and ensure inclusive developmental approaches and practices.

Yes, as humans, we possess the capability to heal the wounds and scars that we have inflicted upon our lives for the sake of economic progress. This is the moment to act together for a brighter and more sustainable future.

Ali Rehmat Shimshali is a research assistant at the Sustainability and Resilience Development Program and can be reached at: 

Ramsha Mehboob Khan is a project assistant at the Sustainability and Resilience Development Program. 

The article reflects the personal perception/opinion of the authors.