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The Strong Impact of Climate Change
In the past few weeks, news from around the world was dominated by Olympics, Taliban gaining ground in Afghanistan, Israel pushing on with its apartheid agenda in the occupied territories, Pegasus software being used by many governments to spy on rival governments and independent journalists, and the like. There was also news about the impact of climate change, with floods and wildfires hitting many parts of the globe.
Since monsoon season is already underway in the subcontinent, it came with necessary text message warnings by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to be on the lookout for unexpected deluges. What many of us fail to understand and appreciate is that these floods although coterminous with monsoon rains are slowly building up to biblical proportions.
For a developing country like Pakistan, it makes sense that disaster management would not be as effective as expected in a developed country like Germany, China, or Belgium. However, this time around in 2021, even developed countries were caught off-guard and suffered heavy losses in terms of human lives and damage to infrastructure.
Intense Heat Waves of 2021
The ill effects of burning fossil fuels at unprecedented rates, cutting down forests, depleting natural reserves of flora and fauna, population growth, and profit-driven industrialization policies, hit the industrial West hard at the start of this summer. The Pacific Northwest was hit by a heatwave that was 5 degrees Celsius higher than previous high temperatures.
Not only in the American north but also in the Eurasian north, intense heat waves have been recorded in 2021. Turkey, Japan, and Northern Ireland recorded their highest temperatures yet. These heat waves and their accompanying heat domes have resulted in higher than usual temperatures in Russian Siberia and Alaska.
This dry weather thus resulted in wildfires, further destroying the natural habitat of wildlife species of plants and animals. Balkans, too, have been hit by heatwaves and wildfires; Turkey being the latest victim of the 2021 climate change. In recent years, attribution scientists have held climate change heavilly responsible for heatwaves and natural disasters.
If there’s anything one learns from the study of heatwaves and their year-on-year progression, it is that they are going to get worse with every coming year. Not only are heatwaves bad in themselves, but they also trap more humidity in the atmosphere which results in cloudbursts and flash flooding.
In 2021, Germany saw one of the worst episodes of flooding this July — 148 liters of rain fell per square meter in under forty-eight hours. Climate scientists have been left “shocked” by the scale of rains this month. More than 110 people have been reported dead or missing due to these rains. Belgium is another country that has been severely hit by rains. Over 60 people have died or are reported missing.
A manslaughter investigation has been launched by a judge to ascertain whether authorities failed in delivering early warnings to the residents of the affected areas. People who live in flood-affected regions claim that this is the first time they have seen such hazardous flooding. A visual tour of what happened in Germany and Belgium will definitely put things in perspective.
China has also seen one of the worst bouts of flooding in its central province of Henan during the month of July. The capital of Henan province, Zhengzhou, received a year’s worth of rain in three days, resulting in submerged transportation networks and underground railway stations. Around 99 people have been killed, 840,800 houses have collapsed or suffered damage with the total cost of damages reaching as high as £7.3bn.
International and Chinese media is replete with footage and details of the flooding. Unverified reports also claim that the Three Gorges Dam burst during the rains to add more to the misery of the already affected people. Flash floods have also been reported in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nuristan, with more than 200 homes having been destroyed and at least 80 people reported dead or missing while the expected death toll is 200. The district where the flood has been reported is under Taliban control.
In Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, overnight rains on July 28 caused the waterways to spill over because of their shortened space due to illegal constructions. Two people have been reported dead with millions in damages to property and infrastructure. Earlier this month, flash floods killed four in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province.
Wrath of Mother Nature
The Karakoram Highway has been reported to be blocked at several points due to land sliding and debris left in the wake of floods. District Diamer also reported flash floods. “Freak weather”, as it is called, is turning up in unexpected instances around the globe. This speaks for itself since all of the instances of heat waves, wildfires, cloud bursts, and flash floods are not isolated events.
These are a series of natural disasters because of the impact of climate change hitting different parts of the globe. As recounted by one of the residents of Henan province, she could not believe that the impact of climate change would come to her door with such rapidity with all of its devastating consequences. When one reads the shock and awe of those who claim their disbelief at what they have witnessed, one is inadvertently recalled of one of the lines Tyrion Lannister says in Game of Thrones that “it always seems a bit abstract doesn’t it, other people dying?”
To wit, it has always been the game of thrones of the real world that has led us to our current crises of the climate which has killed so many, destroyed homes and livelihoods of so many, and still continues to jeopardize the existence of life as we know it. 19th-century capitalists started such a process of domineering through profit-making and then using that profit to make governments submit to their will, that it became the go-to manual for industrialization and distorted development.
Although Industrialized states are solely responsible for the climate crises, they will not be sharing the burden of its consequences evenly. Developing countries like Pakistan will have to come to terms with the fact that if it does not adopt the way of life in such a manner so as to mitigate the impact of climate change, it may not stand a chance.
Pakistan simply does not have the capacity to mobilize resources in the wake of a climate catastrophe like China and Germany. Germany allocated $470 million for flood relief, while China, too, allocated resources worth billions of yuan. It is the responsibility of the state, media, and heterodox intellectuals to educate the masses on the urgency and importance of the crises. Only the collective effort to curb the menacing effects of climate crises can really bring about meaningful change.
The crisis of housing that is being met with urban sprawl and turning agricultural and protected land into housing societies should be met with vertical housing. Both in the big cities and in small ones, the state needs to protect the areas where there are clusters of trees left. Turning green land into paved roads and concrete floors prevent the water from seeping underground.
This results in the lowering down of the water table which results in the non-availability of freshwater for so many people. Small dams should be built on small waterways to store water from flooding downstream areas and to produce local electricity at cheaper rates. It must be stressed here that the behavioral aspect of this crisis has a very huge bearing on this phenomenon.
At the level of an individual, we need to change our lifestyles in such a manner so as to conserve energy, lessen the burning of fossil fuels, and plant trees. Instead of buying cars for ourselves, we need to use public transport and work collectively to make public transport better. The state of public transport in Pakistan is not par with even moderate standards, and buying personal locomotives only exacerbates the climate problem. It increases the per capita consumption of fossil fuels.
Similarly, instead of using plastic bags, we need to discourage their use by declining to carry anything in them that we buy. Bicycles should be preferred over motorcycles; walking outdoors should be preferred over electric treadmills; empty outdoors spaces should be planted with fast-growing trees; and public participation in activities of sustainability should be encouraged.
Although legislation on the part of states and adoption of sustainable practices by corporations and industries will go a long way to mitigate the effects of climate crises, the real change would come when at the level of an individual we change our behaviors to bring them more in line with sustainable practices.
The centrality of human behavior cannot be stressed more. It falls on the shoulders of the younger generation to take the initiative and highlight the practices that are adding fuel to climate fire. There are many around us who do not pay any heed to science and evidence. For them, it is the old play of amassing wealth and fortunes in whichever way possible.
For the younger generations, especially the millennials and zoomers, it should be the fight of their lifetimes. It falls upon their shoulders to join hands and raise their voices for their future which is in existential danger from the unending greed of capitalists.
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