It is time to wake up. We are facing the biggest threat ever to mankind – Global warming is here; we are witnessing summer temperatures never experienced before. What have we done to the mother earth in the last hundred years? We have polluted the air, plundered natural resources, devastated forests, contaminated waterways, and multiplied like rabbits. All these excesses are now catching up. It may already be too late; however, the possibilities to redeem still exist, if we undergo some massive course corrections.
Let us take a closer look at the population growth. Since the appearance of the human race until 1920, the world population only grew to two billion. It spans millions of years. A hundred years later, in 2020, it has jumped to nearly eight billion. It is an increase by 400 percent. Progress in science and technology facilitated mobility, and innovations heralded an era of progress leading to prosperity and improvements in quality of life. Unfortunately, it also brought in a level of recklessness never seen in the human race before.
Mother earth has finite natural resources but their exploitation has been ruthless. We acted as the “final generation” with little or no regards for those coming after us. Human consumption was fed by greedy corporations without giving any thought to conservation. Where has it landed us? We are on a very slippery slope. If we have any compassion for our kids, we must take stock of where we stand today as compared to a mere hundred years ago.
The cities are expanding at an alarming rate. The developing world can least afford it. They are dirty, unhygienic, without civic facilities and growing without any planning. Water is contaminated and air is polluted, causing disease and suffering. Education, progress in medical fields, and greater awareness has all paled in the face of reckless abandonment. Pristine cities, such as our Murree of the 70s or Bali in Indonesia in the 80s were tourist heavens, but now they are overcrowded slums.
Heat waves around the globe are occurring more often with higher intensities due to climate changes caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
We survive on water and need oxygen to live. Without these elements, life on the planet will extinguish. We have polluted our rivers by draining sewage into them and drawing subsurface aquifers down to alarming levels. Prolonged droughts are becoming the norm and floods have a ferocity never experienced before.
Then there is fire. If you want to imagine what the hell fire looks like, just watch the images of fires presently raging in Canada, USA, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Over 400 fires, big and small, are burning in five provinces of Canada. Over 2.5 million acres of forest have been devastated. In USA, 96 fires are burning in 14 States. In Southern Europe destructive fires have spread through Spain, Italy and Greece. Fires, extinguished through valiant efforts of firefighters, are re-igniting like trick candles.
The suffering in Turkey is heart wrenching. Fires have spread in districts hugging the Mediterranean that includes Antalya, Izmir and Adana. All these locations are extremely desirable destinations for tourists and August is the peak month for tourism. Unfortunately, this year they are witnessing scorching fires rather than the enchanting breeze coming in from the sea. Average temperatures in these regions are normally in the 30’s. This year they have shot up to 49C, equivalent to 120F.
Fires are triggered by high temperatures in forest areas. It leads to reduced moisture in vegetations turning them into catalysts for spreading faster. Hot dry conditions create high pressure zones causing air to sink, compress and heat up further. It is a self-perpetuating cycle that leads to breaking cloud cover causing more direct heating of the ground by the sun, increasing inflammability. These conditions lead to dry thunderstorms that become the igniter of forest fires fed by dry grasses, shrubs and dead leaves.
Heat waves around the globe are occurring more often with higher intensities due to climate changes caused by greenhouse gas emissions. What are the main culprits? It is carbon dioxide produced by humans, animals, all kinds of energy consuming industrial units and automotive vehicles. Methane produced by cattle further accentuates the pollution. What has changed over the last century? The highest polluters and producers of CO2 are engines using fossil fuels. Oil consumption in its various forms and coal usage has skyrocketed in the last 75 years.
These CO2 producing emissions are called greenhouse gases. CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries. Over time it forms a cover with extremely harmful effects. Sunlight that hits the earth does two things: part of it provides heat to us and the rest gets reflected back into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the greenhouse gases, now forming a blanket in the atmosphere, prevent these sunrays from escaping back into space; warming the planet.
As a result, fires are destroying the forest covers when we need more trees to convert CO2 to oxygen. Imran Khan’s billion trees project must be replicated around the globe. There is a huge need to drastically reduce pollution. It requires commitment by humans and an undeterred will by those in power to arrest and reverse these trends. If we fail, we will continue to die by a thousand cuts till the earth is inhabitable. It is clear and present danger. We must stop deceiving ourselves that climate change cannot affect us. It is bound to engulf everyone, wherever you live.
The writer is the director of CERF, a non-profit, charitable organisation in Canada.
Published in Dailytimes on 8th August 2021