Earlier this month, the devastating video footage of the collapse of the Hassanabad Bridge along the Karakoram Highway in the Hunza Valley surfaced on the internet. The video showed the historic bridge crumbling due to the flood, which also damaged the nearby homes, buildings and two power plants. The flood was caused by the ongoing unprecedented heat waves that melted the ice on the Shisper Glacier, creating a lake that flooded.
As sad as anyone must have felt while watching the video, no one can imagine what the residents of the area must be going through. Those people were going on with their lives and suddenly, their homes were ruined, with no real fault of their own.
We have been feeling the effects of climate change for the past many years and these have been further aggravated in the last five. In Pakistan, we have faced catastrophic floods, droughts, and cyclones that have killed and displaced thousands, destroyed livelihoods, and damaged infrastructure. The heat waves are causing the glaciers to melt and are claiming many lives of innocent people, stray animals and birds in metropolitan cities. The melting of Himalayan glaciers is causing severe water stress and reduced hydropower. There is food insecurity due to decreasing agricultural and livestock production, more prevalent pests and weeds, which causes the spike in food items. There is degradation of ecosystems; biodiversity loss; and northward shifting of some biomes. Moreover, in terms of green spaces, higher temperatures may affect the composition, distribution and productivity of mangroves, while lower precipitation could contribute to salt stress.It is also unfortunate that the prospect of these and other natural hazards will increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades. This is a stark reminder that Pakistan is one of the few countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Scientists have long predicted that warmer temperatures caused by climate change will have the biggest impact on the world’s poorest, most vulnerable people. According to Time, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that in most poor countries, higher temperatures are more than 90 per cent likely to have resulted in decreased economic output, compared to a world without global warming. Meanwhile, the effect has been less dramatic in wealthier nations – with some even potentially benefiting from higher temperatures. Another research at Stanford University says that the gap between the world’s poorest and richest countries is about 25 per cent larger today than it would have been without global warming. The researchers say that there is evidence that labour productivity declines at high temperatures, cognitive performance declines at high temperatures, and interpersonal conflict also increases at high temperatures. The study also demonstrated that growth accelerated in cool countries in years which were warmer than average, while in hot nations it slowed down.
It is quite unfair that while richer countries are the biggest aggravators of climate change, it is the developing countries that will face the worst of it. In many parts of the world, financially poorer communities are already dealing with poor housing infrastructure, and are vulnerable to weather damage. Overwhelmingly, extreme weather events exacerbate societal and systemic inequalities that already run deep.
Every time something like this turns up, we may ponder for a moment and come up different ideas regarding what can be done to make things better. Do you think about stronger policies that encourage and implement green practices in terms of transport, industrial processes or daily life? Planting more trees? Reducing and eventually eliminating plastic usage and production? Recycling? The list can go on and these are all very good suggestions. And I think many of us are probably well versed with the amount of things they can do to reduce the effects of their carbon footprint. But do we really do them?
Governments and multinationals are actually running on exploiting the planet’s resources whereas, every young individual is fearful of their future. The stakeholders know that the youth of the world is being crushed under economic pressures but they carry on promoting their capitalist agenda.
What I have gathered so far is that the problem isn’t just about formulating political or scientific solutions or the lack thereof. It’s the lack of motive to do so. We are all running out of time, because at the end of the day, it’s just one planet. The rich can fantasise about creating a spaceship that can save them and sustain life if/when the Earth meets its doom or they could move to Mars, which is not really a practical or a cheap solution. When really all they have to do is stop and think about the consequences of their actions; in other words have ‘compassion’.
We are losing our compassion… for each other, for living things in general, even though it happens to be a crucial part of our being. It is an important construct which is rarely considered in the fight against climate change, but its impact on encouraging change should not be underestimated. American activist, Joan Halifax, once said, “We live in a time when science is validating what humans have known throughout the ages: that compassion is not a luxury; it is a necessity for our well-being, resilience, and survival.” So, could considering the impact of climate change on those worst affected bring about change in the hearts and minds of individuals? Definitely!
This concept is now being termed as ‘green compassion’. Green living is all about personal sacrifice, changing our lifestyle and how much we are willing to give for what we believe. A green lifestyle relates to what we think about ourselves and our feelings of compassion for our planet and our fellow person. At a glance, philanthropy may not seem directly related to preserving the environment but it is all interconnected. The Earth’s resources are enough for everyone but they are unevenly distributed. If we are constantly aware of the fact that we are an integral part of life itself and that we are responsible for it, things would be a lot different around us. For instance, when we talk about energy conservation, it shouldn’t just be limited to our homes. It should apply to homes we visit and even our offices. Resources like water, gas, fuel and electricity (generated by non-renewable sources) are limited and should be used cautiously. Plastic usage and paper wastage are also some of the things that we can now easily control. Once we start thinking about these little things in our lives, only then we would be able to make a greater change. Earth is the only planet that we have and we are the ones responsible to care for it. Actions driven by the powerful emotion could bring significant change for the Earth!