While students around the world, notably Greta Thunberg, are coming out in droves to press their leaders to take concrete action to slow down the effects of climate change, not much thought is given to the idea in Pakistan. It is because our youth doesn’t exactly know what dangers lie ahead. Ashraf Jehangir Qazi explains the urgency and why we all need to act beginning now to save this planet of ours.
ccording to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) – a collection of eminent scientists, academics and intellectuals – the world is facing unprecedented challenges today. They include impending climate catastrophe; the risks of nuclear conflict; overpopulation; the melting of the ice-caps at the poles, Greenland and major mountain glaciers; the rising level and acidity of the seas and oceans, floods and droughts, the spread of new and incurable diseases, the loss of cultivable land and coastlines, dying of thousands of animal species and eco-systems; the lack of food and water; the prospect of massive increases in the number of climate refugees; and the lack of democratic good governance that is able to identify, prioritize, manage and address all these challenges peacefully, cooperatively, and efficiently – nationally, regionally and globally.All this adds up to the greatest existential crisis ever faced by human society. Nothing matches it. Not the Biblical floods, the Mongol invasions of the 12th century; the Black Death of medieval Europe; the Genocide of the Native Americans in the 16th and 17th centuries; the Great Famines in Ireland, Bengal, China, Ukraine, etc; World Wars I and II, the Holocaust, and African civil wars and famines in recent times; etc. Not even all these calamities put together.
We are faced with the greatest existential crisis ever faced by human society. Nothing matches it. Not the Biblical floods, or the great famines or the World Wars.
The BAS has a conceptual Doomsday Clock. When it strikes midnight, human society as an organized entity will end. It began in 1953 after the hydrogen bomb tests of the US and the USSR with seven minutes to midnight. During the Cuban Crisis of 1962, the DDC showed two minutes to midnight! It registered the same time when Trump was elected in 2016. Climate catastrophe can push the DDC to strike midnight! Leaders who take this in their stride are not leaders.Those who have the mandate, authority, power and responsibility to ensure this existential challenge gets the urgent and overwhelming priority it demands, but refuse to do so on some political, security or economic pretext or the other, are no friends of their people. They deserve the outrage of their people whose children and grandchildren are being condemned – in most cases before they are even born – to actual hell on earth. In Pakistan, the 10 billion Tsunami tree plantation program, if on target, will be a success story.
What is climate catastrophe? It is the accumulated and progressive destruction of the earth’s capacity to sustain current human society. More than 95 percent of the climatologists and related scientists of the world agree that this process has already begun and is well advanced. They also agree that unless the world takes specific urgent actions on an unprecedented scale, the process will become irreversible within the decade we have just entered. The world’s greatest villain in this respect is President Donald Trump of the US. He denies climate change and says it is a “liberal hoax”. Yet, he builds high sea walls for his golf courses on seafronts in Ireland and elsewhere! He is the lying hoax.
A Climate Emergency requires a Climate Jihad, which includes audited and accounted programs of essential actions over the whole course of the decade.
Although Pakistan’s contribution to climate change is negligible because of its industrial underdevelopment, it is the 7th most vulnerable country to the perils of climate catastrophe. Its current population growth rate is trending towards over 500 million by the end of the century, which would be disastrous. If it does not immediately and urgently address the perils of climate change, its population will trend towards ZERO by the end of the century! Tree plantation is important but not sufficient. Much more has to be done. Taking piecemeal measures, attending conferences at home and abroad, endorsing international recommendations without legislating and implementing them, and making climate policy statements while failing to allocate the very considerable resources required to meet climate obligations because of “more immediate” demands, etc. define the extent of national irresponsibility towards the threat of national demise.
A Climate Emergency that requires a Climate Jihad, which includes audited and accounted programs of essential actions over the whole course of the decade must be discussed in detail in parliament and every other forum, passed into law with a consensus or near consensus, and implemented as the overarching national priority. Every other national priority, domestic and external, must conform to this overall existential imperative if we are to avoid an unforgivable betrayal of our own children and grandchildren. The basic knowledge and information about the existential threat of climate catastrophe and what needs to be done is available in great detail. No excuse for dereliction of duty on any pretext can now be acceptable. Only when this knowledge is internalized and put into practice by “leaders” can meetings and recommendations of scientists and activists make a difference on any meaningful scale.
Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old Swedish school girl, has shaken the world with her heroic campaign to challenge the conscience of irresponsible political leaders the world over, in order to get them to take the hundreds if not thousands of decisions that they know can no longer be delayed. Yet, they delay them because of various considerations. Her small, but hugely significant booklet, “No one is too small to make a difference”, is a must read for every student in the world above the age of ten. It is also a must read for their parents and elders and for so-called political leaders, legislators, senior military officials, opinion-makers, and, yes, prayer imams who have seldom, if ever, mentioned the subject of climate change in their khutbahs. Greta’s booklet (just 68 pages) should immediately be translated into Urdu with necessary explanatory notes and distributed by the millions.Greta does not claim to be an expert at her age. She derives her knowledge entirely from the existing and updated scientific consensus on the subject and from UN and other international reports that consistently show that the climate catastrophe is far worse and more imminent than was thought even a few years ago.
There are other books that call for essential reading and should be translated and discussed at all levels of society. Fortunately, Pakistan has a number of very well informed scholars and scientists who can play key role in developing climate change policies.Some of these seminal books on climate catastrophe that I would like to see much more widely read in Pakistan include Naomi Klein’s two books: “On Fire – the (burning) case for a Green New Deal” and “This Changes Everything”; Bill McKibben’s “Falter – has the Human Game begun to Play itself out?”; Elizabeth Colbert’s “The Sixth Extinction – an unnatural history”; and David Wallace-Wells’ “The Uninhabitable World – a story of the future”.As has been observed by many scientists the future is already here. The way forward is a Pakistani Green New Deal (PGND) which envisages legislating and implementing a host of social, political, economic and technology transformations. Without a GND, Naya Pakistan will remain an idle dream. GND is indeed expensive. But not implementing it is fatal.As young Greta warns the world is on fire. This is no time to be calm. It is time to panic and get done what has to be done before it can no longer be done.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.