District of humanity

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  • Modern individualism is an aberration

Even though 192 countries agreed to the terms of the Kyoto agreement, which is based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, entering into the 21st century the developing nations of the world can hardly afford to ignore the hefty price of their development borne by the environment. Human activities are a major contributor to climate change: be it razing forest lands to build industrial plants without due consideration for the wildlife or burning of fossil fuels with carbon emissions resulting in an increase in global temperatures or the excessive use of plastic without realising its long term ill effects on the environment. Human actions have wiped out 60pc of mammals, birds and reptiles since 1970, a destruction that is now palpable.

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress. Scenario back home looks equally threatening, between 1997 and 2016, Pakistan suffered from 141 extreme weather events and lost an average of 523.1 lives per year due to climate change effects. The 2015 heatwave in Karachi led to the death of more than 1,200 people. Pakistan’s projected temperature increase is expected to be higher than the global average. As average global temperatures rise, impacts across the country will vary widely, from glacial melting in the North to an increase in sea levels in southern coastal areas. The melting glaciers will lead to more freshwater converting to seawater and due to a dearth of water storage options we are well on the way to becoming a water scarce nation. Being a predominantly agriculture economy, climate change is also estimated to decrease crop yields in Pakistan, this combined with the current rapid population growth and urbanisation in the country, seriously risks food security.

According to a World Bank report, “poor and middle-income countries already account for just over half of total carbon emissions.” That is understandable since developing nations turn to fossil fuels to build their economic systems and end rampant poverty. But this overdependence on fossil fuels is a one-way street to the final apocalypse. Pandering to internal politics the United States of America can walk away from the Paris agreement terming global warming as a fib, however Pakistan cannot afford to take a similar stand since less developed countries are generally more affected than industrialised countries and we are ground zero for global warming consequences. Bearing testimony to that fact is Pakistan’s 7th rank on the global climate risk and vulnerability index. Although Pakistan is not a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, its ranking affirms how adversely it has been affected by weather related loss events (floods, heatwaves, melting glaciers, droughts). In 2010 alone, Pakistan incurred losses that exceeded US$9.6 billion. Since 2010, consecutive floods resulted in more than US$25 billion of economic loss in damages to different sectors such as agriculture, irrigation, public infrastructure, health and educational facilities. Understanding the magnitude of this grave situation and taking the bull by its horns the government has taken steps to assuage the disaster knocking on our door. Owing to this, the ministry of climate change was formed in 2017 to steer the nation into a greener state. A number of adaptation measures and actions are already being undertaken with domestic resources, these will be intensified with availability of international climate finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity building.

However due to paucity of time and enormity of the situation it is imperative to adopt immediate steps at micro economic level to mitigate the consequences of this monstrosity. As educated and aware citizens of the nation, we can take small steps to preserve our ecosystem. Choosing articles made from bio-degradable material over plastic, segregating organic from non-organic waste, planting trees in our community, opting to use public transportation, car-pooling instead of using our personal vehicles extensively or switching to alternative sources of energy such as installing solar panels at home. The latter is a one-time investment with a host of benefits. Not only is it eco-friendly and helps you shrink your carbon footprint but also cuts down on electricity bills and is low on maintenance. It is the need of the hour to put in place an effective model of sustainable development with climate-smart investments in infrastructure, businesses, and skills

The melting glaciers will lead to more freshwater converting to seawater and due to a dearth of water storage options we are well on the way to becoming a water scarce nation

A heartening example of what we as a society can do to protect our environment stems from an initiative in the Okara district of Punjab. This district is home to a population of over three million. It is one of the richest agricultural districts of Pakistan with the famous Mitchells farms. Okara has 1,407 public schools and to my utter surprise 29 of these schools still lack access to electricity. It is almost 100km from the provincial capital Lahore and has one of the richest landed genteel in the country. Schools here are located in the far flung areas of this rich district where the underprivileged try and attain and education that allows them to hope for a better tomorrow. Due to lack of electricity in these schools young students sit without fans during the scorching heat of Punjab.

In November 2018, the new Deputy Commissioner tried to take stock of the district’s educational situation and address issues faced by the students and discovered that these 29 primary schools without electricity did not have funds to pay for demand notes for electricity connections and installation of meters. Taking cognizance of the matter, the affluent local community was motivated to install solar panels in these schools. They were asked to install solar panels as an equitable and cost-effective solution to the issue. Solar panels for schools do not need batteries as these are used only during day-time. It saves the schools from payment of monthly electricity bills. The estimated electricity bill for one location stood at around 48,000 (4000X12) per annum. On the contrary, the solar panel will only cost 8,000 PKR for annual maintenance, if required. Interestingly, philanthropists also took responsibility for maintenance of these panels. It is sustainable, environmental friendly, fair to local community and stakeholder and thus fits the example of equitable development. When asked about their response to electrification of the schools, one of the girl students responded that she felt somewhat equal to children going to more expensive schools and that one day perhaps her school will provide her with all the remaining facilities. These panels are a sign of hope for these children and societal concern and awareness about the environment.

With the provision of the solar systems at these locations, a positive change in overall environment especially performance of students learning enhanced was observed. A visible improvement in students’ health, enrolment and attendance was also witnessed. After the installation of solar panels at these locations, as this will also augments the ability to achieve the targets set by the government of the Punjab. This system was not only highly appreciated by the local community but the stakeholders as well. Perhaps it is the society that forms a large family group. Helping others in a society not only improves the lives of those less happy with their lot it also improves things for those doing the helping. Individualism or egoism has no future. Ethical altruism is at the very core of all great traditions, religious or irreligious. Modern individualism is an aberration. The Cartesian ego is hence only an illusion.