On September 20th 2019, the biggest global climate strikes the world has ever seen so far took place. Happening on the eve of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, marches were held in more than 150 countries, with protesters calling on governments and businesses to end their inaction on climate change. On that day, a historic development took place in Pakistan itself as the country held its first ever climate strike, with protesters marching in several cities and towns. In Islamabad, a large crowd marched from the Press Club to the Parade Ground and presented demands to the Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul.
I joined the March in Islamabad and saw that the participants were mostly youth who showed a lot of enthusiasm for the cause. They eagerly signed the online petition I launched to urge the government of Pakistan to declare a climate change emergency by logging onto (https://www.change.org/p/petition-to-ministry-of-climate-change-for-enforcing-climate-change-emergency). One of the participants I met had earlier attended an awareness-raising session with me on income generation through eco-tourism in Pakistan’s salubrious areas.
In the Pakistan Climate March, a few political personalities attended. I personally didn’t see any except a lady who introduced herself as PTI senior member Nadia Khattak. She was filming young marchers and asking them what their message to Imran Khan was. Several gave their message, but one point they made in general was that Imran Khan has shown much interest in fighting problems like corruption but has not paid enough attention to Pakistan’s biggest problem of all, climate change.
This is an important point to consider. Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan mission aims to overcome the problems that have been holding us back for so long. Environmental degradation is a serious threat to the country, with Pakistan classified as one of the world’s top ten most vulnerable countries to climate change. Therefore, it has to be taken into account if we are to make a better Pakistan. Also, we must consider that creating a Naya Pakistan means equipping the nation with the means to tackle the challenges of the future. Climate change is a threat that is materializing extremely slowly and puts Pakistan’s very future in jeopardy. It is vital that we pursue policy to overcome climate change before the calamity becomes unavoidable.
Something else we have to realize is that while Imran Khan’s greater focus on corruption than climate change may seem like a skewing of priorities, the first goal actually aids the other. Pakistan will need extensive state action to tackle climate change, but widespread corruption hampers the proper functioning of the state. Certainly, corruption stands in the way of environmental causes. Corrupt officials take resources away from the hefty efforts needed for protecting the environment and in the perpetual conflict between profit-making and environmental preservation, they will always be in favor of profit-making. Corruption means the serious neglect of environmental regulation and the go-ahead to industries to pollute. What this means is that if Imran Khan succeeds in his mission to rid Pakistan of corruption, the country will be better able to fight for the environment. Moral cleansing “Naya Pakistan” and building ‘Clean Green Pakistan’ go hand in hand.
In fact, climate change goes hand in hand with a very wide range of other issues, putting it far from being the distinct and isolated problem that we often seem to treat it as. Take three issues that are of high significance to Pakistan, poverty, illiteracy, and war, and look at their relevance to the occurrence of climate change and the struggle to mitigate it. Rural poverty compels communities to harvest what little timber they can from their forest covers without acquiring means to reforest their land, removing a critical carbon sink. The people cannot be engaged in the effort to fight climate change without education. War makes the emission of greenhouse gases skyrocket. Pretty much everything in our lives determines our vulnerability and capacity to adapt to climate change.
It is clear that the distinction between climate change and “other” issues is entirely an artificial one. Climate change is a universal issue because the climate is a universal influence on the world we live in. The two are, in fact, interwoven into every mesh. Every aspect of the world is determined by the climate and every aspect of the world influences climate. This means that climate change will impact everything and everything will play a role in how climate change occurs. The proper path for Pakistan, indeed for all nations, is to find out how to incorporate all other issues with the climate issue and to learn how to bring everything together in fighting climate change. That is MY message to Imran Khan.
It is a message the whole world needs to heed. We cannot fight climate change without discovering the proper way to do it. That is an area in which the climate change movement appears to not be paying enough attention to. This is exemplified by the recent climate strikes involving school-skipping by a lot of youth climate activists. Youth should not just be pushing harder on the rulers to take action. They should also be getting knowledge in what needs to be done to fight climate change.
Young activist Greta Thunberg, the inspiration behind the climate strikes, has been urging politicians to “listen to the scientists.” Yet, it seems what she mostly means is that they should listen to what the scientists say about how global warming is occurring. What about listening to what scientists say about how to fight climate change? The basic idea of the climate strikes appears to be that because we know that climate change is happening, all we must do now is put pressure on the authorities to start taking action against it, as if we already have all the right solutions in plan.
Perhaps the reason why politicians aren’t taking action is because they don’t know enough about what action to take. Neither does anybody else when it comes to practical and effective climate remedies. Instead of just protesting and lobbying, the climate change movement must also put the people’s energy into thinking and researching and discovering potential solutions to climate change.
Regardless, what climate strikers have done around the world is outstanding. They have essentially succeeded in making the world pay attention to climate change and be concerned about it. It is a good beginning. The marches held in Pakistan are a promising sign for our nation. Pakistan Climate March has been a citizen-led initiative, with students spontaneously and enthusiastically coming out to answer the call spread by Climate Action Now. Majority of the marchers were very young people still in school and university. It shows that Pakistan’s next generation is eager to tackle the climate crisis.
Still, some people speak of ways the event could have been better. They say, for example, that there should have been even more youth attending, because of how the next generation will have to deal with climate change. But the PTI member Nadia Khattak gave a different view on the Climate March. Noting how most of the participants were young, she said that people are generally concerned about the environment when they are age 13-25, but their concern wears off afterwards as their own lives take center stage. It is the working professionals, she emphasized, who are most capable of taking action on climate change and regretted that not many were present at the march.
My take is that maybe working professionals don’t need to be out marching because they are working. We must bear in mind that protesting is not everything. When you are marching in a climate demonstration, you are calling on others to do the actual work needed to mitigate climate change, but it is distinct from that work. It doesn’t matter if the working people are not involved in climate strikes as long as they are busy in other ways tackling the issue. But the young people and students also have obligations besides marching. They need to be studying the subject of climate change and preparing for tackling the issue throughout their lives. I hope our students don’t get into the habit of skipping school over and over again to protest climate change. There is a lot we can do in school to contribute to saving the world from climate change.
In fact, we should increase coverage of climate change and related topics in our curriculum. Pakistan’s education system devotes too little time to environmental issues. Not only do we have to change that, but our coverage of climate change should be organized in such a manner as to enable students to comprehensively understand it and be good at thinking up solutions for solving climate change. My main advice is that we should not treat climate change as a distinct subject to be taught separately. Rather, all other subjects should be taught in school in such a way as to emphasize whatever relevance they have to climate change.
In physics and chemistry class, we can learn how the greenhouse effect works and how the burning of fossil fuels happens. In technology and engineering class, we can learn a lot more about the machines that burn fossil fuels and how we can design the industry and technology that powers civilization to be more environmentally-friendly. In earth sciences, of course, we can learn directly about the climate and how it is changing. In biology class, we can learn about how life on Earth interacts with the climate and how it will be affected by, and affect, climate change, which will also give us insights into how to manage the biosphere to enable it to fight climate change. In economics class, we can learn about how the world economy enables the human activities that are changing the climate and about how we can change the way the economy is structured to make it more sustainable for the environment. The list goes on and on.
We must keep the lessons of the climate strikes of 20 September in mind as we plan for what we need to do next. Thanks to the historic Climate March held in our nation, Pakistan now has its own fully-fledged climate movement. If we succeed in pushing climate change to the forefront of the nation’s attention, there are many ways Pakistan can play its part in fighting climate change. We contribute only a tiny percentage of global CO2 emissions while at the same time being one of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. This means that making Pakistan more carbon-neutral will by itself not help very much. But we can fight for the climate change cause on the international stage, pushing other countries to work together and do more on climate change. We must always remember that we are one player in the larger scheme of things and humanity can solve climate change if all the countries of the world engage in collective action.
Pakistanis can also contribute immensely to the field of knowledge regarding climate change. The question of what the future holds in store and what we can do about it is still largely unanswered, so it is we, the people, who need to dig for answers. Pakistan’s youth and professionals can get involved in finding solutions to the climate change crisis only by empowering themselves with research and inquiry. Just know that the scope of the knowledge we are dealing with is vast. To study climate change is to study the entire world and the way it works. We also have to look in every possible direction for climate solutions. We better start now, because there is a lot we have to do to push forward the new and fast-growing frontier of knowledge about both the reality of climate change and what we can do about it.
The climate strikes of September 20th were unprecedented, but as we wake up to the climate change crisis, it is only the beginning of what is bound to be a very long and difficult road ahead for humanity. Climate change is a huge problem, one that puts the future of civilization and the planet in jeopardy, and the world needs to give everything it has to solving the problem. It is vital that Pakistan involves itself in this fight and fully devotes its resources and energy, regardless of how much it has available, to making it possible for its people and all of humanity to continue having a future. Whatever we deal with on a daily basis, climate change is Pakistan’s number one national issue. We now just have to deal with it as such.
Writer is director at Pakistan’s People-Led Disaster Management and author of upcoming book on Pakistan’s multi-hazard risk analysis.