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Bye bye, winter

Every year it seems, Lahore is experiencing prolonged summers, with a shorter and milder winter. As of now, we should have been well into the use of our shawls and sweaters, and have hushed, gentle mists suspended over the city and landscape. However, citizens remain perplexed.

Summers have not only extended but they have become unbearable. NASA recently announced that 2016 has locked itself as the hottest year on record – 2015 was the year that broke the record previously with the largest margin. As we understand it, global warming is an increase in temperatures globally due to human greenhouse gas emissions. However, since the last ice-age, the world has been on a natural trajectory of warming itself that has then sustained and evolved our current ecosystem. The world is supposed to continue warming in this way, however, anthropogenic activities (through GHG emissions and others) has propelled the natural warming of the earth’s surface lightyears ahead, resulting in unprecedented climate change.

Climate change effects the global south more than it does the global north, i.e poor and developing nations are the hardest hit. As temperatures rise and oceans warm, the global south will face hotter days and nights, larger and longer heatwaves, stronger cyclones, droughts, floods and unpredictable rains according to assessments.

Sounds all too familiar in our country. Why does this happen? Because the tropical and sub-tropical zones are where the arid regions largely lie. These areas face annual precipitation in the form of monsoons that circulate from oceanic and wind currents that start from the Arctic and progressively move their way down. Increased degradation coming from the developed world (read United States and Europe) that results in warming sea currents and melting ice from the Arctic has prodigious after effects in the developing world. Added to this, our urban temperatures are increasing remarkably compared to the surrounding country side. Life in Lahore will become practically unbearable within the next decade.

Yet, there is no documentation on the changes taking place within our cities. There is no written record by which we can compare temperatures of a particular day in 1947 (or earlier for that matter) to the temperature change on the same day through the years up until 2016. This kind of historical observation is paramount for long term data, especially for phenology – the study of relations between climate change and periodic biological phenomena. Meaning, how does the change in temperature affect bird migration, plant flowering times and other biological phenomena that are correlated with biological conditions.

One such study took place in the United States thanks to naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoureau, who probably didn’t realise his journal documentation of flowering times in 1856 would become crucial to study in the 21st century. By comparing his records to those in 2006, it was observed that plants began flowering 7 days earlier in 2006 than those documented by Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts. The study discovered, plants flowered 3.07 days earlier for every 1-degree Celsius increase in mean temperature. If plants flower before the emergence of their pollinators that means the extirpation of crucial and sensitive plant species. This may in turn affect the pollinators who may thrive on these plants. These ecological changes then have far reaching impacts on the environment – the butterfly effect, if you will.

With our winters coming in so late and for shorter periods, what impact are our elongated summers having on biophilia – the bond between humans and other living systems. If plants flower later or earlier, how will this affect our growing seasons? Will we have enough food by the end of the decade to feed an estimated 185 million people in Pakistan? How long will mosquitoes linger and worsen the human health situation such as through dengue etc?

Cop 21 and 22 have presented themselves at this crucial time, but the developing world is not using this platform effectively enough to indicate that they need more support than ever before. India has always been loud-mouthed to say that the developing world should not have to work towards environmental improvement and needs time to continue with moving economic prosperity. This in turn resulted in the failure of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 that aimed to reduce global annual temperatures.

What the developing world should be doing instead is, leading the cause to call out developed nations on the damages they have caused and exacerbated. It must demand reparations, and use these to become more resilient. A move towards renewable energy has never been more important, and proper urban planning never more needful. Instead of building an Orange Line that adds to the city’s pollution and only serves 250 000 passengers in a city of an estimated 5 million or more (and thus proves virtually useless), it should be reducing its carbon footprint and working to reducing urban temperatures. Our forests are all the more important to remediate some of these issues. Pakistan lost 24.7% of its forest cover, this accounts to about 625,000 hectares, between 1990 and 2005. We need to initiate a movement to revert back to our original (ecologically sound) forest cover to regulate some of the changing conditions.

Source: The Nation

Byline: Azal Zahir

December 8, 2016

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