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A disaster in the making

Governments across the world are very much in action when it comes to destroying the environment. However, to address climate change – for the purposes of adaptability and mitigation – government inaction has as much, if not more, harmful consequences.

Today, people are unwittingly changing the world’s climate through waste products. There is so much environmental apathy that most people are unaware of the inevitable environmental crises and challenges that the world is most likely heading towards in the coming decades. In this regard, the role of governments is crucial in addressing this situation. This is particularly true for the US, which has historically been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases that are responsible for stirring climate change. But is the US doing enough to avert this impending crisis?

Although addressing the environmental crisis will take more than just US action, it is important to pay attention to the obstructive nature of vested interests – especially those held by the US – when considering the dire situation that such interests have produced.

Since Donald Trump assumed office in January, various new bills have been introduced in the US Congress. For instance, HR 861 is one such bill that proposes to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by December 31, 2018. Even though the US has not done enough to curtail its carbon footprint, terminating the agency, which is tasked with protecting the environment, will further expose the country to the environmental crises. In the US, the fossil fuel industry has effectively lobbied to thwart any legislation that favours the environment and pushes the climate change agenda forward.

James Inhofe, the former chair of the Senate Environment Committee, is probably the most prominent congressional climate-change denier. He vehemently argues that human activity cannot change the climate. It is not surprising that James Inhofe is one of the largest recipients of fossil fuel money in the US Senate. Those who understand the gravity of the situation cannot get a climate bill passed through Congress because it is controlled by fossil fuel-funded climate-change deniers who are blocking any bills that would attempt to deal with this problem.

These climate-change deniers are engaged in a series of effort to lead people astray in the name of short-term profits. Van Jones, a social and environmental justice leader in the US, put it this way: “The big polluters are already putting your bodies on the line. You have a bunch of moneyed interests who have a big monetary stake in the status quo. They don’t care that the status quo is an airplane pointed straight down and accelerating. It’s their airplane”.

The so-called ‘leader of the free world’ does not even believe in global warming. Instead, he claims that it is a hoax created by the Chinese. However, the Chinese have already begun working towards curbing their greenhouse gas emissions and the country’s own coal consumption has been declining since 2014. Beijing intends to shut down its last coal plant in 2017 and China has also become the biggest solar panel producer across the world. The role of China in recent years has been improving as far as the activities within the country are concerned. But its projects with other countries, including Pakistan, are not entirely environmentally sustainable, to say the least.

In the case of Pakistan, the government has initiated numerous projects under CPEC for power generation – most of which are coal-based. Coal is known for being the dirtiest form of energy and contributes the most to global warming. This is disquieting because Pakistan already has a hot climate. When it comes to increasing temperatures, can we really afford to have such environmentally unsustainable projects when we have had witnessed incidents like the heatwave that struck the southern parts of the country in 2015 and resulted in the death of almost 2,000 people?

There are a few solar and wind projects. But the shift towards renewable resources is not happening swiftly enough. When it comes to global warming, Pakistan has a low carbon footprint. However, due to the country’s climate, it is expected to face the worst consequences of climate change in the form of droughts, extremely high temperatures and severe floods. The rise in the sea level will also cause a severe blow to the economy as both of our seaports in Karachi and Gwadar are the hubs of major economic activity in the country. The government of Pakistan is not doing enough to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of climate change.

This dire situation is exacerbated by the grave circumstances regarding water and soil in the country. Due to the lack of enforceable environmental regulations, groundwater depletion and the pollution of fresh water have become the norm. As for surface water, the situation is quite bleak due to our problems with India. Soil degradation is another cause for concern. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), all of the world’s top soil will not be suitable for cultivation after about 60 years due to activities that are causing climate change, such as chemical-heavy agricultural techniques, deforestation and high temperatures that result from global warming. Such a situation is alarming for a country like Pakistan. This is largely because Pakistan’s economy is largely agriculture-based and 70 percent of our food supply is produced domestically.

Governments and businesses make their plans based on how they would survive or thrive in the near future. When it comes to the earth’s climate and the future of our planet, it seems that the US government, the fossil fuel industry, the Pak-China trade-related projects and the environmentally apathetic government of Pakistan are not intent on planning for a better but are slowly moving towards a disastrous future.

Our planet is getting warmer due to the release of more than six billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by factories and automobiles. An increase of even a few degrees in the earth’s temperature will melt the polar ice caps. This could result in a rise in sea levels and endanger coastal communities.

We are, on average, moving towards a four-degree warming this century. Those who still deny climate change for short-term profits are not only denying reality but are also denying a disaster that is in the making.

If we do not act now, a time will come in the next few decades when, as the native American proverb goes “all the trees will be cut down, all the birds will be hunted, all the fish will have died and rivers will be polluted. Only then will we realise that after all, we cannot eat money”.

Tiwana, Bilal. A disaster in the making. The News, May 12, 2017.

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