Let’s be Environment-Friendly

By:  Amb. Salahuddin Choudhry
The writer is a former diplomat

Ours is a planet of many splendors. Such a variety, such diversity, such God-gifted nature and natural habitat ..… we simply owe our life to this beautiful world. We belong here, to our mother earth and we live as a humanity. The planet has given us so much. We have to give it back as much as we can…..by loving it and taking care of it.

Interestingly, during the past few weeks, the world has been solemnizing or celebrating awesome phenomena of fantastic positivity and similitude: such as the Mother Day, Day of Families, Day for Cultural Diversity, Day of Parents, International Day of Children, Bicycle Day, Environment Day, and Oceans Day – all about Life & Nature and Habitat.

All these specially designated Days (by the UN) are so well connected in terms of their spirit and purpose, and at a time when Covit-19 pandemic have been lashing almost all communities of the world for so many months now: what a golden opportunity for us ALL, so let’s bring the humanity together building empathy, harmony, trust, love, all toward sustainable peace. It all begins, in fact, in a family through mother first followed by father for parenting, children’s loyalty to them, into neighborhood and other families/groups for amalgamation of diverse cultures for inter-action and trust development, learning to seriously address pollution for a clean smoke-tobacco-plastic-free environment and for a better climate and worthy living.

World Environment Day is one of the biggest days of recognition for encouraging people all over the world to save and protect our environment from different environmental challenges the Planet Earth is facing today. The World Environment is also “People’s Day” which is a day to do something to take care of our environment. It reminds it is an important platform for promoting the dimensions of environmental Sustainable Development Goals.

PAKISTAN CELEBRATES THE DAY:

Our celebrations will be great if we all can see things in the right perspectives and join in whole-heartedly, when we stand firmly for our human values, for our deep emphasis on the family unit and for the upholding of public morality and decency. These debates grew increasingly influential as science and technology took giant leaps forward within a short span of time. Now our backyards have become a public space, and no information remains safe & intact anywhere.

In Pakistan this year, World Environment Day 2021 is being hosted in partnership with the UNEP (UN Environment Programme).

The THEME of observance is ‘ecosystem restoration’ to highlight resetting our relation with nature and raise awareness and action for the environment.

The Day will also mark formal launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021– 2030.

The campaign includes restoring mangroves and forests, as well as planting trees in urban & rural settings, including schools, colleges, public parks and green belts. The Ecosystem Restoration Program will support and finance nature-based solutions to climate change and facilitate the transition towards environmentally resilient, ecologically targeted initiatives covering afforestation and biodiversity conservation.

There will be focus on environmental issues and showcasing of the country’s own initiatives and its role in global efforts in line with latest COVID-19 regulations.

“2020 was a year of reckoning, facing multiple crises, including a global pandemic and the continued crises of climate, nature and pollution,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director.

In 2021, we must take deliberate steps to move from crisis to healing: and in so doing, we must recognize that the restoration of nature is imperative to the survival of our planet and the human race.”

World Environment Day is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment. Held annually since 1974, the Day has also become a vital platform for promoting progress on the environmental dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals, which envisage massive scaling up of restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems to fight the climate crisis, prevent the loss of a million species and enhance food security water supply and livelihoods.

Reviving natural carbon sinks – such as forests and peat lands – could help close the climate emissions gap by 25% by 2030. Replanting with native tree species can also help buffer some of the expected devastating effects of a warming planet, such as increased risk of forest fires.

 Currently, 3.2 billion people – 40% of the world’s population– suffer from the continued degradation of ecosystems, for example by losing access to fertile soil or safe drinking water. The 2021-30 UN SDG timeline scientists have identified as critical for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. 

In spite of everything, the human population has kept expanding at a high pace. As per UN, the world population had reached the one billion mark around the middle of the 19th century and has hugely increased and now stands at about 7.7 billion.

To sustain this population, there are basic human needs, and the most basic is food and water to sustain the body and oxygen to breathe. The largest manufacturer of oxygen is the trees that we see, but the problem is, biodiversity in the world is rapidly declining.

Now-a-days, nowhere it’s safe in the World; all high tech devices and machinery have reduced connectivity between us. It has in fact damaged our eco-systems and introduced a risk of compromising the sustainability of our World. Today we learn that bird species are either going extinct or threatened due to bio-diversity changes or harmful radiation. Animals are losing their natural habitat and plants losing lives owing to deforestation, illegal poaching and hunting for pleasure.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had identified the important role of forests in sustainable development, but the inhibiting factor is the increasing population and scarcity of resources. The naturally borne jungles gave way to concrete jungles as more people began prioritizing shelter over oxygen. The FAO identifies that nearly half the World’s tropical forests have already vanished. Forests only cover about 31% of the land mass at present, and this world witnessed the loss of nearly 19 billion acres of forests according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The WWF estimates that about 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are a result of deforestation. A greenhouse gas refers to any gaseous compound in the atmosphere that can absorb radiation and trap heat from the sun, hence giving rise to the greenhouse effect and ultimately resulting in global warming. The most significant of these gases are water vapor, Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide.

Admittedly, Nitrogen forms a significant portion of the atmosphere, which almost always carries these other greenhouse gases. People have lived amid these gases in the atmosphere, so global warming is in fact a natural process. However, since the industrial revolution in the late 18th century, the population has ballooned, large scale factories have been set up at the expense of our rich bio-diversity and these factories have been proliferating the emission of harmful gases and chemicals into the atmosphere; these man-made effects then are ‘The Carbon Footprint’.

For decades, ecotourism has helped to conserve nature and protect endangered species. But, COVID-19 and the subsequent closure of ecotourism sites has had an indelible impact on wildlife and the communities that protect it. Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. By limiting the number of visitors, hotels and other tourist infrastructure, ecotourism minimizes human impact on the environment and builds environmental and cultural awareness and respect. Paradoxically, the spread of COVID-19 has also affected ecotourism, because of the risk that humans could transmit the corona virus to apes, and since then, most borders have been closed, and international travel has come to a stand-still.

We are a part of nature and yes we are very much dependent on it, so let’s start planting trees and save our environment. Let’s take an oath to protect our nature on this Environment day!!

In sum-total, there are major factors that affect our Environment which are: Air Pollution, Overpopulation, Deforestation, Biodiversity, Climate Change, and Global warming.

The recent ‘Leaders’ Summit on Climate’ commits to reduction of greenhouse gases to bring down rising global temperature to below 2 degrees and arrest rapid industrialization to avoid catastrophic natural disasters, coming from massive shifts in mother Nature, whom we seem to ‘Love No More’.

One major and inhibiting yet controversial factor relating to air-pollution is nuclear and other kinds of ‘invisible’ radiation and the new high-energy-producing concept of shale-gas earth “fracking” that has taken the western world by storm with peace activists turning the west upside down. For them and many other researchers & physicists, the so-called peaceful nuclear energy (and fossil-fuel) is anathema and simply a bogey raised by the ill-conceived/motivated for imposed preponderance of political and military might and hegemony, come what may – if given up, could virtually eliminate poverty from the face of mother earth (!!) and ours would be a better place to live.

Air quality issue – SMOG:

Another climatic demon that reared up its ugly head and got the rightful attention pertains to the very air that we breathe. In major cities of Pakistan, air quality took a nosedive, with Lahore topping the list of global worst rating on the Air Quality Index (AQI) twice last November.

Parts of the Lahore city recorded an AQI of 600-800, almost two times the maximum safety limits. Karachi did not lag behind, ranking second on the global AQI list for worst air quality for a brief period over the year. Therefore, Pakistan is at major risk due to air pollution and climate change.

During October to April, the Punjab province is faced with low visibility, in the form of smoke, haze, SMOG and fog every year, over its plains, and some states in India with higher levels of air pollutants contributed by vehicular exhaust emissions and industrialization.

Air pollution is a regional and complex phenomenon. The air pollution and resulting smog can only be dealt with through concerted efforts of civil society and well-conceived measures of concerned Govt. departments at provincial and federal levels with a medium to long term framework. The action plan requires immediate response to smog issues in adapting to the given conditions to decrease public exposure to its harmful effects.

In recent years, the situation has been exacerbating as it causes a sensation of burning of eyes and foul smell. The problem is confronted in large areas of South Asia from Delhi to Faisalabad and beyond. These mostly are linked to the recent worsening of air quality to the burning of rice stubbles in farmlands.

SMOG & BRICK KILNS Industry:         

How unperceivably environment-degradation takes effect on life such as smog-pollution created by

apathetic man-made kilns that feed the hungry and reduce poverty it is indeed apathetic to sustain a good living: an unmindful defeat of human conscience not looking beyond life !!!

It is paramount that brick kilns are made to ensure phased reduction of emissions, and the best cost-effective and acceptable method & technology (such as induced draft kiln in place of natural one) be adopted to minimize air-pollution.

India is the second-largest brick producer in the world, producing 200 billion bricks every year that comprise 13% of global production. The sector consumes around 35-40 million tons of coal per year. The brick kiln sector in South Asia remains largely disorganized/ unregulated, and the brick industry is considered to be of the poor, employing around millions of people directly and indirectly.

There are thousands kilns in the country, and energy-inefficient clamps – temporary constructions made of green bricks or clinker, the stony residue from burnt coal or from a furnace – all  through fixed-chimney Bull Trench Kilns and High Draft, Down Draft and Zigzag kilns.

 Fuel expenses account for about half the costs of making a brick. The sector is the largest user of coal after thermal power plants and the iron and steel industry. Apart from coal, biomass, agricultural waste, heavy fuel oil, wood and even old tyres are used as fuel.

It is said that burning coal releases greenhouse gases including black carbon, plus oxides of sulphur and particulate matter. In particular, use of coal with high sulphur content or petroleum coke leads to noxious emissions of this gas. High ash and low quality coal produces more black carbon and particulate matter. Burning of other poor quality fuels leads to the release of contaminants and high concentration of various pollutants.

A cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions is to improve operating practices and increase combustion efficiency by working with both kiln owners and workers, particularly the firemen who control the brick-firing process. They are likely to be motivated by seeing the potential fuel and cost savings that can be achieved by improved combustion.

Since India has made many experiments for efficiency & costs – and because air-polluting smog is one of the most dangerous health & climate hazards – scientists & experts of South Asia need to come together under the banner of SAARC to resolve this mind-boggling issue by adopting in unison the best agreed method or, preferably, finding a doable alternative (also to safeguard soil erosion and damages to topsoil, especially around riverbanks).

Air pollution can be eliminated or reduced by:

a) introducing and adopting energy efficient and environment-friendly technologies to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels such as coal, liquid petroleum and natural gas in sectors such as transports, factories, and fuel-fired-power plants to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxide;

b) abandoning coal-triggered factories to produce energy

c) using zero-sulfur or low sulfur fuel so that more advanced technologies can be adopted in fuel combustion appliances such as transport vehicles;

d) introducing and adopting massive tree planting programs in the country. An ecological trial of every introduced species must be done and invasive tree species must not be planted;

e) mitigating the effect of urban heat islands through green-cover plants, horti/flori-cultures, etc. in every town and city;

f) applying light-color paints on the exterior walls of each and every building since dark colors absorb greater solar radiation during the daytime and are main cause of the urban heat island.

CLIMATE CHANGE CHALLENGES:

Ours is the world which has become vulnerable to natural disasters unlike ever before.

In the 2019 Long-Term Climate Risk Index, released at the Annual Climate Summit held in Poland recently, countries in South Asia have become the most susceptible to climate change.

Sometimes, it is countries like ours that must suffer the most even though we may do our best to combat global warming.

And, we in South Asia – anywhere on mother earth, for that matter – cannot take the threat of global warming lightly in particular and degradation of environment in general.

We have to implement the ‘National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy’ of recent years, with the assistance of international donor banks to increase their durability and resilience to the effects of pollution in environment and climate change.

One of the useful opportunities seen concern optimization of the ‘Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Fertilization Effect’ so as to enable a plant to extract more carbon from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis.

PLASTIC BAGS/BOTTLES A BIG CHALLENGE:

Like cigarettes, plastic shopping bags have gone in recent years from a nuisance that was tolerated to something that is despised by a lot of people. This has led to imposition of bans and restrictions on plastic shopping bags.

There is little doubt that plastic bags have a negative impact upon the environment:

  • They clog up landfills and water drainage systems
  • Get stuck in trees
  • Hurt animals and fish
  • Contaminate bodies of water
  • Many recycling programs do not handle plastic bags well; some may not allow them to be recycled

Restrictions or bans on use of paper & plastic bags were imposed first time in 2014 in California followed by any cities and towns in the US and elsewhere in the world.

It is true that fewer plastic bags being used in a country with various bans and fee programs is a good thing. But it also is worth looking at what will replace plastic bags and what the impact is upon the environment. People still need some types of bags to bring home their items, and for many of them, the choice will be paper bags.

This has caused a split in the ban plastic bags movement. There is an attempt by some Govt. agencies to reduce the use of both plastic and paper bags. But the law favors paper. In some places, all single use bags are treated the same – both paper and plastic. Even then, some experts question if single use bags are always worse than reusable bags.

 In Pakistan a timely action has been set in motion to prohibit the use of plastic bags and bottles as a first step toward freeing environment from pollution.

Of several new steps taken recently, Reverse Vending Machines (RVM) are being introduced to recycle plastic wastes – all as a part of plans/projects to address ecosystem restoration needs for water and food security in which regard Pakistan stands regrettably at 23rd bottom position among the 167 water-scarce countries and 10th most affected by climate change challenges.

In context of ongoing scourge of Covid-19 Pandemic, the world conscience is certainly hurt and the health workers/professionals are now urging WHO to develop solid mechanisms to rebuild ties between health of people and the planet and restore trust of humanity in WHO by removing inertia, inaction and a big gap in what’s said and what is done; the ‘Doctors4XR’ (Doctors for Extinction Rebellion) questioned, “the pandemic will end, but there is no vaccine for climate change”.

BROKEN PLANET:

For many in Pakistan and the world at large, the ‘State of the Planet stands Broken’ to put it in the words of UNSG Guterres; Climate Change is the most pressing issues of our times, and yet not many governments around the world treat it with the urgency it deserves, prioritizing short-term economic growth over the Planet’s well-being !!! And Pakistan too has to watch out in terms of untimely flash floods, high monsoon-rains, crazy landslides and bush fires and pollution, not to mention unmatched massive deforestation; one of the worst vulnerable countries.

Most significantly – and as an innovative/novel initiative – the Seoul Summit on ‘2021 Partnering for Green Growth & Global Goals 2030’ (P4G) focused on public-private partnership, especially in developing countries, playing as a conduit between the developed and the developing; for green climate action it has already declared cutting down on financing international coal projects; and, simultaneously to make all member-states to Paris Protocol abide by its unified Rulebook and to work toward finding ways to draw large investments in renewable energy.

We got to be conscious that the world cannot afford another generation deceived by the lies of the tobacco industry, which pretends to promote freedom of personal choice while really ensuring eternal profits – regardless of the millions of people that pay with their life each year.

We have to be confident, the global campaign will debunk myths and expose devious tactics employed by tobacco industries. WHO will provide young people with the knowledge required to easily detect industry manipulation and equip them with the tools to rebuff such tactics, thereby empowering young people to stand up against them. This is especially important right now as studies show that smokers have a higher risk for a severe case of coronavirus.

As it often is a man’s second nature to do something almost unconsciously – just like spitting, as I used to shudder watching almost all Premier League football players doing so, during my diplomatic assignment in Manchester – a cigarette stick in a box or lying on the ashtray (without a symbolic rose) would invariably attract a smoker or anybody, for that matter, prompting him/ her to pick it up for a ‘golden’ or an ‘alcoholic’ puff !!!

Do what we may or like, nothing shall work if we as one people/ society are not serious or do not take non-smoking seriously, and fail to empathize with innocent non-smokers or the unwary of tobacco products, or to dump the malevolent tobacco industry of the worst kind of senility, metaphorically said.

We must decide to act fast and continue with our nature-friendly policies and adopt global standards in sustaining the natural habitats. We are to encourage recycling the used products among our people. We have to gradually increase taxes on motor-vehicles with the hope to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, and meat-like twice-a-week motor-vehicle ‘naga-days’, and  soonest possible we shall have to encourage the use of electric vehicles and indeed bicycles in large numbers.

BICYCLE is an environment-friendly, fast, inexpensive, efficient, safe, and sustainable transport device. The bicycle can also act as an instrument for growth and for access to education, safety, and sport. The collaboration between the cycle and the rider promotes creativity and social engagement and provides users with immediate knowledge of the local environment.

The UN officially designates June 3 as World Bicycle Day. The bicycle itself is a tradition. All of us have fond memories of riding through our neighborhood as children on our favorite bicycles with their add-ons like bells and baskets. Growing up, cycling has been a rite of passage, and its significance only increases with time.

The bicycle is a sustainable transport and it has a positive effect on the environment.

It promotes tolerances and mutual understanding, empathy, social integration, and a culture of peace. Normal, moderately intense physical activity – including walking, cycling, or playing sports – has major health benefits. For all ages, the benefits of physically active exercise outweigh potential damage, such as accidents. By becoming more active all day long, people easily achieve the desired level of activity.

Secure facilities for walking and cycling are also a way to achieve greater health equity. Walking and cycling are best modes for the poorest urban sectors, which often cannot afford private vehicles, while at the same time reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and even death.

For Pakistan, in every city & town, and rural areas – like in China, The Netherlands, Vietnam, and many others – regular bicycling by all people needs to be rigorously promoted & supported both by the Govt. NGOs, world orgs and the civil society to lessen dependence on ‘carbon’ motor-vehicles.

We need also to embark upon projects to improve watershed management and solid waste management practices for impacting environment & climate change positively.

But, of course, for all this to be achieved, we got to look for collaboration and partnership to make this world a better place for ourselves. We must think, plan, act and pool resources by joining hands and toward making a better living for our children, our future generation.

It’s a fact and now that we know we are responsible, individually and collectively, for the accelerated deterioration of the Earth. We must also think of our children and grandchildren and ensure that we do enough to help sustain ‘Mother Earth’ for them. We must visualize the effects of Tsunamis, Cyclones, Earthquakes and other natural disasters on us and our families and consider how frequently they occur in this day and age. Nobody has yet forgotten the Tsunami in Indonesia & Sri Lanka which hit several years ago, or the floods of 2009 in Pakistan and almost every year after, or the cyclones that hit just so frequently or the droughts which so quickly affect our agricultural produce. Apart from this, in South Asia, today we witness regular landslides and inundation of roads in the rural and urban areas.

Better late than never, we in Pakistan are now becoming increasingly aware and conscious of the climate challenges, and now we are seeing a good beginning of needed actions – the prohibition of the use of plastic bottles & bags – in protecting the environment from pollution and safeguarding human health from diseases.

It’s a fact that we are responsible, individually and collectively, for the accelerated deterioration of the Earth. We must also think of our children and grandchildren and ensure that we do enough to help sustain ‘Mother Earth’ for them. We must visualize the effects of Tsunamis, Cyclones, Earthquakes and other natural disasters on us and our families and consider how frequently they occur in this day and age. Nobody has yet forgotten the Tsunami in Indonesia & Sri Lanka which hit several years ago, or the floods of 2009 in Pakistan and almost every year after, or the cyclones that hit just so frequently or the droughts which so quickly affect our agricultural produce. Apart from this, in South Asia, today we witness regular landslides and inundation of roads in the rural and urban areas.

Now we got to raise our voice for Nature, for its sustainability…

The foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature. Yet, these are exceptional times when nature tells us:

To care for ourselves we must care for nature;

It’s time to wake up. To take notice. To raise our voices.

It’s time to build back better for People and Planet.

Let’s Say No to Tobacco, Let’s Quit Smoking for Good.

Make our World Environment-Friendly, Return to Nature.

  • The writer is a Rotarian and former senior career diplomat of Pakistan. He can be reached on [email protected], @SaladinCh.