Apollo 11: What the First Men on the Moon Mean to us

Fifty years ago, an epic voyage was undertaken which will be etched in human memory forever as one of the most pivotal events in history. It was Apollo 11, the 1969 mission to send the first human beings to land on the Moon and return back. The successful completion of the mission amazed the entire world and captured the hearts and imagination of people everywhere. It still continues to do so, as in 2019 the world observes the half-centenary of the first Moon landing with great enthusiasm.

Three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins, were on board the Apollo 11 spacecraft, which blasted off on top of a powerful Saturn V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969, the fiftieth anniversary of which has been accompanied by a lunar eclipse. It was on July 20, after four days of hurtling through space, that the lunar module Eagle, which separated from the main craft, touched down on the surface of the Moon, and out of it stepped Neil Armstrong, to be the first man to set foot on the lunar landscape, followed shortly afterwards by Buzz Aldrin. Michael Collins remained in orbit around the Moon in the command module Columbia, waiting to rejoin his fellow astronauts 21 hours later. Hence, that day has gone down in history as one so important as to be a turning point for humanity. We thus spent 20 July, 2019, the anniversary of the very moon landing itself, with the commemoration the event is due.

On July 24, after 9 days of their unprecedented voyage far out into space, the Apollo 11 astronauts finally returned to their home planet Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean, and received acclaim far and wide from their fellow human beings. July 24 is therefore now the conclusion of our half-centenary commemorations as well.

The Apollo 11 landing, which would be followed in the next few years by more moon landings, was part of America’s Apollo space program, an ambitious project under NASA to compete with the Soviet Union in the Space Race to put the first man on the Moon. America first pledged to aim for that goal in 1961 under its new, young President John F. Kennedy and it succeeded just eight years later. It was a victory for America, a moment that gained the country immense prestige on the world stage. But it was also much more than that. The first moon landing meant something profound for people everywhere, a victory for the entire world in a way. Once the Apollo mission was completed, it became clear that it was not just an American achievement, it was not just an achievement of Western civilization, it was an achievement of humanity and one that we can consider the greatest ever.

It is not surprising, therefore, that even with the passing of half a century, it still grips our imagination and inspires us. The 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 is being spent not only with celebration of the epic voyage but with extensive reflections and discussions revolving around it.

We are now in a time when there is a renewed push for space travel in countries around the world. Humanity continues to harbor the ambition to travel into space and to go further, where none have gone before. For current and future generations of space enthusiasts, Apollo 11 remains a pivotal event. It is the most important milestone in space travel. The 60s, the golden age of space exploration, saw many milestones, such as Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, and Apollo 8, the first crew to orbit the Moon. But the landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon was the first time ever that human beings landed on another world besides Earth.

As we remember that unprecedented feat, there are a lot of questions for us to ponder. Why did America strive to send men to the Moon? What did it accomplish? What is the legacy of Apollo? People have debated these questions since the Space Race began. Now, in the fiftieth year since that Race concluded, it is worth our while to focus again on the meaning of the landing of men on the Moon and to realize how it is important.

On the face of it, going to the Moon offered little in the way of practical significance. Yet, the regard that most people hold it in is enormous. The Apollo 11 moon landing is one of the biggest events of our historical memory and we, in fact, consider it to be without equal in a way. It was a big deal for the entire world when it happened and the importance people attach to it has only grown over the decades. It may be because the first moon landing was not just a milestone for the human race, a new height of achievement. It could be considered also as the moment that the very human race itself transformed.

The human race has always been supposed to exist by certain principles. One of them is that it only inhabits Planet Earth. For as long as we existed, we were bound to the surface of the Earth by its gravitational force, only able to gaze at the vast expanses of space and its innumerable worlds beyond. On July 20, 1969, that changed. We could tread on one of ‘those’ other worlds and the way was now clear for us. The moon landing signaled that there was no limit to where we could ultimately go.

It is not just the whole endeavor. It is not just that day. It is the very moment that Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. Before, no human being had ever stood on any object not on the Earth or from it, any object existing naturally in outer space. And then Armstrong stepped down from the ladder and his left foot touched lunar soil. Humanity then became a race existing beyond just one world and that mattered in every which way. This is why Neil Armstrong’s first words while stepping onto the Moon were “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

It sent the whole of humanity a message that there was nothing out of bounds for us, no milestone we could not reach. For Americans, their country’s position as the leader in human progress was consolidated, but for everyone, it was clear that there was no limit to the progress that could be made. And what else do human beings have the desire to progress in more than travel and exploration? Learning and discovering is another innate human desire and Apollo also offered its fair share of that. Also, we were drawn to Apollo because no other endeavor had been so difficult and so vast in scale and, at the same time, so novel. Finally, the Apollo moon landing offered a picture of the shape of things to come. It cleared a path for us to continue to push forward into the unknown and we still intend to tread that path.

At the same time, beneath the marvels of both outer space and man’s endeavor to travel into it, there are hard realities that we have to grapple with. The first landing on the Moon itself only changed the world in spirit but not in any concrete way. As a result, there have existed doubts that it is worth the honor we give to it. The cost of the Apollo space program was enormous and that combined with the lack of practical benefit to be derived from reaching the Moon meant that the whole venture was controversial in many ways. Back then, there were many who considered it to be a diversion of resources that could be used for bettering people’s lives and solving serious problems down on Earth. They thought of it as a distraction and a burden on the world, especially for America and its people. Such concerns contributed to the decline of America’s travels into deep space after 1972. Decades later, we have mostly forgotten about those issues surrounding the extensive space program that existed before then, but these are questions that space exploration still poses.

To make sense of this, we have to understand the context in which the world’s focus on going into space, 1957-1972, too place. America was heavily involved in its space program throughout a decade in which it had many other issues to deal with. With widespread protests, unrest, and tensions occurring continuously across the country over the Civil Rights movement, inequality, poverty, the counter-culture, and the Vietnam War, the sixties were a difficult decade for America. The entire Space Race also came in the midst of a difficult century for the world, as the 1900s, from beginning to end, were a time when war, violence, conflict, upheaval, tensions, and oppression raged unbridled across the globe. The race to the Moon took place in the aftermath of the very worst of this, the Second World War, and while the world was at risk of a third world war that could wipe out humanity.

Such was the reality down on Earth while men were pushing into outer space. Against this backdrop, space exploration had complex meaning. It could be considered a diversion from certain problems but also served as a solution to others, the main issues of the century in fact. By focusing on a competition to master space travel, the participants of the Cold War were led away from their urge for violence and confrontation. The Space Race represented a new path for the world after the carnage of WW2, a path in which achievement could drive history instead of conflict. The Apollo space program could be seen as a respite from the issues and squabbles people were faced with on Earth. It represented the purity of humanity’s efforts to advance and further its collective boundaries.

There were also many other real benefits of the rush into space, benefits that continue today. By going to the Moon, mankind’s scientific knowledge was expanded. We got to know a lot more not only about the Moon itself but the entire solar system and its history, since the Moon, being an essentially unchanging world, serves as a record of its neighborhood. The main contribution of Apollo, of course, was in technology. In order to land men on the Moon, tremendous technological advancements had to be made in a very wide variety of important fields. Electronics had to be revolutionized with the development of better telecommunication and better computer technology, with a particular view towards the creation of micro-electronics. So, too, were there improvements in rocketry, in material engineering, and even in food safety. Finally, Apollo harbors broad responsibility for all the satellites which surround Earth today and are put to a wide variety of important uses. All in all, the push into space accelerated the advance of human prowess enormously and it is this which has changed the world.

There are also a lot of very valuable lessons the Apollo space program has for us and much that it can inspire us with. It showed how much human beings could achieve if they all put their minds to it and engaged in collective effort. The moon landing was achieved against all odds. The effort to accomplish it began little more than half a century since the horse and buggy vanished from the roads and when America’s spaceflight capabilities were in their infancy. On top of that, America during most of the space program was preoccupied with the Vietnam War, exerting much of its effort towards that end. It seemed unlikely that the nation could fulfill President Kennedy’s goal of sending a man to the Moon and back before the end of the decade before anyone else.

Yet, in just eight years, that goal was achieved in its entirety. It was because despite all the disputes and squabbles that were going on, the people of America and several other countries which contributed were mostly united and they were determined to make the first moon landing possible. There have been few other projects in which so many were so eager to be involved. Think of how much else humanity could achieve if such an attitude was applied to everything. In the wake of the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo, let us continue to be motivated by this lesson. The endeavor to land the first man on the Moon should serve as an example to all of us.

Once the first moon landing was achieved, the number of people united behind it only skyrocketed. Michael Collins may not have landed on the Moon but he has a lot to tell us about it. He recalled that after coming back to Earth and taking a tour of the world, he was surprised to find the reaction he received from people was not along the lines of “Congratulations, your country did it” but instead, “We did it”. Across national borders, the moon landing was looked upon as an accomplishment for all people and this shows how much potential all of humanity has in being united for a common purpose.

The ventures into space in the second half of the twentieth century had a big impact on humanity’s collective consciousness in many ways. Through the sheer magnitude of the achievements of spacefaring, it made them think of the human race as being capable of anything and as having opened up a future of boundless possibilities. But heading out into space for the first time changed our thinking forever in another way, one that is the most unexpected result of the space programs.

It was supposed to be all about space. We had always been an earthbound species and now our endeavor was to change that and reach for what lay beyond Earth. Going to the Moon and elsewhere was our sole motivation. But in the process of doing so, our very own planet entered into the focus. Not only were we exploring outer space and uncovering what lay beyond, but we ended up rediscovering Earth as well.

By going into space for the first time, human beings were able to see the Earth from afar and hence as a whole. The first astronauts sent into orbit were the first to view Earth’s splendor as they set eyes on its blue surface shining brightly in the light of the Sun. Astronauts later sent farther into space were able to see Earth in its full, circular majesty. They were also to share that sight with all those back on Earth thanks to the cameras they brought onboard. The crew of Apollo 8, the first to orbit around the Moon in December 1968, took a photo of the Earth rising over the surface of the Moon, half-covered, known as Earthrise. As the crew of Apollo 17 left for the moon for the last time, they took the first full picture of the Earth, given the name Blue Marble.

Seeing the Earth in full view caused a profound shift in our thinking. The impact the sight had on the astronauts themselves was huge and there was an impact also of the images on the world. Being able to see our world from this new perspective was of course interesting. It was also breathtaking. We have been able to gaze at the heavens since time immemorial, finding the sights in outer space to be majestic. But when we got ourselves into space, we found nothing, not the Moon or the Sun or anything else, to be as beautiful as our planet, a mixture of blue, white, and brown shining brightly in the sunlight. As Mike Collins recalled of the Apollo 11 voyage to the Moon, “The first time we saw the Moon up close, it was a magnificent spectacle. It was huge. The Sun was coming around it, cascading and making a golden halo, and filled our entire window. As impressive as the view was of this alien Moon seen up close, it was nothing compared to the sight of the tiny Earth. The Earth was the main show. The Earth was it.”

In the end, it seems that the Earth itself, as a planet on its own out there in space, became the focal point of our explorations of space. Furthermore, the biggest result of looking at Earth from a far was that it forever changed how people look at the world they live in.

Before, as we lived on the Earth, it always seemed endless, like a universe in itself. But with the advent of space exploration, by seeing it against the background of space, we were able to see how limited our world is. It was a small oasis, providing us with everything we need for our existence, in the endless desert of space. As a result, we began to appreciate the world more and be more conscious of its fragility. We began to think of the entire world as being one. Now, more than ever, we wanted to take care of it.

The Earth photos made plainer the destruction and futility of war, already evident to us for some time now. Pacifist attitudes were encouraged. So too was humanitarianism across borders. People had a greater desire to help other people wherever they were in the world and international charities took the images as potent symbols. And people also had instilled in them the desire to take care of the Earth itself. Earthrise and Blue Marble provided kinder for the newly-born environmental movement. People had just started to notice how we were wreaking havoc on natural environments everywhere and seeing the Earth as a whole drove home the point that what we were destroying was everything that we had. Inspired in part by the release of Earthrise, the first Earth Day was inaugurated little more than a year later.

What no doubt contributed to this awareness was how exploring outer space was by itself a quest that yielded little actual benefit for humanity. Our desire to go into space is fueled in part by how marvelous it is to us. The cosmos is of a grand scale and the wonders that exist in it are endless and awe-inspiring. At the same time, it is completely inhospitable to us human beings. This was a point made in the Apollo 11 mission itself. As is well known, Neil Armstrong’s first words as he stepped onto the surface of the Moon were, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. When it was Buzz Aldrin’s turn to take his first step, his first words upon seeing the landscape around him was “Magnificent desolation”.

Armstrong’s first words are what all of us take to heart. But Aldrin’s first words also carry an important meaning for us, a meaning that in fact may be actually of more significance to humanity, if only we choose to realize it. The Moon was a magnificent place to reach but it was also desolate, completely lifeless and completely still. The same went for the rest of outer space, made up of vast, empty voids dotted with sparse objects that, as far as we can see, are either desolate or hellish (also hard to reach). The cosmos around Earth has little to provide us with. Only the Earth has everything. Outer space is incredibly vast, endless in fact, but also barren, while Earth is bountiful, filled with all we need, but is also very, very minute.

So outer space has always captivated us and our desire to reach for the stars has been strong. But in doing so, our attention was quickly drawn to our home planet. We would never take it for granted again and the situation it is in became clearer. The same explosive growth of civilization which has enabled mankind to extend its reach into outer space so quickly also has rendered the Earth vulnerable to our actions. The importance of taking care of the world was driven home to us and that is perhaps the biggest gift the pioneering space programs of the twentieth century have given us.

So by all means, we should continue to travel into space. We should continue to imagine and to push forward towards the countless possibilities for us that lie out there. And we should at the same time do all we can to maintain the well-being of the planet from which we take off. We need to be responsible in how we live on it and we need to take care of it using the same ingenuity, prowess, willpower, and teamwork that Apollo proved that humanity is capable of.

Our home planet must also be kept in our gaze and our fascination. In fact, it should be our main interest. Outer space is magnificent in terms of its sheer scale. Grand spectacles are offered up by its endless expanse. The Earth is equally magnificent in its intricacy. Packed into the small space that is our planet is an endless variety of wonders. There is enormous complexity and diversity in everything that is on it and that makes up our world and much of what is on it is amazing in form. Our world is also not fully revealed to us and we continue to explore it.

Just the fact that most of the ocean floor is uncharted while the surfaces of the Moon, Mars, and Venus are almost fully mapped is testament to this. Earth is a world of spectacles just as the cosmos is and is one that is for our survival and our prosperity. So we should continue to keep one, far-reaching eye towards the cosmos and all its planets, stars, nebulas, and galaxies and another, more intimate eye, on the Earth and its oceans, atmosphere, terrain, landscapes, and, most of all, incredible diversity of life.

Life is what makes Earth unique in the universe that we know and it is the most wondrous part of our planet. Not only is the variety of life almost unlimited but so is the complexity of all living things. Nowhere in the entire universe are there more marvels to explore than in life on Earth. Yet, it is also among what is most threatened on our Earth. Due to human activity, the health of wild ecosystems is being destroyed and countless species are being driven to extinction. When a species goes extinct, it is gone permanently. That should be the most painful reality that looking at Earth makes us realize. As Earth is all that we have in the cold abyss of the universe, every time a species on it goes extinct, it reduces what is there with us forever. It is a loss for the way the world is supposed to be and also a loss for humanity, directly, as any species is more likely than not to be of use. Imagine what the world would be like now if chickens and cattle became extinct before they could be domesticated. All of us tend not to give the recognition to the enormity of this reality that we need to, but looking at our vibrant blue planet standing in contrast to the blackness of space will give us that awareness.

There is so much meaning to be found in Apollo 11, the first voyage to the Moon, as we commemorate the passing of half a century since. Today is the anniversary of the final day of the voyage, when the first men on the Moon finally return to Earth, their home world, after 9 days in space on history’s greatest voyage. After all the jubilation of their historic trip to the Moon, in the end, that may have been the part of the voyage that meant the most to them. To be back home on their planet full of life and full of the hospitability humanity has always known, after so long in the magnificent desolation of space, to once again feel something as mundane as the Earth’s gravity which holds everything together, is enough to make them appreciate the Earth’s worth more than anything else. While only very few can be able to share that experience, all of us should learn what it can teach us.

Our fifty-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission ends here. We spent it not only looking back at the past and at the groundbreaking achievements of people back then but also looking forward towards the future. It is the future of space travel, of course, guided by Apollo’s legacy. As human civilization continues to march forward and as we make progress in human capability at accelerating speeds, we will be able to push farther and farther out into space and how far we will go and where we will ultimately end up, no one knows. But at the same time, as human civilization grows with no end in sight, the weight it places on planet Earth grows and the difficult realities it creates continue onwards. How that will ultimately end up, also no one knows. We have to keep this in mind as we look towards the future of space travel and we need progress in our attitudes towards each other and towards the world.

Let Neil Armstrong, Buzz Alrin, Michael Collins, and the 400,000 other people who worked on Apollo 11 serve as the source of inspiration to us in this regard as we honor them for their heroic achievement. Our remembrance does not end here and likely never will, for they will serve as an inspiration to the world always. But we serve them no justice unless we ensure that there will forever be a world in which their legacy lives on, a world that future space travellers can always continue to look back and know there is a home to return to. There is going to be a lot we will have to do, but just as humanity in the 1960s determined to reach the Moon and succeeded, so too can humanity now unite and determine to protect and preserve the Earth for all future generations and so too can we succeed. In the end, perhaps the simplest lesson that can guide us is that, beneath the wondrous realm of space, our blue planet Earth is far from endless, but the diversity of everything on it is endless.

And all of that, we need to protect and cherish forever.

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The Climate Emergency is Real. So must be Our Response.

In a historic move, the United Kingdom on May 1 declared a national climate emergency, the first nation ever to do so. This comes in the heels of weeks of large-scale protests by climate change activists in the UK spearheaded by the organization Extinction Rebellion, as well as the worldwide “school strike for climate” led by Swedish teenager Greta Thurnberg. At the same time, hundreds of local governments in the United Kingdom and around the world have been declaring climate emergencies. After the entire UK did so, another nation soon followed suit. On May 9, Ireland became the second nation in the world to declare a climate emergency. The emergency declarations are also being referred to as “climate change and environment emergencies” or “climate change and biodiversity emergencies”.

These new developments come when the tempo on the climate change issue is rising. In 2015, most countries in the world signed the Paris Agreement, the world’s first comprehensive climate treaty, pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But when Donald Trump became President of the United States, he opposed belief in climate change and declared he would withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The Democratic Party and the many Democrats running for the 2020 race have since put climate change at the top of their agenda. Newcomer (D) Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pushing the Green New Deal, a comprehensive action plan for the United States to combat climate change. Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has proposed her $2 trillion green manufacturing program, while Democratic front runner for nomination as Presidential candidate Joe Biden has unveiled his own plan to pour $1.7 trillion into achieving 100% clean energy by 2050. Spurring the climate change movement is a special report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued on October 8, 2018, which stated that the world only has 12 years to take action to prevent global warming from reaching dangerous levels.

The last year has also seen climate action spreading from the grassroots. 15 year old Greta Thurnberg was one of the first to act. In August 2018, she began to skip school to protest against climate change outside the Swedish Parliament. Following her example, students all over the West started doing so, resulting in the School Strike for Climate. This was followed by the newly-formed group Extinction Rebellion launching a campaign of mass civil disobedience in Britain, causing widespread disruption in the country in April. Their campaign led UK’s main opposition Labour Party to call for a declaration of climate emergency, which Parliament agreed to on May 1.

This announcement can be considered a big step forward. It seems the efforts of the protesters have already borne fruit. But the historic move by the UK parliament is largely symbolic. The declaration only calls for the country to consider climate change an emergency, but no proposals for what has to be done about it have followed yet. This stands in contrast to most other declarations of emergency by the UK government over things like natural disasters or terror threats. So if the action is only on paper, we cannot be sure that real change is going to come as a result. But the decision to declare climate change an emergency is still a radical one without precedent. It could pave the way for real changes in the world’s approach to climate change.

Climate change is clearly not the usual sort of emergency. When we have a natural disaster, like a hurricane making landfall, or a terror attack leading the country to be on high alert, the problems on hand are immediate and require immediate action. But modern man made global climate change is a long-term problem. Its consequences are going to play out very, very gradually. This explains why the UK climate emergency declaration carries no policy proposals with it. We can take our time to find and implement solutions. Question then arises; is the terminology being used here appropriate?

Climate change is a very serious problem but the word “emergency” invokes urgency, a situation in which something bad is imminent. It can be considered synonymous with “crisis”. When a nation declares an emergency, it is usually over a crisis happening right there and then. Climate change enhances many short-term risks like natural hazards, but by itself, it doesn’t look like it has become critical yet. Our concerns are mostly about what climate change is going to bring in the future. The effects of climate change are likely to be very, very bad for the world, but their manifestation will take a while.

The gradual nature of the issue is probably what is preventing people from being concerned about climate change enough to take action right now. While unmitigated climate change, by all reasonable expectations, will ultimately bring catastrophe to the world, Can it really be called an urgent crisis right now?

The answer is yes.

Both the UK and Ireland’s emergency declarations are not over the effects of climate change. They are over the causes. Global warming is happening because of human activities but it does not happen alongside those activities. The emission of greenhouse gases does not immediately change the climate, nor does the climate get back to normalcy when the emissions are halted. Our actions carry long-term consequences for the climate. The climate change catastrophes of the future will be caused, in large part, by what we are doing now, not just what we will be doing in future. Also, climate change mitigation is a very difficult endeavor. The sooner we start on it, the more we can get it done. To understand this better, we need to look at how it is that human activity is changing the climate.

Planet Earth bathes in the light coming from the Sun, which carries a great amount of energy. When this sunlight, which passes through air, reaches the Earth’s surface, some 30 percent of it is reflected but the rest is absorbed. When sunlight is absorbed, its energy is turned into heat, so the Earth warms up. The heat does not remain in the Earth for long, however, because it all eventually turns into infrared radiation (heat rays) that escapes back into outer space. In this way, the Earth cools itself to counteract the warmth coming from the Sun.

Like sunlight, the Earth’s gaseous atmosphere allows infrared radiation to pass through, but not all of it. Different gases in the atmosphere can, to varying degrees, absorb infrared radiation and therefore the heat given off by the Earth while at the same time letting sunlight pass by. The heat the gas molecules absorb then is passed into the surrounding air. As a result, the atmosphere warms up and heat is retained by planet Earth for some time instead of immediately dissipating into space, elevating the world’s temperature. This is known as the greenhouse effect. Oxygen and nitrogen, the gases that make up most of the atmosphere, have negligible ability to absorb infrared. Water vapor does so to a small extent. Carbon dioxide is a strong absorber of infrared and methane is extremely strong. These greenhouse gases are naturally present in the atmosphere and prevent the world from freezing over, keeping the climate the way it is.

But human activity is increasing the greenhouse effect by releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide (CO2). The energy that powers civilization comes mostly from the burning of carbon fuels, especially fossil fuels, which results in the production of CO2 as a waste product. The amount of fossil fuels available for energy production is huge, since they all have been produced by burial of organic matter throughout Earth’s history. We are also releasing a lot of methane through many ways such as agriculture and drilling. As a result, the atmosphere is getting warmer and the climate is changing, which will radically alter the Earth’s entire natural environment. The consequences for humanity and life on Earth will be drastic.

Greenhouse gas emissions have a long-term effect. Many other environmental problems like air and water pollution tend to be short-term. For example, when industrial waste is being poured into rivers, the resulting pollution sets in rapidly and continues only as long as the dumping of waste continues. If regulations are implemented to stop industries from doing this, the river becomes clean after a short time. That is not the case with the ways we are changing the chemical make-up of the earth’s atmosphere.

Firstly, it takes a long time for newly-emitted greenhouse gases to heat up the atmosphere. Most of the carbon dioxide we have put into the atmosphere was put there very recently and according to scientists, it will take that CO2 decades to fully heat up the Earth. Everything takes time. However, heat travels through a planet’s atmosphere very rapidly. The reason why it takes the climate of Earth so long to respond to changes in Earth’s energy balance is due to 70 percent of our planet being covered in oceans. The oceans have a lot of mass and water is an extremely potent absorber of heat. When the greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere are raised, the extra heat that they absorb is quickly sucked up by the ocean. This continues for some time until the oceans are at their full capacity and the newcomer greenhouse gases can finally give off all the heat they absorb to the atmosphere.

Scientists estimate that this time lag for the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere is somewhere around 40 years. That means that all the CO2 people emitted by the 1970s must be achieving their full effect only now and that the CO2 we have already emitted so far are going to continue raising the Earth’s temperature for a long time afterwards.

Secondly, greenhouse gases tend to stay in the atmosphere for a long time. Methane usually lasts a few decades. Carbon dioxide tends to last centuries. There are some ways through which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, especially through absorption by trees, but this happen very slowly, especially now that human beings are causing widespread deforestation. So the CO2 we have emitted will stay for a long time, which means that even if we stop our climate-changing activities right now, the damage we have caused already will be playing itself out for a very long time.

The goal of today’s climate change movement is to prevent ourselves from causing even more lasting harm. That is the message the youth movement, which sees itself as representing future generations, is sending. It is the people of tomorrow who will suffer from what we are doing today. It is the momentum in climate change that we have to watch out for, much like the momentum in a moving train which makes it take a long time to come to a stop after the engineer presses on the brakes.

An analogy for the climate emergency can be stated in these terms. Suppose there is a train going at 70 miles per hour when the engineer sees that a giant boulder rolled down from a hill and was resting on the tracks a few miles ahead. If the train crashes with the boulder, there will be a great accident. Now, if the engineer hits the brakes, it will take the train minutes to stop, during which time it would have continued traveling for miles. That means that the engineer has to step on the brakes right at the moment he sees the boulder. He can’t just wait for the train to be about to hit the boulder and say “Okay, now we have an emergency and I have to respond”. The emergency begins as soon as the boulder is spotted. It is the same with climate change. We apply brakes now or we will crash into the boulder.

So this is the situation to which the world is waking up. But there is also something else for the world to be worried about, a very, very grave possibility.

In our future climate prospects, there is a scenario with terrifying implications. So far, climate change seems to be something which is being directly caused by human beings. How much it happens correlates with how much we are doing it. It is like if there is a group of large statues and a man is trying to topple them all. He grabs hold of one statue and pushes it with all its might, tipping it over. Then he has to repeat the process for all the other statues. When he is in the process of doing it, you can save the statues that remain by stepping in and stopping the man. But imagine if all the statues were aligned closely together in a row. Then the man just has to walk to the statue at one end of the row and push upon it in the direction of the other statues to cause a domino effect. Once he starts the domino effect, the pace of the movement thus caused is greater than your pace to try and stop it.

Horrifyingly, science suggests that this is the path that climate change could end up going down. If greenhouse gas emissions by human activity go far enough, we could unleash a domino effect with potentially cataclysmic consequences for the world. It is a scenario known as the runaway greenhouse effect.

This is how it may happen. As stated before, the atmosphere already has always contained a quantity of greenhouse gases, placed there by natural sources. Scientists fear that if the climate warms up through human activities, it will prompt the Earth itself to release natural greenhouse gases to warm itself up even more and that enhanced warming will generate greater natural greenhouse emissions which will increase the warming, and so on. This sort of process is known as a positive feedback cycle. But just what are the indications that this could happen? There are many factors that could power a runaway greenhouse effect, but we will look at the main ones.

First of all, like many gases, CO2 can dissolve in water (that is where the frizz in your soda comes from), as a result of which, a large quantity of CO2 is in the oceans. But the warmer water is, the less it is able to carry dissolved gases, so if the oceans warm because of climate change, dissolved CO2 will escape. Second, when climate change happens at the rapid pace we are causing, many of the world’s forests will not be able to handle it and trees will die off in great numbers and then decompose to produce lots of greenhouse gases, especially CO2 and methane. Third, carbon dioxide and methane are produced by biological activity, specifically by organisms consuming organic material and giving off these gases as waste products. The colder temperatures are, the slower that biological activity (especially by microbes) can happen. In the world’s upper latitudes, there is a huge amount of organic matter buried in the soil, which microbes can barely digest, and also locked away in ice itself. When the world warms, energized microbes and melting ice will also be releasing greenhouse gases.

But we are not sure how much. Scientists don’t exactly know how much greenhouse gas the Earth will be releasing and they don’t know which gas will be released in what quantity. If the Arctic permafrost releases only carbon dioxide, it will cause a small amount of warming slowly. But if the Arctic manages to produce a lot of methane, warming will come in intense and fast. Decomposing organic matter produces carbon dioxide in the presence of oxygen and methane in the absence of oxygen, which are known as anaerobic conditions. We don’t know how anaerobic things will be as the world warms up. All we can say is that methane is a really big danger for us.

So far, things are bad enough. But there is one scenario concerned here that could really bring catastrophe to our future. The positive climate feedback will warm up the world further than human activity is directly doing but there is a chance it could become strong enough to make global warming self-perpetuating. Scientists speculate that if the globe is warmed by human activity to a high enough degree, the Earth’s greenhouse emissions will rise so much that the warming they cause alone will be enough to continue the cycle, so nature will take the reins and by itself, cause the Earth’s temperature to increase, without the need for human input. Thus is the domino effect.

When the threshold that starts the domino effect, known as the tipping point, is reached, global warming will be impossible to stop. Human beings will have kicked a self-perpetuating process into motion and if this happens, profound results may follow. The face of the planet might be radically altered and humanity will be in extreme peril. We are not certain if the runaway greenhouse effect is going to happen, how bad it could be, and we are far from sure when the tipping point could be. But we have good reason to believe that if climate change ever reaches runaway stage, its ultimate result could be apocalyptic. If we don’t halt our greenhouse emissions in time, the world could end up experiencing the collapse of human civilization and even a mass extinction.

Climate change, therefore, is clearly the world’s biggest emergency. To fight global warming, we need global alarming. The climate emergency announced by Britain may be what can kick-start the spread of alarm in everybody. Before action comes the motivation to act.

The big question is, what sort of action do we need?

A largely unanswered question! We are still trying to figure whether it falls in the category of how global warming can be stopped, or how it can be reversed, or how we can cope with it. The first two types of solution involve tackling the problem at its source and that sort of thing is what we will be dealing with here in this working paper. Generally, finding solutions to big problems like global warming involves thoroughly studying the problem itself but also going beyond the problem in search for anything that can be of use to us.

There already are a range of options for tackling climate change. The climate protesters are not only pushing the world to pay more attention to climate change but are also calling for it to adopt plans of action already developed. Mostly, they revolve around the fact that we must curb human activities emitting greenhouse gases. Problem is; will to do this is lacking. Taking action against climate change right now carries with it great burdens, so much so that a large number of people outright reject most proposals and even deny climate change itself.

Taking a look at the recent events, when Britain declared a climate emergency, it fulfilled the first of three demands by Extinction Rebellion. Those three demands are:

1. “Tell the Truth: Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.”
2. “Act Now: Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.”
3. “Beyond Politics: Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.”

The first demand, of course, is the easy part. The second demand is a rather ambitious goal. The third demand is a sort of generalized plan to act upon. Now, Britain has taken the first step, but what comes after that is really the challenge. At the Paris Climate Accord, the agreement was that if the world warms to 2 degrees Celsius above natural temperature levels, what they define as “pre-industrial levels”, which is before 1800, then the results will be disastrous for the world, but things might be okay if warming is limited to below 1.5 degree Celsius, which is half a degree away because the world has already warmed one degree since 1800. So according to the terms of the treaty, the world has to absolutely keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally keep it below 1.5 degrees.

One or two degrees Celsius may not sound like much, since it is mundane for the weather to warm up that much in any given area. Everywhere in the world, the air regularly cools or rises by several degrees Celsius over the course of day and night. But weather is not the same as climate. Weather is a short-term affair, responsible for short-term changes, while warming of the climate means changes in the total average temperature in the world over time and that leads to enormous environmental changes. All over the world, people will be exposed to weather patterns they are not used to and because the climate makes the world, the world around them will change.

The report the IPCC released last October assesses our prospects and what we can do. Looking at current trends in greenhouse gas emissions, it estimates that by 2030, enough gases would be emitted to eventually warm the Earth to more than 1.5 degrees. The only way to prevent 1.5 degrees of warming is for the world to limit net-greenhouse gas emissions (how much greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere compared to how much they are removed) to 45 percent of now by 2030 and phase it out altogether by 2050. So according to the report, the world only has 12 years to act to avoid catastrophe.

Misinterpretations of the report are floating around, such as people thinking it says the world will warm up by 1.5 degrees in 2030. Some are saying the world is going to end in twelve years. Firstly, the world is not going to end (whatever that means) from 1.5 degrees and, secondly, 2030 is just the date by which it will be impossible to stop 1.5 degrees of warming from happening later. The momentum in climate that has been already explained is in play here.

We really should give some consideration to how we define terms like emergency, urgent, and crisis. There is a difference between a bad thing happening, and inability to stop it from happening, but the two reinforce each other in practice. If the time is about to come when something bad will become unavoidable, it is just like if the time is about to come when something bad is going to happen. Take, for example, how we define the word “refugee”. We take it to mean people who are forced to travel elsewhere because of adverse circumstances in their homeland. “Refugee” correlates with “emergency” in this way. People tend to be called migrants, though, when they are merely escaping from the distant risk of something happening, or are relocating because something bad is going to happen at some point in the future at the very place they live now.

So if a volcano erupts and people are running away from the lava and ashes, they are called refugees while if scientists predict a volcano is going to erupt in a few years and people are moving away in anticipation of a disaster, they are not. But let us imagine that there is a remote valley next to a volcano in a mountain range and the people of the valley, usually living in isolation, have only one bridge to allow them to get out of the valley. Now, the volcano starts showing signs of being active and people predict it will erupt at some point in near future. But then, something else also starts happening. The bridge starts to show signs of wear and tear and it becomes apparent that it is on the verge of collapsing. If it collapses, people will be trapped in the valley and will be doomed when the volcano erupts. So engineers are frantically working to save the bridge and as many people as possible are crossing the bridge and fleeing to the outside world. There is no volcanic eruption in sight, but shouldn’t we consider the struggle with the bridge a crisis or an emergency and the people fleeing as refugees?

If our story of the valley was real, there may not actually be many bridge refugees and the frantic emergency response to the crumbling bridge, because people are likely to go into frantic mode only when the volcano starts rumbling. It is human nature to panic at the sight of danger. Also, by leaving the valley, people would be making a great sacrifice. Same is the situation for climate change. Climate change may be a problem of the long-term, but the recent IPCC report drives home how short-term part of it is and makes it clear-cut that we need to respond now.

How can we do so?

Right now, the climate change issue is mostly a political issue. The recent climate protests across the world certainly focus on that one dimension. They all are calling for the governments and leaders of the world to take action and implement policies to tackle climate change. That makes sense because authorities are supposed to be in charge of human societies and so it should be up to them to stop those societies from doing something like emitting greenhouse gases, as well as generally carry out large-scale globalized projects.

We don’t only have to turn to leaders in order to fight the climate change battle. We can directly engage with the masses themselves. To make people exist in ways that are better for the planet, climate change campaigners can reach out to everybody and inspire them, organize them, and provide them with the tools that they need to alter life styles.

We can also pursue innovations and technical developments to help us do away with greenhouse gas buildup. Scientists and inventors can work to create new techniques for society to mitigate climate change while still functioning the way it has always.

But even with all this, politicians and governments can come in handy. They can fund, organize, and enable all endeavors in this direction.

As for actually combating climate change, our strategies for doing so consist almost entirely of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That is what everything hinges upon, but because the world runs on activities that emit greenhouse gases, all current ideas of curbing those emissions enough to save the world will require great sacrifice on the part of modern civilization as a whole. That is what the quagmire centers around.

All the enthusiasm and vigor the climate movement is showing be as it may, everyone still needs a plan. One comprehensive set of solutions being floated around for climate change is the Green New Deal. It is actually the name given to ideas about fighting climate change by carrying out a socioeconomic restructuring of society in ways similar to the New Deal that America was doing in the 1930s to fight the Great Depression. A particular Green New Deal plan has been developed and is being promoted by the Democratic Party of the USA, championed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ocasio-Cortez, at 29 years of age the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, is a rising star in American politics, part of youth rising phenomena. A self-described Democratic Socialist, her biggest concerns are both economic inequality and environmental issues, both of which are addressed by her Deal. AOC declared, after the IPCC report of October 2018, that the world has 12 years to save itself and called climate change “Our generation’s World War 2”.

It is very interesting of her to use the moniker of WW2 for climate change while calling her policy proposals the “Green New Deal”. America participated in both the actual WW2 and the New Deal under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. AOC seems to be paying homage to that turbulent time in American history in her approach to the current challenge of climate change, which is quite appropriate, because there is much from that era that can be copied for the battle against climate change. In particular, a lot of what the developed world right now is being pushed to do in order to stop climate change and protect the environment was already done in the Second World War by America and the other nations waging total war.

The big problem with reducing greenhouse gas emissions is that actions to that effect will either be very expensive or very sacrificial. But putting in money and effort and giving up on the luxuries of life were what the governments and people of the developed countries involved in World War 2 passed through with flying colors. Particularly noteworthy was the example of the United States, one of the main belligerents of the war and now one of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change. When America entered into war after the Pearl Harbor attack, the nation carried out a radical transformation of its economy and society that in many ways was an extension of the New Deal.

We will look point by point at how the various actions undertaken on America’s home-front correspond with what could be done today to help the environment.

They say that to get the world to meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, there has to be a complete overhaul of the industries, infrastructure, and economies of the developed world. Not only is the prospect highly undesirable for many, it also appears to be next to impossible to carry out in short periods of time, like by 2030. But that is where the participants of WW2 excelled. Examples include the Soviet Union moving all its industries east of the Urals and Germany moving its industries to rural areas. In America, there was a vast expansion in industrial production, including the industrialization of the West Coast, which resulted in the economic prosperity of the region today.

Much of this was possible because federal control over the American economy skyrocketed. It influenced almost every aspect of the economy, with the government taking over many industries, fixing prices, wages, and production quotas. Now people are considering government intervention as a useful tool to fight global warming. That sort of thing may be disliked by many but the example of WW2 shows that it is necessary and readily accepted in emergency situations.

And emergency is what we are in.

Most of the talk about protecting the environment and stopping climate change says that people have to considerably cut back on consumption. This is where most of the sacrifice is and where most of the unpopularity regarding environmental action rests. But Americans eagerly did this in WW2 with there being widespread rationing of most goods. People conserved almost everything, cut down on most of what they bought, and gave up much of what they owned to make effort to meet the emergency of war.

The word “recycling” did not exist back then, but that is what every American did in the war. Just about every piece of garbage was retrieved and turned back into something useful for the war effort.

The burden war placed on food production, including the diversion of transportation for troops and war supplies, spurred the people to get involved with agriculture themselves and practice it on a small-scale, with much of the population growing produce in any available space, including their backyards. These were known as “victory gardens”. They serve as a good model for policies on making food production today more environment and climate-friendly.

Transportation is one of the biggest culprits of global warming. Society runs on transportation and the energy usage that fuels it results in the production of carbon dioxide. Ordinary people are being implored to change their lifestyle choices to limit their personal CO2 emissions. One way is through carpooling. If people only drove around in cars together with as many other people as they can, there would be fewer cars on the road while people would still be getting to where they want. It can be difficult to always arrange this, but to save precious fuel for the war effort, carpooling was one of the patriotic duties of Americans during WW2. One popular slogan was; “When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler”.

In the 1940s, stopping Hitler and the other aggressors from spreading their rule over other countries was imperative in order to save the world from a dark future. Now we have to again save the world from a dark future, one of environmental catastrophe. When we ride alone, we ride towards the destruction of the natural world that we need for surviving. People back in 1941 were eager to give all they had, without complaining, to save their world. The same is possible with regards to climate change. People have the collective will to save the world once again.

Climate change is a very long-term emergency but the deadline rooted in the Paris Accord and set by the IPCC report last October is only a short while away. So, effectively, climate science has given us one decade in which to take the action we need. It is in this window of time that we can take radical measures known to us, affording us the time to search for other measures to fight climate change. Whatever those solutions might turn out to be, the strategy necessary for most emergency responses is take drastic action right now for a short while and let it give way to easier measures over time.

It is PPLDM’s urgent and heart-felt message to the world and its people. We have yet to shine light on how exactly we can solve the global climate crisis but we are fully aware that there is a crisis and we urgently need to do something right now. So, in whichever way we can, let us cut back on carbon emissions for the time being.

History shows that people can be mobilized for change and can make effort on a vast scale if necessity demands it, even if it is an emergency that has no short-term relevance for them, as World War 2 was for America since the country was so far away from where the invasions were taking place. Climate change is another global emergency that people have to mobilize for. It’s just that it is a very different kind of emergency, an unorthodox kind of emergency. We need to make people aware of this emergency and instill in them the motivation to combat it.

Collective awareness of the problem we are facing is where the big obstacle lies, though. It is an innate part of human nature to be easily responsive to aggression by other human beings, which was the fuel for the massive sacrifices in the world wars. But it is hard for people to be cognizant when their personal lifestyle choices are resulting in the build-up of invisible gases in the sky which slowly change weather patterns all over the world and turns nature into enemy. The spread of public awareness is a critical part of the climate change struggle and, by itself, it is a huge challenge.

There are many ways we will need to go about it. Comprehensive scientific literacy has to be imparted to everybody. Ordinary people must be knowledgeable about the highly complex subject of the global climate and everything that influences and is influence by it. We must instill in people a deeper familiarity with the natural world. Nature is the foundation of our lives in every way but most of us tend to ignore it because it is so far apart from us and, until now, we have always taken it for granted. But it is time for us all to get to know the entire planet more, what is in it, and how it works. Then the reality of global climate change will be closer to home to all. People must become better acquainted with the ways the world is already suffering from climate change and with the ways that it will in future.

Climate change is primarily a problem of the future. We cannot have certainty as to the precise details until that future arrives, but climate change right now puts the entire future of the world and of humanity in peril. So everybody must have the future impressed upon them. People must be roused from their slumber of living in the present and become more cognizant of the devastation that global warming will inflict on the world. Their connection with this reality is their future generations.

Through innovations in education and awareness-raising campaigns, we have to teach people of the predictions science has produced for how the world will be affected by climate change and people must know what these forecasts mean for their families and their societies. Every single person just has to look around and realize that the way the world is now and has been all this while allowed human beings to live a viable existence, and that it will soon disappear and give way to very hard and dangerous times for everybody.

A mix of public awareness and public guidance will give humanity the capability to avert catastrophic global climate change. The entire world has to be engaged in a universal struggle in which the stakes are high for everybody.

Scientists already have a mostly complete awareness of climate change and how it is happening (as far as they know), but, as stated before, are somewhat in the dark regarding the future course of climate change. Solutions to climate change are constantly being developed all the time. It is so far just a budding field. A big problem is that the solutions we already have developed are very difficult to pursue, such as giving up on energy consumption or overhauling the infrastructure and economy of nations. One way to get around this is to continue exploring and inventing ideas in the hope that we may find solutions that are easier or feasible.

The possibilities of all that we can do are endless. We have got everything from cutting down on the eating of beef to using renewable or nuclear power for energy to filling the oceans with iron to boosting the growth of phytoplankton that remove CO2 from the air. Who knows what ideas we could come up with later?

The climate makes the entire world we live in and it is the entire world that makes the climate. Pretty much everything on Earth, and quite a lot outside of Earth, influences the climate in some way and pretty much everything on Earth in influenced in some way by the climate. To find answers to our climate questions, what is going on and what we can do about it, we need to thoroughly investigate the way the world is and the way it works. The different academic fields we have to study are numerous. We need to immerse ourselves in the economic, political, social, technological, biological, microbial, mycological, botanical, zoological, geologic, hydrologic, and meteorological. All these subjects have relevance to the phenomenon of climate change and solutions can be found in all of them. So if people have to gain the knowledge for tackling climate change, they will have to study all these subjects and also scour through the basic fields that describe how the world generally works, physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

With the dire need for knowledge regarding climate change and its dissemination among common people, it is sort of ironic that the youth climate protests involve skipping school in order to demonstrate on the streets. One of their slogans is “What point is there studying for a future that doesn’t exist” but we will need to study in order to make sure that future exists. Our approach to the crisis of climate change must be knowledge-based, intellectual, and as inquisitive as possible.

The global crisis of biodiversity

Human impacts on nature vary in how long they last and how reversible they are. The more irreversible environmental harm is, the more important it is to stop it from occurring. Even if all human activities harmful to nature stopped now, their effects would go on for a long time. For example, it may take nature centuries to remove plastic pollution and lower carbon dioxide levels after we stopped using plastic and fossil fuels entirely.

When it comes to permanent harm to the planet, one impact of human activity stands out, i.e., extinction – the main result of anthropogenic impact on the environment. Many living species have been driven to extinction while many, including much of the large types, are at risk of extinction. Barring speculative advances in biotechnology, once a species goes, its loss is permanent.

But just what is the impact of extinction? Each and every species plays a role in the ecosystem. Living organisms form links in a net, and if a link is cut, the net becomes less effective in holding the eco system. When a species is lost, things usually become worse for other species.

For example, if the African bush elephant is driven to extinction by poachers, the African savannah will never be the same again because elephants play a big role in savannah ecosystem. They spread seeds and remove trees and shrubs to allow grass to thrive, which is food for smaller animals. The Asian and the Congo elephant cannot replace them as they are not as big and prefer to live in forests.

The big point of this article is not the damage that happens, but whether it can be reversed. Suppose the bush elephant only goes extinct in the wild but survives in zoos and circuses. Once thepoaching threat is brought down by improved law enforcement and decreased demand for ivory, bush elephants can be reintroduced into nature. The ecological damage can be reversed. This cannot happen if the last of African bush elephants on the planet die.

We will now look at what extinction means for civilization, for the humans that are causing extinction in the first place. The biosphere is one of humanity’s most valuable resources and many living things already are used in the shape of crops and livestock we raise. Their existence is sustained by us so they are not in danger. But there are many wild organisms harvested for usage. They are often at risk of extinction due to that because unlike in agriculture, we take but do not give back to them. There might be many possible uses in the biosphere which we do not know of yet. While agriculture is our main resource, every single living thing on Earth, every plant, animal, fungus, microbe, even virus, could conceivably be of use to us.

Take the same bush elephant. Unlike its Asian cousin, it is not amenable to training. But if we find a way to do so, it might be useful, being larger than the elephants from Asia and capable of more work. The Asian elephant has shown how valuable a resource elephants are. They are like giant working machines, strong, versatile, running on fuel that is found all around us. High intelligence is among their distinct traits, along with trunks that can lift 770 pounds. The most remarkable feature about them, perhaps, is the built-in safety compliance. Reportedly, in India once, an elephant was made to pick up logs and insert them into holes in preparation for a ceremony. The elephant did it dutifully but refused to fill in at one particular hole and stood holding the log in its trunk. The elephant rider went forward to take a look and saw that a dog was sleeping in the hole.

Asian elephants are domesticated and in no danger of going extinct, but to retain the possibility of being able to tame African elephant, we will have to keep the species alive. Elephants may come in handy if there is a widespread catastrophe causing disuse of machinery, or if technological collapse occurs from fossil fuels running out in the future. Humanity’s knowledge of the use of each species is evolving. Loss of species means ending the source of knowledge and its potential benefit forever.

Food is a major use of living things. Only those living things that are under cultivation present a reliable food supply for us. As world’s population swells, it may be important to expand the number of living things we rear. It could hold the key to ending hunger and alleviating poverty. But first, we have to make sure our footprint does not cause extinction of species.

Medicine is another major use. Medicine is all about the right chemicals and there is a huge variety of chemicals produced in the biosphere. Medicine has been harvested from wild species since time immemorial. We are now discovering new medicinal compounds as our exploration of the biosphere accelerates. Cancer drugs are being discovered in the ocean and antibiotics are being found in the Arctic. We never know what new medicine we may find in living things in the wild, as this knowledge frontier is open. If an organism with unique medicinal value goes extinct, we deprive human beings of a source that can save lives.

A lot of lives may already have been doomed in our ignorance, and more will, unless we take action. Species are going extinct at an alarming rate. It is estimated that dozens of species go extinct each day. In fact, many species may be going extinct without us even knowing they existed in the first place. For example, tropical rainforests are rich in bio-diversity and little-explored places. All the time, we are finding new species in these wild places. But rainforests are also being logged at a massive scale and unknown species may be vanishing along with the forest cover.

Biodiversity is the term referring to the variety of life on Earth and we are decreasing that variety every which way. There are three kinds of biodiversity, ecosystem diversity, which concerns relationships between species, species diversity, which concerns the existence of species, and genetic diversity, which is the variety of genetic material in existence, including the number of genes within a species. Just like every species may have an importance, so does every gene, so the latter two kinds of biodiversity is what we must protest most carefully. If ecosystem diversity is disrupted, it can be reversed. Imran Khan’s tree campaign is about reversing disruption. But extinction is irreversible and must be guarded against.

Preventing bad things from happening is a universal imperative. Preventing bad that is irreversible should be a priority. Extinction is an imperceptible and severe ecological crisis. Awareness of this crisis is necessary to prevent extinction. We need to discover the importance of each endangered species to ascribe priority to saving the most important ones.

We need to re-evaluate the charitable donations we make. We prefer giving to those who help the deprived of the world. Keeping in mind humanity’s future, we should also support organizations involved in conservation, scientific research, and bio-prospecting, which is the search for drugs and valuable products from living organisms.

This is an urgent wake-up call.

Mitigating Gun Violence In America

It is horrible to say this, but the synagogue shooting in Poway, California which killed one worshiper and injured three others on 27 April is just another routine tragedy in America. In recent years, mass shootings have become very common in America. One would expect USA, the world’s most powerful country, to take swift action to curb the dangers its people live under, but all efforts towards this end are marred by a sharp political divide that has led to fierce debate between proponents and opponents of gun control.

There are two main solutions being proposed for America, restrict ownership of weapons among people or have people carry weapons with them to defend against potential shooters. Proponents of the two cannot find common ground. Most mass shootings are carried out with high-powered weapons. Gun rights activists tend to advocate for their legality while gun control activists don’t like the idea of people carrying weapons, even smaller handguns.

In the realm of disaster risk reduction (DRR), the two solutions, banning guns and carrying guns, fall on both sides of a spectrum. The former is an example of hazard mitigation, in which the focus is on getting rid of the danger at its source, and the latter is an example of vulnerability mitigation, with the focus on how potential victims can be enabled to deal with the danger.

Not only do we witness America suffering from a major hazard in the form of mass shootings, but every feasible solution it seeks sparks angry debates and stern opposition. It is very common for people dealing with serious social problems to be unable to find a solution that satisfies everyone – more so if heavy sentiment and serious conflicts of interest are involved. In America’s gun debate, those on the right say gun control is an infringement on rights and carrying guns makes people safer, while those on the left say legal gun ownership is the cause of the problem and curbing it will curb violence.

Hard to decide who is right. We cannot even turn to practical experience for guidance. Chicago, for instance, has stricter gun laws than the rest of the United States, yet more gun violence than anywhere else in the US, while the UK has gun control and low levels of gun violence. Meanwhile, gun violence is rampant in some countries with widespread gun ownership, like America in general, and minimal in other countries with similar patterns of gun ownership, like Switzerland. The same policy has different outcomes in different places. The issue is more complex than the political divide is telling us.

One thing that is clear is that gun violence is a phenomenon wherein the technological and the societal intersect. At the heart of the matter lies something that is not so complex, the tools, i.e., guns, but surrounding this is the attitudes of people, which are varied and can be overwhelming. This intersection can explain the evolution of the crisis. For much of America’s past, guns were not as deadly as they are now. Nobody could use a musket or a Kentucky Rifle to mow down crowds. Therefore the Second Amendment allowed Americans to freely own guns without much problem. But gun technology has advanced so much since then and certain social developments are making people more vulnerable to and/or more likely to perpetrate mass violence. In continuing with the Second Amendment in such circumstances, America carries on a tradition dear to its heart at great cost to its people.

The discourse on solving America’s gun violence problem is so far entirely focused on social policy. But the problem springs from presence of technology. We should therefore consider turning to technology itself for solutions. Modern technological ingenuity may be behind many of the problems the world suffers from, but it can also be deployed for solving such problems. Gun sellers sell high-powered weapons to ordinary Americans with the intention that these only be fired under certain, highly-restricted circumstances. This intention can be transformed into technology designed to ensure safety. Weapons can be designed so that they are only capable of being fired in safe situations. This can be done by integrating digital technology and artificial intelligence with firearms.

When Americans own weapons like the AR-15s, the main purpose is recreational. Such guns can be fired at designated firing ranges or in wilderness, but are not supposed to be discharged in populated areas upon hapless humans. Weapons manufacturers can, therefore, be mandated by law to design smart weapons that, when sold to ordinary consumers, are only able to fire based upon exposure to certain electronic signals. Each gun should come equipped with artificial intelligence that makes the decision of when not to fire. Guns could be designed to only be operable when exposed to signals emitted by certain transmitters set up at firing ranges or guns could be designed to be inoperable when exposed to signals emitted by transmitters set up all around populated areas like schools, market places, subways, places of worship and any place where large numbers of people collect. Even though the synagogue shooter carried a huge amount of ammunition, his rampage was cut short by his gun jamming, as a result of which, thankfully, the toll is so low. We can find a way to make that happen to every gun used for such a purpose.

I am calling for the gun manufacturers to start making smart guns that lunatics and terrorists can not use for their purposes. The US should enforce safety from gun violence through technological innovation instead of seeking it through transformation of values and attitudes of people. Serious investment in R&D for smart guns is need of the hour. If we can make smart cars equipped with artificial intelligence to avoid accidents, why cant we make smart guns? Every gun meant for sale to ordinary people should be equipped with artificial intelligence capable of deciding on the basis of signals/visuals when not to shoot, when to jam itself.

Human society is regulated more by the imperatives of technology it uses than by the imperatives of laws meant to manage people’s behavior. And necessity, indeed, is the mother of invention.

Fostering Environmental Knowledge in Pakistan

As we have learned in Waking Pakistan Up to the World’s Need to Safeguard the Natural Environment, there is a need for people to be aware of environmental issues, a need which goes chronically unfulfilled.

Before action, there comes the cognition part. All hope of stopping the harm resulting from humanity’s impact on the natural world rests on knowing the situation and being creative enough to think of possible solutions. Trouble is, Environmental issues are themselves a new and developing field in the realm of human study and there is still so much that we have yet to know.

The information we need, extensive as it is, can be summed up as follows. We need to know what is going on and what has been going on with the environment and what human activity will cause what sort of harm and how much harm. The crux of the matter is establishing what it is we do not want to happen. We need to know what are the different future possibilities and chances assuming we do not take action. We need to know what action can be taken and how we may change the future through these actions. Finding solutions to environmental problems involves preventing environmental changes, or reversing environmental changes.

Environmental issues can be summed up as follows. Human civilization is growing rapidly and tremendously, giving it the ability to transform the planet it inhabits. This is largely a new situation, because for most of history until recently, mankind’s presence on Earth was small and grew very slowly. The issues people mostly had to contend with throughout humanity’s existence were relations and conflicts with each other and their endeavors to develop, including overcoming the challenges put in their way by a pristine and untamed nature. But now, in the modern age, the entire globe is in a new situation, in which the natural world is being altered by human beings on a grand scale. By and large, these changes are resulting in negative consequences, compromising the well-being of the planet. Because civilization continues to grow with no end in sight, it is a problem that will define our entire foreseeable future.

That is what modernity is bringing us. Fortunately, modernity also brings us a practically limitless potential for knowledge, for investigating the universe, and for innovation and creativity. We just need to develop capabilities to solve the problems we are creating.

The developed countries, who are the most responsible for large-scale environmental degradation, also lead the way in the field of environmental studies and innovation, like they do with most things, but environmental protection is of critical importance for the entire world. The benefits of modernity are not enjoyed by all. Poor countries both have a low capacity for solving environmental problems and are the most vulnerable to environmental degradation, meaning their people are most vulnerable to suffering caused by environmental degradation.

Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries to environmental changes, and itself contributes a great deal to regional environmental degradation. As such, our stakes in this planet-wide crisis are high. It is essential for the well-being of our people and for our nation’s future that we involve ourselves in the global fight to protect the environment. For that, we need expertise first and foremost, which in itself will be a great challenge. So, in this article, we will be exploring what we will need to engage ourselves in if we are to become an environmentally aware nation.

We start with a critical look at Pakistan’s learning environment.

When it comes to Pakistan’s intellectual capacity, our nation has been struggling in many ways. The literacy rate itself is low by world standards, with only 58 percent of the population ten years old and above knowing how to read and write, as far as the latest statistics tell us. Literacy is largely absent in many rural areas. Many Pakistanis are also deprived of formal education in both quantity and quality. Seven million primary-aged children are out of school. Millions experience low standards of schooling, such as teachers often slacking off or being absent altogether. The government has devoted little resources to education for the last several decades. In 2017 and 2018, the education sector was allocated only nine hundred billion rupees out of the government budget, which is unfortunately low for a country with a population that big and that young.

Being as socially stratified a country as it is, a segment of Pakistan’s population is very well-educated, mostly in the cities. Islamabad, the capital, has a literacy rate of 98 percent. Lahore is considered Pakistan’s educational capital though it has 74 percent literacy rate. But just what is Pakistan’s academic performance? It is actually quite modest. Things were really bad in the 90s, when Pakistan lagged behind much of the developing world in terms of spending on research and development. But after the turn of the millennium, the nation embarked on a major program of reform in higher education. Spending on Pakistan’s universities increased tenfold after 2002 and many new universities were created, so Pakistan’s academic output grew. Research publications increased seven fold. According to statistics compiled in 2008, Pakistan produced about 445,000 university graduates per year and in 2009, Pakistan had 162 researchers per million people (the USA had 4651 by comparison). But in the ten years since, Pakistan’s higher education has been steadily deteriorating.

Pakistan’s total academic performance throughout its seven decades of existence can be gauged by the fact that the country has produced only two Nobel laureates, Abdus Salam some decades back for work in theoretical physics that he did in London and Malala Yousafzai for taking a bullet for speaking out against Pakistan’s lack of education. All this for a country classified as a middle power and an emerging economy.

Of course, Knowledge from all around the world freely flows into Pakistan, especially through the Internet. Pakistan also engages in intellectual exchange with the rest of the world through foreigners coming here or Pakistanis going abroad. The country has been involved in programs to make its graduate students and aspiring researchers interact with top international scholars, such as the Landau Meetings in Germany, where some of our students meet with Nobel laureates. Pakistan has been regularly sending university students abroad to study and there are seven million Pakistani expatriates, many of them studying in prosperous countries, but it is causing a brain drain issue for Pakistan. The security situation since 2001 has dissuaded foreign visits to our country a lot.

It so happens that environmental matters, which are a field new to the world, are often neglected in the curricula and R&D of many countries across the world, including Pakistan, where schools don’t give the subject a comprehensive treatment.

In the past, Pakistan paid little attention to environmental issues and public awareness was almost non-existent. The nation first started to really do something in this area in 1983 when the Environmental Protection Ordinance was promulgated, decreeing that governmental bodies should be set up to protect the environment, but little happened in the decade afterwards. It took a long time to formulate policies and environmental institutions were not strong enough to enforce them. Public ignorance of the environment prevalent and while the authorities tried to change that, their efforts made little headway because of the low literacy rate.

The environmental movement in Pakistan grew stronger in the 90s. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Pakistan formulated its comprehensive action plan for the environment, the National Conservation Strategy (NCS). After that, government agencies, civil society, NGOs, the media, and academia became active. Policymakers became more aware of environmental issues and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) began to be made for development schemes. There was a big push to raise public awareness among all sectors of society, with much success. So Pakistan’s development into a nation involved in environmental protection consisted initially of the institutionalization of knowledge, awareness raising, and planning. Once that stage was completed, Pakistan took on the challenge of putting environmental ideas into action, exemplified by the passing of the Environmental Protection Act on December 6, 1997, to replace the totally ineffective Environmental Protection Ordinance. Pakistan’s efforts so far have shown varying degrees of success.

We need to build up on what we have already achieved. Environmental problems are getting worse rapidly over time, and there is a whole lot people still need to learn. So, environmental knowledge must be promoted more among the personnel who run the country. It must be spread more among the masses.

It is only through environmental education that Pakistanis will gain the capability and motivation to be involved in safeguarding the Earth. There are two ways this can happen. Firstly, we need to develop expertise in personnel who dedicate themselves to the field of environmental protection. They can lead the way in action that advances the cause of environmental protection. Secondly, we need everybody, the masses in general, to become involved, because environmental matters are relevant to everybody and especially because all play a part in affecting the environment. The term for that is called Earth citizenship.

For public environmental knowledge, the entire primary and secondary levels of education can be used. At this stage, education is generalized. Students don’t choose what they study but study the same things as everyone else, because they have to learn about life in general. It is in these classrooms that we must incorporate a comprehensive environmental curriculum in order to inculcate Earth citizenship. For professional environmental expertise, we have higher education. This form of education is optional and specified. Students pick what subjects they will study that will be relevant to the kind of careers they are planning to have. In institutions of higher education, we must have well-developed environmental courses so that we can inculcate Earth leaders.

We need to teach general environmental knowledge to all Pakistanis. That includes remote tribal villagers, urban slum dwellers and street children. The destitute must be provided with means of awareness. We should try to include environmental knowledge in what little they can learn, given how important it is in their lives. Besides the basics, Pakistanis must learn about the environmental issues specifically relevant to them, with people of each area being taught what environmental damage is affecting them and what environmental impacts they are responsible for. All must also be made aware of the environmental situation of their entire nation. The global outlook must not be neglected either. Citizens of Pakistan are also citizens of Earth.

People have to be environmentally aware when it comes to their role in life. Many people have occupations that play a big role in environmental degradation or which can be useful for environmental protection, or which will be affected by environmental issues. Whether you are a humble potter or a businessman in a suit and tie in the ISE tower, you must be provided the relevant knowledge as part of your job education. Plus, all those running the country must be well-versed in environmental matters.

Then there are the jobs specifically devoted to environmental protection. You can be an environmental activist, environmental policymaker, environmental inspector, environmental researcher or scientist. For that, we need to institute the proper methods to turn Pakistanis into environmental experts at the top of the hierarchy.

Before we can start thinking about how to deal with environmental issues, we have to think about how we are going to make such thinking happen. What we need first and foremost is education. By that, we mean that knowledge has to be spread, i.e., what people know must be passed on to others. A big problem with environmental protection is that existing knowledge is meager. There are many frontiers of environmental knowledge humanity has yet to enter. But in addition to that, knowledge that already exists often has trouble being obtained by everybody who needs it. So we need to engage in pedagogy, i.e., the methodology of education.

There are two needs of ours, one that knowledge be spread among the masses of Pakistan as widely as possible and the other that existing knowledge be introduced in Pakistan. Socioeconomic factors do not have to restrict the gaining of knowledge because knowledge is not a tangible resource. There is little to expend physically in providing it to people. We just have to find out the right ways to do it (requiring knowledge itself, of course!).

Maybe we need to change our methods. knowledge is not a physical resource but a cerebral one. Why do education activists focus so much on constructing brick-and-mortar school buildings? We must find the most cost-effective ways to spread knowledge.

In the entire global battle to provide universal education, there is one factor that we have not been discussing very much; that is, just what are we supposed to be teaching the world’s underprivileged children once we get them into school? We are trying to give them access to education, but what is that education supposed to consist of?

When, say, a school is finally built in some rural village in Gilgit-Baltistan or FATA, if we teach the children inside the same generic subjects better-off children are taught, which are far off for them, it might be a waste of precious resources. Instead, it is best they be taught information that relates to their immediate concerns. It has to be tailor-made for the situation of the people being taught. Therefore, when providing education to students who were otherwise out of school because of the circumstances they and their families live in, the content of that education should primarily focus on those circumstances.

That includes teaching them why their quality of life is the way it is, teaching them how they can make their lives better. We teach them what is important for them to know like their disaster risks and how the diseases they are vulnerable to can be preempted and treated. In this way, the education can engage the people in helping themselves, i.e., empowering them to fight their circumstances. This way, mass education can also help overcome its central obstacle; motivating the people to avail access to education.

How does the environment figure into this? When poor people cut down forests to get timber and firewood, it brings them immediate benefits. When they are struck by floods and landslides, it brings them immediate problems. When you tell them that their harvesting wood is causing those natural disasters, it is hard to impress upon their minds the connection and you are telling them they should give up some benefits to solve some problems. Getting those people to even listen will be challenging.

The primary goal of providing education to those in difficult circumstances should be making them fully aware of their difficult circumstances and teach them how best to reduce them. As part of that, you teach them how man made impact on the environment contributes to their problems, what problems to expect, and how to take care of the Earth.

One policy we could implement is anonymous and incognito school inspections to make sure the teachers are doing their job properly. Also, we could incorporate technology into schools more, as machines neither slack off nor misbehave.

There is room for improvement in Pakistan’s entire formal education system. Mostly, in addition to what students are being taught, there is the question of how to teach them. A big issue is that rote learning is widespread. It is very much a dictated form of learning, consisting of students memorizing lessons and repeating them in tests. Albert Einstein said that “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” It seems that our traditional methods of education are all about knowing and not enough about understanding.

Education for understanding tends to be more engaging. It gives students more freedom and more motivation to pursue knowledge on their own. It is also the right form of education when it comes to environmental awareness. Repeatable facts don’t help us to uncover how humanity impacts nature. The processes behind environmental degradation are not out there in full view of us. We have to analyze the signs to know they are happening.

Education needs sources of knowledge. There seems to be lack of intellectual resources within Pakistan. Students mostly read Pakistan-made textbooks. To use telecommunication to get to students, Pakistan created its Virtual University. There is a tendency for all such materials to be of poor quality. If lectures (and textbooks) are in English, the language tends to be poor.

We should understand that content made in Pakistan is the best content about Pakistan. The education systems of each country tend to be focused on that country (I might say especially so for developing countries, because only highly developed nations tend to have a cosmopolitan outlook). Same should be the case for environment. Pakistanis need to know more than anyone else all about environmental issues within Pakistan and Pakistanis are also the best people for researching and writing about it. But of course, environmental scholars in the world usually think global and research the environment of the whole world. We cannot count on them to do a thorough job for Pakistan. Therefore, we need to improve Pakistan’s academic capacity so Pakistanis can be adequately taught about Pakistan by Pakistanis. In addition to this, Pakistanis do need to immerse themselves in the global picture, for which all they need is access to global knowledge pool. Generally, becoming experts on the environment entails, in very large part, knowing what the rest of the world knows.

Ours is a world where knowledge and ideas are supposed to flow freely across borders. Pakistan has made English an important language for learning. This enables Pakistan to turn to the rest of the world for educating its citizens.

But the world practices the concept of intellectual property, forbidding many works of knowledge from being copied freely and thus leaving a price tag on knowledge. People in Pakistan therefore may not find it easy to pay for access to the world’s intellectual productions and that which is produced inside Pakistan is often the cheapest, but as we have seen, intellectual publications are not a strong product of our nation.

Whatever economic, social, legal, political, and cultural factors are in the way of intellectual engagement, there are certainly no barriers in the technological sphere. The modern world is optimally designed for limitless dissemination of knowledge in terms of its tools of communication. The most important such tool is the Internet, a global connection of computer networks. Besides allowing people to connect, it has surpassed books as the repository of knowledge. Also, much of its content is free to view. Through the Internet, people in Pakistan are freely able to engage with and learn from the rest of the world, provided they have the appropriate gadget and an Internet connection.

All around the world, people are turning to the Internet for education and educators are turning to the Internet for carrying out their work. Formal educational sources, such as websites with .edu at the end of their URL, are very useful. But nowadays, informal sources are widely available for people, including social media. A lot of education is conducted through casual channels, with two very important kinds being blogs and the YouTube. The big difference between them and .edu URLS, however, is that the latter are a more reliable resource. It is not just how much you learn but also if what you are learning is right, so just remember to check the WordPress or YouTube accounts you are logging onto and find out about the people behind them to see if they are reliable.

One of web’s most renowned resources is the TED series, devoted to lectures on various subjects and on “ideas worth spreading”. TED started its talks in 1990, inviting the world’s experts to speak in front of a large audience of people. Then it went online in 2006 and the impact it made on the public from then on was huge. Anybody who has something important to say can reach out to the world on TED and through countless other outlets as well. Today’s instruments of mass communication serve the purpose of mass education very well. They are a source of education that people can find for themselves and that are possible for people of limited means to access. It is here that environmental education can most thrive. Through the Internet, you can engage in discourse with the whole world about the environment. It is the ideal way to spread environmental literacy throughout the whole world.

The options are limitless. There are so many ways that knowledge can be spread, so many ways that it can be provided to people and so many ways that people can find it themselves. We need to explore them all and find out what are the best ways for each and every person to learn. There is really a vast amount of untapped potential when it comes to how we can learn.

Now, there is one more important matter that we need to deal with. That is, just what is it that we need to learn? As a single field of knowledge, environmental study crosses a variety of other disciplines.

Much of this is because the study of environmental issues involves both the natural world and the human world, which we normally consider to be vastly separate spheres of knowledge. People devoting themselves to one don’t usually pay much attention to the other. Being a naturalist and studying weather patterns or marine wildlife or sediment deposition at a delta or how bacteria act as cloud nuclei sounds like a very different direction from being a historian or a political or social scientist and studying how to resolve international disputes.

But we can’t afford to think that way anymore. We need to apply every field of knowledge to environment. In the following paragraphs, we will begin doing just that.

Our education system must comprehensively teach the knowledge outlined below in order to raise a generation of Pakistanis who can steer the nation towards safeguarding the natural environment.

When studying the world around us, we always need certain tools to help us. One very important toolkit is mathematics. Ah, math. It is something that teachers always push on students all the time in class. It makes a big part of any proper education. That is because mathematics is essential for comprehending the way the world is. It is basically making your brain skilled enough to grasp reality. When you are good at math, you will be good at, by knowing one thing, knowing what else logically follows and you can measure up everything.

For example, by studying simple physics, you know that carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation, so it tends to make the Earth warmer when it is in the atmosphere. But it is only when you are good at math that you can find out things that look quite difficult to know, such as how much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can cause how much warming and how does the increase in CO2 correspond to an increase in global temperatures. And as for something that is really difficult, we need to know how temperatures around the globe can be averaged out to form a big picture, because you can’t just say the world is warming by looking at how hot it is in certain places. Some high-level math is need for mastering this.

Math isn’t a field all by itself but the field behind all fields, including the environment. So you can’t be a good environmental expert without being a good mathematician.

Now, we enter the realm of science. In fact, environmental studies largely consist of science. When you know your science, you’ll be an expert on the environment. Science is the study of the universe all around us. With science, you study how the world is and how it works in physical terms. An essential part of this is studying the universal laws that govern everything. Fundamental principles determine how the universe can be, so we need to know them to fully grasp the universe. There are two scientific fields that are dedicated to this and are therefore fundamental to all of science, physics and chemistry.

Physics is the study, essentially, of how things work, of the mechanisms behind the behavior of the world. Environmental affairs are just one of the countless areas in which it is needed. Knowing physics enables you to know all about how the processes involved in environmental change work, so to be a good environmental scientist, you have to be good at physics. Physics is needed for finding and developing environmental solutions, such as where development of technology is concerned. Technological innovation has always entirely relied on physics (and chemistry).

Of the many branches of physics, the most important can be considered the study of energy. Energy is needed for everything that happens in the universe. It is fundamental to our world. The study of energy has particular importance in environmental issues due to mankind’s demand for energy being one of the basic causes of environmental degradation and environmental degradation occurring mostly through the flow of energy across the natural world being disturbed. The other broad field of physics is mechanics, which is the study of how things work, specifically how matter works. Matter is the physical material making up the world. Knowledge of the laws of forces and motion is a must for knowing about the world, as is the material properties of things.

Of the specific things to study in physics, heat energy is essential because it is a main driver of the workings of the world. Electromagnetism is the same, comprising much of the energy and forces running the world. Both are thus a general part of environmental science. Wave energy is a very big part of our world, so we got to know the various kinds of waves and how they work. Fluid mechanics is a branch of mechanics that is very important for environmental science, especially because air and water are behind almost every dynamic natural process. Nuclear physics is the basis of two important environmental topics, that nuclear energy is a big part of humanity’s prospects for developing clean energy and that radiological contamination, while uncommon, is a severe form of environmental harm when it happens.

There does not seem to be much in physics that is important to the environment, apart from the fact that you need to know how things on Earth interact with the planet’s gravity. However, the broadness of environmental topics means any field could be relevant in some place. There are three examples I can think of in which gravitational physics is environmentally relevant, the tides, Milankovitch cycles, and how Earth’s gravity varies across its surface, which especially has a big effect in determining changes in sea level. Whenever environmental scientists happen to busy themselves with these particular topics, they will have to dive into Newton’s theory of gravity. Like nuclear physics, gravitational physics is relevance to environmental study in only specific ways. Such fields may not be considered a prerequisite for becoming an environmental scientist, but can be studied when you decide to pursue certain environmental topics.

Two major fields of physics of (questionable) importance to the environmental picture are relativity and quantum mechanics. Relativity is physics of very long distances and very fast speeds, which are way out of the bounds of Earth’s environment. Quantum mechanics is physics at an extremely tiny scale. It is the foundation of everything, but not knowing it does not appear to be a severe handicap for an environmental scientist. The situation can be compared to how a zebra’s behavior is determined by its molecular and cellular biology, such as hormones and neurons, but an animal behaviorist does not need to know about any of that to be an expert on how zebras behave.

Quantum physics and relativity are “way out there” types of physics, which don’t directly describe the reality we observe up close. For this reason, some considered them to have no practical benefit, but we now credit these two fields to two of the greatest technological developments in human history, nuclear power and microelectronics. That may be how quantum, relativistic, and other such types of physics can be useful for environmental matters, not for studying the environment, but for seeking innovations for environmental benefits. It is akin to how scientists wishing to change a zebra’s behavior will have to tamper with its hormones and nervous system, requiring them to be fluent in hormonal and neural biology. Much of our quest for saving the environment lies in technological advancement. Since it is still impracticable to halt the march of civilization, we hope that we may one day achieve innovations that will allow humanity to coexist with the environment in a better way. In order to make that possible, we have to look in all directions, which includes diving down to the quantum level. It is safe to say, though, that environmental researchers can ignore physics that is really way out there, like string theory, at least for now.

Chemistry is the other main branch of science that describes the laws of the universe. It is the science of chemicals, thus being basically the study of how things are. That is because chemicals are the composition of all matter. We tend to think of chemicals as being the often nasty synthetic substances we make, which are behind much of the harm incurred by the environment, but the truth is that everything is made of chemicals. Water is a chemical, for example.

H2O, carbon dioxide, amino acids, polycarbonates, PVCs, or whatever, the chemistry of the natural and artificial world plays a fundamental role in environmental issues. By knowing chemistry, you gain the final set of tools needed for understanding these issues as well as being able to find solutions to environmental problems. It appears that the entire field of chemistry is of high environmental importance, with every topic being relevant in ways broad and specific, stoichiometry and chemical reactions, the periodic table, all types of chemical bonds, solutions and precipitation, acids and bases, ions, oxidation, electrochemistry, you name it.

Every category of chemicals plays an important role in environmental matters. One field of chemistry that is particularly important is organic chemistry. It is the chemistry of everything involving carbon. Carbon is a very important element because it can form a tremendous variety of chemical bonds, consequently, it is the basis of all life on Earth, plays a big role in many abiotic natural processes, and is a significant part of the human-built world, with most chemicals created by man being organic. As such, organic chemistry is of huge relevance to the environment.

So we have gone through mathematics, physics, and chemistry, all three of which function as a general toolkit for us. Once you are fully versed in these three areas, you become better at knowing much else. Suppose you are a master mathematician, physicist, and chemist all together. Any environmental topic you come across, it can be very easy for you to learn. We can call math, physics, and chemistry unifying fields for that reason. To illustrate this with an example, if you become an expert in one topic, Newtonian mechanics and associated calculus, you can be good at knowing an endless variety of other topics, such as how a rocket moves or how Usain Bolt runs or how tsunamis happen or how a diesel engine works or how kangaroos jump or how volcanoes erupt. This is generalized knowledge, and if you want to become an environmental scholar, it is worth your while to study such subjects first.

It is time for us now to move onto the numerous specific academic fields that are concerned in environmental studies.

Because environmental matters are all about how the natural environment is being exploited and altered by people, a fundamental part of environmental studies is a full knowledge of the natural world around us. For that, we have the natural sciences. Being an environmental expert in large part involves studying nature. The focus is Planet Earth and everything on it that constitutes the environment that harbors all life. We have to know all about how the natural environment, a deeply interconnected system, is and how it works.

If we are to pick a particular field of natural science, in fact any academic field, that encompasses environmental studies the most, we can say that is ecology. Ecology is the study of how all life on Earth interacts with each other and with the non-living aspects of Earth. Breaking down the basic definition of environmental issue, it is all about living things on Earth, humans and all other species, and how they are faring. It is actually the study of the environment hosting life and so is the core of environmental studies, so much so that the word “ecological” may be used in place of “environmental”, like when we put the prefix eco- before anything to do with environmental concerns.

In order to understand the environment harboring life, first we must understand the planet on which it exists. Scientists tend to divide the Earth’s natural environment into four main spheres, the lithosphere, the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, and the biosphere, and each have their respective scientific field of study, geology, meteorology- or rather atmospheric sciences, hydrology, and biology. Each field therefore is of fundamental importance to environmental studies. The first three are often grouped under the banner of earth sciences while biology, or life sciences, is set apart and on its own is a very major part of environmental study. It is behind most of environmental science, in fact. We can say ecology, a branch of biology, unites the four spheres of nature but right now, we have to look at each of the four scientific fields individually.

Geology is the study of the Earth itself, or rather its main body that everything is on. It is the science of the ground beneath our feet, the foundation of the environment. Geology’s main relevance to environmental science is in the characteristics of the Earth and how humanity interacts with it. Civilization largely runs on us digging into the Earth’s crust and extracting materials from it, a main driver of environmental damage. Geologic processes play a fundamental role in shaping the natural environment and are often influenced by human activity.

Environmental matters are heavily concerned with geology but we can say that geology is actually largely unconcerned with environmental matters. The Earth’s vast interior (and anything happening in it, like mantle plumes), which makes up almost the entire planet in terms of sheer scale, is entirely shut off from any interaction with humanity and dynamic geologic processes are usually very slow and work over long periods of time, in contrast to the flowing of water and the rushing of wind, and so have little relevance to the study of the natural environment except where our thinking extends to long periods of time. Plus, the few types of natural phenomena that largely escape human influence are mostly geological, like volcanic and tectonic activity. The part of the geologic world bearing all the relevance to environmental issues is the lithosphere, the entire, outermost layer of the Earth, and the part which is of huge, fundamental importance to environmental issues is the pedosphere, the layer of sediment which comprises most of the Earth’s surface and hence the basis of most natural environments.

There are many geological topics to study for environmental science. One that is very important is geologic resources, how the lithosphere provides us with what we need. And in general, you must study the rocks and minerals making up the Earth’s crust, everything else that is in the Earth’s crust, the rock cycle and how materials pass out of the lithosphere and into the rest of the environment and vice versa, and how geology determines what different parts of the world are like. The Earth’s sediment is, of course, of very broad importance, especially soil. Two geologic processes of enormous importance to the natural environment and hence to humanity’s impact on it are weathering and erosion.

An important part of studying geology in environmental research is that you get a sense of how slowly it took for geological forces to make the natural world the way it is and how rapid in comparison are the human forces that are altering the natural world, often undoing geological forces. You then realize how our impact on the natural world does not easily get reversed and throws the balance of nature out of whack. And in general, you learn how the mark we are leaving on the lithosphere is such a fundamental driver of the degradation of our natural environment.

The atmosphere is the outer component of the entire Earth, the layer of gases wrapping around our planet and serving as the upward background of the entire natural environment. The general study of the atmosphere is called atmospheric sciences. An important subfield of atmospheric sciences is meteorology. It is the study of weather, the dynamic atmospheric activity that mostly goes on in the lower levels of the atmosphere, the troposphere and stratosphere. Climatology is the study of the climate, how weather activity sums up in general and the rules guiding it. Some might think that meteorology is the science of the atmosphere, but “atmospheric sciences” is actually the term encompassing every aspect of the entire atmosphere right up to the edge of outer space.

When it comes to environmental matters, atmospheric matters are overbearing. Highly dynamic, driven by the Sun’s energy, the atmosphere plays a huge role in the natural world, essentially shaping the natural environment. Most natural phenomena are weather-related and the climate is central to how the face of the planet is. On top of all this, humanity is exerting an enormous influence on the Earth’s atmosphere. That is because, in terms of sheer scale, the atmospheric is miniscule, covering the planet like a coating of varnish around a ball. You add in the fact that the Earth’s “varnish” is also very low-density, permeable, and highly active and you can see why it changes at the slightest disturbance. So to sum it up, the atmosphere shapes the natural world to a huge degree and human beings shape the atmosphere to a huge degree. It is therefore the channel through which much of the world’s human-derived environmental change is conducted.

Most atmosphere-related environmental degradation, though, can be divided into two categories, air pollution and climate change. Air pollution derived from human activities tends to be seriously harmful to human beings and other life-forms and comes in a wide variety of forms. But while most forms of air pollution are narrow-ranging, most of the effects of human activity are adding up together to change the very climate of the entire globe. This is mostly through us releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases into the air, causing global warming. Global climate change is considered the top environmental issue and it is predicted to fundamentally alter natural environments across the world in ways far out of our reach.

To understand all these very big problems, we have to study the science of the atmosphere, especially meteorology and climatology. As you delve into this subject, you must know first of all that the atmosphere is very much interconnected with itself and with the world underneath. Factors that shape the atmosphere therefore usually have wide-ranging effects and the global climate contains the sum of all these effects being mixed up together. Almost every aspect of the planet shapes weather and climate in some way, such as solar radiation, airborne dust, ocean currents, plant life, animal life, microbial life, the shape of the Earth’s terrain, the color of Earth’s surface, rocks and minerals, volcanic activities, etc. Now that human activity has come into this mix, it is of great importance to us to understand everything about how the atmosphere works.

Hydrology is the study of the Earth’s hydrosphere, which is fundamental to environmental matters and to Earth in general despite being the term for the presence of just one substance on our planet, water. Water’s presence is significant, as it exists in large quantities and behaves in a wide variety of ways. 70 percent of Earth’s surface is covered in water, it shapes our planet in profound ways, and is the foundation of all life on Earth. Life needs water in great quantities to exist and so water shapes how life is present on Earth. Water is also crucial to civilization. We need it for drinking and for producing our food, of course, and water also has an endless variety of other uses for us.

Unfortunately, the hydrosphere has proven to be very vulnerable to human influence, with severe consequences. A very, very large number of environmental issues are water-related, such as water pollution, desertification, aquifer depletion, ocean acidification, melting of glaciers, shrinking of rivers and lakes, changes in ocean currents, acid rain, climate-change driven storms and flooding, the effects of deforestation, spread of waterborne diseases, etc. And generally, water plays a key role in how the environmental changes we are inflicting on Earth are happening. To understand all this, you must immerse yourself in hydrology.

That is no small subject. The hydrosphere is highly complex and, in the form of the water cycle, interconnected. Water also interacts with everything else in the world so much that the hydrosphere merges with the lithosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere in most places. Water is a big part of the atmosphere as vapor and drives the weather to a large degree, it is a potent geologic agent in the form of flowing water, ocean waves, and glacial ice, and it is the main component of the bodies of every living thing on Earth.

There is so much to study in hydrology and studying hydrology will help you know so much. And it all boils down to just that one single substance, water. You first and foremost should study this remarkable substance, so ubiquitous because it has among the most complex physical and chemical characteristics of all the known substances in the universe. Understanding the physics and chemistry of water is therefore an extensive subject in itself, and once you master it, all in hydrology can follow. And once you become proficient in the study of water, the giver of all life, you gain much of the knowledge needed for tackling environmental issues.

For all its influence, water’s biggest importance to Planet Earth is providing the existence of what makes Earth stand out in the universe we know of, life. The biosphere describes the overall presence of life on the planet, but this single term cannot encompass the really complex and widespread nature of life, the study of which, as mentioned, is called biology or life sciences. The role life plays in environmental sciences is so profound that it cannot be summed up in one paragraph or even succinctly described in this article. But we will do an overview of what it means for us. Just know that by reaching biology, you have reached the subject that lies at the heart of environmental matters.

Biology is such a big field that researchers typically only occupy themselves with one of the many subdivisions of biology. The most basic of these fields are molecular and cellular biology. You get to know the fundamentals of life and that enables you to go a long way in environmental science. These subjects can help you get down to the root of many environmental processes and are useful in prediction and innovation. Just be warned that molecular and cellular biology are really, really complex fields. That is because life is that complex. It wouldn’t be so special if it weren’t.

Biodiversity is the term encompassing the variety of life on Earth. If you want to know about life, you will have to know about all the different kinds of life. With several million described species, that is also a really, really big field. But just know what you need to. There are considered to be three kinds of biodiversity, ecosystem diversity, species diversity, and genetic diversity. All are important. Genes, species, and ecosystems are said to be the three main aspects of life on Earth.

We will start with genes, the science of which is called genetics. Genetics plays a role in environmental studies in many ways. It defines the various forms of life and determines how traits get passed from offspring to offspring to make life the way it is. You can study the genetic responses of organisms to environmental changes and what effect environmental changes have on an organism’s genetics. Genetics play a big role in population dynamics. One serious issue in conservation biology is that if the population of a certain kind of organism declines to a number close to extinction, it will suffer from a genetic bottleneck, the loss of its genetic diversity, even if the population recovers. Genetic diversity is often overlooked in conservation science, because we tend to focus on species, but the truth is that different genes can also go extinct and we usually wouldn’t want that to happen because different genes have a part to play in our world.

Genetics is foundational to evolution, the mostly long-term science of how life changes in form. It is good to know evolution when it comes to environmental matters. Conservation issues exist in large part due to the fact that living things evolve so slowly that they cannot adapt to man-made environmental changes. We also must know if adaptation is possible. Also, evolution happens quicker the smaller organisms are and evolutionary changes in small life-forms will likely be a big part of the environmental changes people are causing.

Moving onto species, it is actually just one of the many levels of divisions scientists put life into. They classify life on Earth into different groups, classed into main levels, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, and species. But scientists have also more levels of classification in the taxonomic tree of life, like domains and subspecies. The term for cataloguing all these different kinds of life is taxonomy. Each taxonomic group often has its own ecological role to play in the world. Knowing taxonomy is basically how you memorize the variety of life-forms.

Major branches of biology are dedicated to the different types of life. One very broad field is microbiology, which is the study of minute life-forms composed of one cell. Microbes consist of viruses, bacteria, archaea, protists, and many fungi. Microbes are invisible and thus easy to overlook but they are a very fundamental part of the world. Their importance in both the natural and human-built environments is huge. One might say microbes are the dominant part of the biosphere in terms of how much they run the world. A major role of microbes in the world is as decomposers. They break down organic substances and release it into the environment as nutrients. They produce many of the chemicals that make up the world.

Bacteriology is the study of bacteria. They are perhaps the dominant type of single-celled organism, so their study is the most important. Virology is the study of viruses, which are a very basal form of life. They cannot even eat on their own but they have a big role to play, keeping populations of more complex microbes in check, sickening and killing many multi-celled organisms, and spreading genes across different organisms. Protists are complex microbes. They are less important than bacteria but have a near-universal presence and occupy the entire range of ecological niches. Archaea are not as abundant a form of life as the other groups. They are mostly extremophiles, living in extreme conditions for life. Their main relevance in environmental matters might be that they will take over whenever environmental degradation gets ‘that bad.’

The study of fungi is mycology. Fungi can be single-celled or multi-celled. They have a fundamental role in the world, mostly by acting as decomposers, thus playing a large part in the recycling and flow of nutrients through the environment. Some consider them the world’s primary decomposers. Many fungi also have a very important role by acting as symbionts with other organisms (it is believed almost all plants in the world obtain nutrients with fungal help) or by being pathogenic agents. Finally, many fungi have important uses for human beings.

There are few environmental concerns directly involving fungi. Fungi are normally so resilient as to be rarely endangered and so widespread as to rarely be invasive (by way of being carried at least). But usually, environmental changes cause ecologically harmful declines or ecologically harmful rise in certain fungi. Environmental change is also how they may be introduced to new places, because they could not live there before. The global spread of fungi is predicted to be a major effect of global warming, leading to severe agricultural losses and decline in many wildlife populations.

On the flipside, fungi can be used in many methods of environmental protection, such as being used for natural pest control so that harmful synthetic pesticides do not have to be used. Scientists in fact believe the kingdom of fungi holds countless secrets that could ultimately help us save the environment. We just have a long way to go in uncovering them, because mycology is a very underdeveloped field. As diverse and important as they are, fungi are not as well-known as plants and animals. They basically run the planet from the shadows.

Photosynthetic organisms are the most important kind of life-form as they are at the base of the food chain, creating their own food through sunlight. They produce the oxygen that makes up a big part of the atmosphere. A big portion of photosynthetic life-forms are microbial and aquatic, like cyanobacteria and algae. They are easy to overlook because they are tiny and/or hidden in water, but they probably are more important for the planet than the land-based plants that we are more familiar with and which exert a more imposing presence. The study of algae is called phycology and the study of plants is called botany.

Botany is a major part of environmental sciences because plants are a very large component of the natural environment. They play a very big role in shaping the planet itself. Among many other things, they create most of the sediment on Earth, prevent it from being eroded, greatly increase the evaporation of water from the ground into the atmosphere, alter the Earth’s albedo, and remove carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere. As for the living world, plants made up its matrix. Plants are actually among the few life-forms that create habitats. Most other life-forms on land are surrounded by plants. Plants make up much of their world, in addition to being the ultimate source of food for all life on land.

Human beings have big effects on the world’s plants. The environmental changes we cause often lead to plant declines and we directly clear the Earth of vegetation on a huge scale by using them or getting them out of the way. This has huge environmental repercussions and what we do to plants is a major part of what we do to the Earth. Conservation is so far not a major part of environmental botany because declines in plant populations usually only harm the environment but not threaten the survival prospects of the plant species themselves. We still must not forget that there are plant species out there at risk of extinction.

Now, we are onto the animal kingdom, the study of which is called zoology. It is not very obvious at first what the importance of animals is to the planet. Their presence is not as universal as microbes and not as imposing as plants. But they are the final link in the chain of life. Being large and able to move around, their place in the natural world is vital. They trim the Earth of other organisms like plants and recycle organic matter, enriching the environment, among other roles.

The animal kingdom plays a central role in environmental concerns. Of all the major groups of living things, animals are the most vulnerable to human threats. Many animal wildlife populations are declining, with often debilitating ecological effects, and most species of concern in the field of conservation are animals. Animal populations rising when they shouldn’t are also a significant concern, with invasive animals and animal ecological imbalances being very common problems. Animals play a part in humanity’s influence on the natural world in countless ways. Due to simply the fact that they are such a big part of the natural world, we must know all about animals in order that we can better manage our control over the planet.

The fields of study devoted to different kinds of animals tend to be very well-developed on their own. We will only look at major examples. Entomology is the study of insects. Insects are the most numerous group of animals, with millions of species everywhere on land, and are thus a major part of the terrestrial biosphere. Few insects are known to be endangered, but the importance of this group means they play a very big role in environmental concerns. Also, we should study entomology because when insects are endangered, we usually do not know.

Vertebrate biology is crucial because vertebrates reign supreme in the animal kingdom on large-scale. Fish, the study of which is called ichthyology, are all the vertebrates that live and breathe in water, thus playing a big environmental role. Environmental concerns about them are so big because they (along with some other aquatic life) are the only major group of animals to be regularly eaten by humans without being cultivated and so are being over harvested on a grand scale everywhere.

Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians, which have a very widespread global presence, but not as much as the other major groups of vertebrates. Their abundance varies across the planet, but generally, being ill-adapted to cold temperatures, amphibians and reptiles are most abundant in tropical climates, which is also where the Earth’s biodiversity in general is the greatest.

Ornithology is the study of birds. Due to the fact that most of them have the power of flight, given them great advantages and the ability to move easily over all of the Earth’s surface, birds are an extremely widespread and important group of animals and so figure prominently in environmental processes and environmental concerns.

Mammals, the study of which is called mammalogy, are a dominant group of vertebrates, especially on the large scale. On that account, mammals are a big part of the biosphere and occupy a particular presence in conservation concerns, since big animals are highly prone to being endangered and their decline tends to have large-scale environmental effects.

And finally, in order to take everything in biology we have learned and put it all together into its environmental context, we have ecology. Here is where we reach ecosystems. We have already gone over how ecology is most important in environmental studies. Now, we’ll see what it is about. Ecology takes the subject beyond the individual organism and into the wider world around it, the relationship of life-forms to the environment. Ecology studies three levels of that relationship. First is population ecology, concerning the relations of individuals within a single species. Second is community ecology, concerning the relations of all different kinds of organisms. Third is ecosystem ecology, concerning the relations of organisms and the abiotic world (atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere).

Ecology is all about how the natural environment that living things comprise functions. It studies how energy and resources flow through the living environment and how the balance of life on Earth is maintained. Human beings are disturbing that balance in countless ways, which is responsible for environmental degradation. Knowledge of the extensive field of ecology enables us to know all about how it is happening, how human beings managed to get to the position in which they are doing it, what consequences our actions have, and how we can solve such problems.

Now we know all that we can about the natural world and the way that it is. But there is one more thing to learn, and that is the way it was, Earth’s past. It is a vast field of science but in which there remains much to discover. We know little about the history of the natural world, and we appear to have little incentive to change that. One might think that it has little relevance to environmental matters, which is about what is happening to the natural environment right now and within the span of human history. But it turns out that delving into the past 4.5 billion years of Earth is actually very useful for us.

The global environmental situation is all about the natural world changing because of human influence. In order for us to confidently know how these changes are happening and what changes are going to happen, we need to look at the changes that already happened. The record of the past is the most reliable way to gauge how the world works. It usually takes millions of years for the natural world to change in significant ways. In fact, human civilization is causing changes so severe that it usually takes eons for changes of such scale to naturally happen. We have to look back that far to help us predict what present changes will lead to. There have also been past events in Earth altering the environment with similar rapidity to what is going on now, and these precedents are perhaps the most useful. We are furthermore better able to know if current environmental trends are really human-related or not. Studying the Earth’s past also gives us important insights into how the Earth is now which otherwise would be harder to gain.

When you extend your inquiry of the natural environment into the long-term past, many of the topics already mentioned, which have been explained as not being of overall great environmental relevance, then attain importance because they are the forces shaping Earth’s development over the ages, such as relativity, gravitational interactions, tectonic drift, mantle plumes, and evolution. There is no clear-cut term for the study of Earth’s past. You can call it paleontology, but many also use that for just the study of past life. Whatever you call it, scientific study of the Earth’s past is perhaps among the most difficult of all scientific fields to make discoveries in. It involves examining the traces of past events remaining in the Earth, but traces tend to be destroyed by later events. The traces that are well-protected tend to be hidden deep in the Earth, where it is difficult to access them. The Earth, being as dynamic and constantly changing as it is, does not leave behind a record designed for being read. Scientists need the mind of a forensic scientist to read what it does leave behind. We better do it, because it is really important for us to learn about the processes of great change in Earth’s history before we experience such change for ourselves.

We are now done with the natural world, the inquiry into our planet itself. It is now time to move onto the other half of the equation, the study of humanity and the world that it has created. It is easy to learn, as we are studying our own kind, but it is also, all by itself, a very, very complex subject.

Technology is the best place to start. Behind every single way that human beings impact the environment, there lies our technological and engineering prowess. It is through our tools that the human race has obtained dominance over the planet and the capability to alter it, making the technological sciences, as well as engineering, hugely critical to the entire field of environmental studies. If you are going to be an environmental researcher, chances are that you will have to be well-versed in technology and engineering. It is very common for people to pursue these two fields, but if the environment is on their mind, their knowledge of tech may have to be considerably broad. That won’t be easy due to the huge variety in all the technology and engineering that civilization has created, runs on, and impacts the environment with.

On the whole, technology enables every human activity that harms the environment, so knowing about the technology involved is worth your while when studying environmental harm. But in addition, much of the world’s technology is of such a nature that its very creation, use, and existence is responsible for environmental damage and that is where the focus is on technology and engineering. Making things often uses up natural resources. Most of humanity’s products end up as waste that pollutes the Earth. The structures we build often directly alter the natural environment. And our enormous demand for energy to run the machines that drive modern civilization is one of the biggest forces ravaging the planet.

Technology and engineering may be behind all environmental problems, but they can also provide us with many of our solutions, our main hope in fact. It can be either through designing technology and engineering in such a way as to make them more environmentally-friendly or through actually using technology and engineering to mitigate environmental harm. If you are seeking to become involved in saving the environment, chances are that you are going to have to get involved in this sort of thing.

It is now time for us to move onto the study of us, the very human species, and the societies we create. Anthropology is the term for the general study of the human species. It is a scientific field and it mostly looks at human beings as a biological construct. In fact, we must not neglect the biological nature of humanity in environmental matters. Human beings are living organisms, very unique organisms, who occupy a position in the ecological balance of life which right now is getting way out of bounds, and to study how this race of highly intelligent, sophisticated beings are altering the planet, we have to first look at what these beings are, what they are like, what is their very nature.

That includes studying their capabilities and their needs, their demands, and their wants which dictate their relationship to the world around them. The science of human behavior, comprising behavioral anthropology, is crucial. An integral part of it is psychology, which intimately studies the human mind.

We also need to study the human body. It is called human physiology. We could say that in environmental studies, the human body is the most important living body to study out of all the individual living species in the world. Just like living things in general, the human body is extremely complex. There is in fact much about it that we have yet to discover. Perhaps some of those secrets could hold the key to saving the planet.

The biggest aspect of the relationship of human beings with the world around them concerns the food we eat. Food is all the substances in world (except water and oxygen) which need to go into our bodies to sustain and nourish us. The human diet plays a very big role in humanity’s impact on the natural world. To study this vital subject, we turn to nutrition and food science. However mundane such a topic of study sounds, the science of food and human nutrition is a very, very complex field. You can tell by the endless variety of food available for you to eat, unless you are poor, and how much you can study if you get into a cooking class. The cooking class, by the way, is just one place, though it may not be readily apparent, into which you can bring environmental action, where you can act to save the planet.

Every subject that we have gone over is placed under the umbrella of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). What is left for us to explore from here can be classified as the humanities. Humanity is the driving force behind all environmental issues and so can be considered the center of environmental matter. So last, but not least, we shall study human society and the ways by which civilization operates, giving us core insight into the processes behind manmade environmental change.

Social sciences is a general term for studies pertaining to human society. It is not very well defined. But first, we start with a subject that is well defined, sociology. Sociology is the study of the masses, of how human society functions in terms of the ordinary people making it up. This is crucial to environmental matters. It is often overlooked, but the real driving force behind human impact on the environment is everybody. A single ordinary individual alone does not really cause any harm through lifestyle choices and actions. But there are 7 billion others like us on this planet and when you add up all the people around us, they together are the force laying waste to the natural environment through what they are doing.

Sociology is the field that studies this, looking at what happens as a result of the sum of the actions of the individuals comprising the society. Sociologists can’t be aware of the individual. They cannot know each person, but they can know the common patterns in human behavior, what sort of behavior is how common and what effect it has on the society as a whole. We also must know what effect it has on the environment as a whole. Sociology is vital for us in this regard, because what ordinary people, the seven billion in total, decide to do plays a fundamental role in human impact on the environment. Most environmental actions have to take into account the behavior of ordinary people and whether they will comply with policies in favor of a healthy environment.

Sociology may be about what people do. But just as consequential to the environment is there being people at all. The fact that the human population stands at seven billion itself is responsible for tremendous impact on the natural environment. To get to know this, we need demography. It is the study of human populations and what kind of people there are. It studies not only the size of populations but how populations change through birth, death, and movement, the number of people with certain characteristics such as religion, language, and race, and the age and gender ratios of a society. Overpopulation is one of the causes of environmental degradation and doing something about it is one of the most important goals of environmental protection. We must know how it is happening and the factors behind population dynamics like the youthfulness of populations of developing countries.

Every human society, of course, has guidance in the form of some sort of authority. The word for that is usually politics. Studying the political sphere of the world is of great important to the environment in many ways. Politics has always enabled and shaped human activities impacting the environment. It is also a big part of the solutions to environmental problems the world is seeking. In fact, it could be said that environmental protection largely relies upon the various forms of authority that govern society. The behavior of human civilization is behind environmental degradation, so centralized authorities are often required to curb such behavior. Most environmental solutions we can think of so far are political, with policies and laws being used to implement environmental protection. Therefore, to know how to protect the environment, we have to become familiar with politics. It is often called political science or simply politics.

Human authorities and political processes have always played an major role in the functioning of the world. There has been interaction between human impact on environment and the politics controlling human activity. So studying that will mean studying how to bring political change for the environment. We should also study the implications of different political systems for the environment. One common political phenomenon playing a big role in environmental concerns is war. In modern times, war tends to cause tremendous environmental harm. We should become involved, not only in how conflict affects the environment, but also in conflict itself and how to stop it from happening or make it happen in a controlled way to minimize harm.

Environmental phenomena do not pay any heed to borders and so tend to end up being of international concern. Human activity in one country can cause environmental harm in another. Solving environmental problems often requires the cooperation of several countries, every country in the world in some cases. Not only are international relations a big part of environmental matters but environmental matters are increasingly becoming a big part of international relations in this day and age.

Rules are always an integral part of governance. They are known as laws in that case and it so happens that the world has generally turned law into a whole domain of its own, separate and of great importance. That is because justice is considered a vital concept of its own. We need to see now how the environment is covered by justice. The study of the world of law is called legal studies and it is really wide-ranging in what it covers, since there are laws for most aspects of human life, and the environment now figures prominently in that coverage. Law is very important for the environment because it is for management of human activity. So when it comes to the activity harming the environment, law always has the potential to determine what happens and, in fact, environmental protection hinges a great deal upon law. One of the main ways to get human beings to stop harming the environment is to pass laws forbidding them and in, many cases, it seems to be the only practical solution. But using laws to protect the environment, or for anything else, is far from a simple matter and you need to dive into the immensely complicated field of legal studies to master it.

A crucial part of the political and legal world is how the common masses figure into it and for that, you have civics. In its strict definition, civics cover all those who are classified as citizens of a state. Civics covers the role they play with regards to the running of a country. Its scope is important for the environment. How people can be turned into good citizens of the Earth has a lot to do with how they function as good citizens of their country.

Sad to say, rules are meant to be broken and not everyone decides to be a good citizen. To study that all-too common phenomenon, we turn to the field of criminology, the study of crime, a type of social studies. It is an extensively pursued field, but the environmental aspect of it is not as developed as it should be, even though crime is highly consequential to the environment. Since laws are such an important means of implementing environmental protection, law-breaking is an important source of environmental damage (just note, though, that criminology covers only the activities that land you in a criminal court, not a civil court, even though the latter are also a major scourge of the environment). We see that in the widespread illegal trade in endangered natural resources all around the globe, all the poaching and all. My forecast for the future is that, in the absence of everything else, crime may become the world’s main environmental threat, because even if environmental protection is ever fully institutionalized, you can’t get everybody on board.

We now get onto one of the most important fields in human intellect and one that is of such high importance to environmental matters that even its name is derived from the same root as the name of the central environmental science, ecology. That field is economics, the study of the economy. Everything we have just gone over, sociology, politics, law, etc. can be considered the study of what human beings decide to do, but economics is the study of what they can do. Human civilization needs resources to exist, needs the flow and exchange of means to function and thrive, and the economy is the measure of it all.

So, of course, economy is pretty much behind all environmental degradation. People do things that harm the environment in order to service the economy, the prime goal of civilization. So we need to study economics. How the environment gets treated is shaped to a fundamental degree by events and processes in commerce, business, and finance. The solutions we are seeking for the environment hinge in large part upon the economy, how we shape the economy to make it more environmentally-friendly and how we use economic methods to solve environmental problems. We also need to know how economic factors figure into every kind of solution we look for, whether it is developing new eco-friendly technology like renewable energy or pushing for legislation putting restrictions on harmful activities like industrial pollution.

Economics is a very complicated field. If people bother to pursue it to the huge extent that they do, it is mostly for their own benefit, because economic activity is how you make a living. But we need to use this science for working for the well-being of the planet so that all life on it can continue living. It can be hard to explain what the essence of economics is, but to break it down, when you know the economy, you know at the fundamental level how human civilization operates, how it came to be the way it is, and how its relations with the natural world work.

Our last remaining field in the study of the human world is history. It is the study of the human past, everything that happened in the world, and so of course combines the other human subjects above into a chronology. It is a very big field, one of the biggest out there, we can say. It is also considered one of the most important. The importance of history is often expressed in the saying that those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it. But that is rather specific. History, as a record of how the world has been, teaches us all about how the world functions and by describing the events of the past leading to the world we live in now, it makes it easier for us to understand our present world. Historians study the facts about what happened and analyze them to determine the factors guiding the course of history.

Now, history as an academic field is usually dedicated to strictly human affairs. But when we incorporate environmental affairs into the study of the past, we have to bring the past of the natural world into the fold. We are now going to look at the entire history of human beings impacting the natural environment. It is distinct from the paleo-science we dealt with earlier, which is about the history of the natural world before man made influence.

History’s importance for the environment is particularly high. This is because environmental issues are all about how the natural environment used to be pristine and normal but human beings started to influence it more and more over time, leading to the problems we have now. As a result, a view towards the past is an innate part of environmental knowledge.

History is useful in many ways. In order to make a thorough assessment of environmental degradation, you need to know what the environment was like before that degradation set in. Also, much of the changes made to the environment are the result of human activity stretching far back in time, so you also have to delve that far back to know why such changes are here. There is widespread debate about whether some types of environmental change observed today are really the result of human activity or if they are entirely natural. A vital method in resolving such questions is studying the environmental changes that already occurred within the span of human history and finding out what caused them. We need to study the human events behind environmental change. In addition, when we look at all the past situations in which human beings treated the environment better than they do now, we can apply their ways to the present. We need to look at how environmental change influenced human societies.

So we need to embark on a journey into the past. That entails a global perspective, because the entire world’s past, known as world history, can be studied for environmental purposes. We thus need to ascertain which areas of history are important in which way. The world has not been a monolithic bloc for most of history, which is why terms like Medieval History are not a good way of classifying world history, because the word “medieval” describes only circumstances in Europe. Of course, Europe tends to be the historical focus in western education (which has rubbed off on non-western countries due to colonization), but environmental education will require us to abandon that narrow view and look at the entire globe in intimate ways, even if Europe has particular relevance in being the root of modern environment problems (more on that shortly). If we are to divide history for environmental purpose, the best way to do it is not chronologically but in terms of the stages of the development of civilization.

A very important question in environmental history (as with any history course) is when and where to begin. The history in question is the history of humans influencing the environment in artificial manners, but we don’t just have to start right at where that first began. We can also look at its background and get to know the processes leading to it. But as for the question of when it all began, we can say first that the world truly was thoroughly natural when all human beings lived in the Old World tropics. Then, in the late Pleistocene epoch, they spread throughout Europe, northern Asia, Australia, and the Americas, a movement that was accompanied by mass extinction of all the megafauna there. The human arrivals therefore were likely responsible, making it the world’s first man made environmental degradation (and what a start!). This is where we can begin, therefore, although it is really so far back that it is ambiguous if the late Pleistocene mass extinction could be considered part of history or paleo-science. All we may say, perhaps, is that those events serve as the progeniture, the primeval genesis, of a situation that now engulfs the entire planet.

It was not until the invention of agriculture, happening all over the world in the early Holocene period, that man-made environmental impact really started to kick off. It is thus in these times that our historical study really begins. We should find out how agriculture was invented and what impact it had from the beginning. Agriculture made possible the steady development of civilization over the next several thousand years, so next we have to pay attention to this era of time, comprising most of world history. While the world as a whole during this time was highly diverse, the entire age can be classified under the term “pre-modern history”.

Compared to modern times, the Earth saw little man-made environmental degradation during the 10,000 years of pre-modern history. That is because human civilization existed on a small scale, grew very slowly over time, and was very unevenly distributed, with some parts of the world remaining free of it altogether. Nevertheless, the study of the many millennia before modern times has high importance to environmental studies. We need to know how people and nature interacted all this time for many reasons. Firstly, the very fact that human activity went on for several thousand years is responsible for changing the natural world in major ways. In much of the world, the environment we are destroying today is really the environment created by our predecessors over the ages. More often than not, human activity way back in the past has effects lasting to this day. Furthermore, people across the ancient world also often lived in harmony with nature, so we need to know how. Where human impact upon the environment really happened in earnest, we need to how people began to damage the environment and how.

The defining environmental feature of the pre-modern age is that civilization was largely static, changing only very little for long periods of time. Consequently, human activity impacting the environment tended to last for long periods of time with little in the way of further development. This provides us with crucial insights. Firstly, it means that environmental degradation in many cases was allowed to run its full course. Nowadays, the world is so rapidly developing that the damage already inflicted has little effect because we, so far, can go on to exploit the environment even more. But in the millennia of old, people kept exploiting the environment at the same level perpetually. They thus often experienced the ultimate results of their actions. In many cases, it was that the environment sustaining them collapsed, which then often resulted in the collapse of their civilization. The fall of many civilizations in world history is attributed by historians to environmental change. In some cases, it may have been entirely natural, but in many other cases, it was likely self-inflicted. We need to know when and how this happened and what lessons it holds for today.

Finally, we need to study the age of “today” and what led to it. Therefore, we move onto our final area of study, Modern History, the era of history which lasts to the present and which began, by most considerations, around six to five centuries ago. This part of history is what takes center stage in environmental affairs and is of main importance to us. That is because it is within the last five centuries that the natural world began to really buckle under the weight of human civilization, because the growth of civilization took a great leap forward and proceeded at a rapidly accelerating scale which continues today.

And what happened to make this possible? Beginning with Portuguese and Spanish voyages into the Atlantic Ocean in the 1400s, people from the continent of Europe explored and reached out to the entire globe, subsequently also colonizing, occupying a major commercial presence in, and dominating most of it. As a result of this worldwide revolution in human affairs, they created a highly interconnected globe enabling the world to develop so rapidly that in a few hundred years, we’ve gone from wooden sailing ships plying the seas to spacecraft traveling across the solar system. Along with this tremendous progress comes a tremendous cost in terms of the health of the natural environment of Earth. In order for us to know about the situation the entire world is now in, we need to know how it all came to be.

It is no simple matter. Modern history is as complex as the world it has produced. Nowadays, environmental damage is mostly the result of how much civilization is growing, but previously, for most of modern history, westerners and the people they influenced actually behaved in a thoroughly environmentally destructive manner. As they colonized and spread across the world, westerners exploited nature as much as they could, leaving behind a legacy and a mark on the world that is tremendous. We need to study how the environment was and how indigenous societies treated it before western influence. Then, we move onto recent history, beginning around the early to mid-twentieth century, when the world created by western dominance came into its final form. It was in those times that the world finally became conscious of environmental issues, but by then, it was too late, rendering environmental protection the great challenge it is now.

Having engaged in this voyage, we put the circumstances of the present-day and all that may happen in the future into their context, which gives us a clear perspective on the global environmental crisis. In studying environmental history, every subject we have taken a look at in this overview, has to be put together and woven into a comprehensive account of all that is already past. This, in turn, helps us to understand what is happening now and enables us to predict what may happen in the future, the view towards which is another innate part of environmental knowledge. The future, in fact, is the main environmental concern, because where we are going from here is the most important question. In order to answer that question, in order to prepare for the future and take control of it, we must possess as much knowledge as we can and we must practice as thorough an understanding of it as we can. It is in this endeavor of ours that hope for our Earth’s natural environment rests.

About the Author:
Shahzeb Khan is a blogger, opinion columnist, and environmental activist. He authored the children’s book The Tiny King and the Evil Sorcerer, written to inculcate environmental awareness in young minds. He is the co-director of Pakistan’s People-Led Disaster Management and in charge of its research department. His personal blog is https://jshahzebkhan.wordpress.com/.

March 23, 2019: The Importance of Knowledge in Moving Pakistan Forward

Today, we celebrate 23rd March, 2019, Pakistan Day. It is a day that commemorates the Lahore Resolution of 23rd of March, 1940, wherein the leaders of the All India Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, met at Lahore to formally adopt the call for Indian Muslims to have their own independent country, thus beginning the movement to create the nation of Pakistan. That dream was realized seven years later on 14th August, 1947, the anniversary of which is now observed by Pakistan as Independence Day. Pakistan Day, for its part, is the holiday dedicated to the genesis of the very nation of Pakistan.

Every 23rd March, the government hosts parades and a ceremony in Islamabad to recognize the meritorious service of citizens whose labor strengthened Pakistan. This Pakistan Day, we will be having a joint military parade with various countries including the People’s Republic of China. In addition to our customary joy and fanfare over how our nation’s existence came to be, we observe each Pakistan Day with reflection over the meaning of our nationhood, how far our nation has come since creation and where we stand today, and a reaffirmed commitment to build a prosperous future for the nation.

However, a dark pall hangs over our nation this year as we celebrate.

Last year, in the run-up to Pakistan Day, I heard the thunderous sound of fighter jets in the sky several times. It was the Pakistan Air Force practicing for the Pakistan Day Parade. This year, as 23 March drew near, I again heard the same sounds, emanating from the sky at an even faster rate. This time, however, it was for a very different reason. The Air Force was responding to the intense escalation in hostility between India and Pakistan, which erupted after Indian warplanes crossed the Line of Control in Kashmir for the first time since the war of 1971 that tore our nation apart.

That standoff occurred as a result of a bomb attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir on 14 February. India then flew fighter jets into northern Pakistan on 26 February, claiming they were bombing a militant training camp. Pakistan retaliated by downing two Indian warplanes, one in Pakistan and the other across the Line of Control. In the few days afterwards, the two countries exchanged aerial attacks and artillery fire across the LoC in the disputed territory of Kashmir. The military confrontation continued for several days and is now replaced by a quiet yet tense standoff.

We celebrate Pakistan Day this year in the wake of a crisis that brought our nation to the brink of war. The danger that confronted us and which is still hanging around cannot be understated, as both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed and a nuclear war could kill tens of millions of people. That this year’s 23rd March is spent in such circumstances is a stark reminder of the seriousness of the Kashmir dispute, an issue that in fact has plagued Pakistan ever since our nation came into being. It is actually one of Pakistan’s many chronic problems. The truth is that in its seven decades of history, Pakistan has struggled in many ways and much has been holding it back. Many say that Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan has yet to be fully realized.

Seven decades of Indo-Pak conflict may even be responsible for many of the ailments that plague Pakistan. Pakistan has had to devote much of its resources to defense and national security, contributing to widespread poverty and lack of development. The constant security threat caused periodic martial rule, impeding the orderly political development of the country. The tensions within Kashmir contributed to the rise and spread of militancy in the wider region, not to mention the constant threat of terrorism.

So this is where Pakistan stands today. A territorial dispute that should have been a teething problem for a newly independent region has never come close to being resolved and has been a source of consistent trouble, playing a significant role in shaping our nation. Going through the latest trouble it has given us, we have to ask ourselves how the Kashmir dispute, a tragedy for Kashmir’s people, a burden for Pakistan, and a danger for all involved, could have happened.

The Kashmir issue is customarily traced to 1947 and the Radcliff Boundary Award, but its roots are deeper. There was once a time that Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region, was under Muslim rule, but it fell to the Sikh Empire in 1819. The British took over Kashmir in 1846 and gave it to a Hindu clan known as the Dogras, as a reward for helping them defeat the Sikh Empire. The Hindu rulers of the Muslim princely state of Kashmir, therefore, do not have the legitimacy other hereditary rulers of princely estates in India do. After the British left more than a century later and princely states had the option of joining Pakistan or India, Kashmir’s Muslim populace wanted to join Pakistan and its Hindu ruler wanted to join India. The dispute led India and Pakistan to go to war in 1948 over annexation of Kashmir. A UN-mandated ceasefire split the area between the two nations, as India pledged to hold a plebiscite to decide the fate of Kashmiris in keeping with the principle of self-determination sanctified by the UN resolution. Unfortunately, India never made good on the pledge to Kashmiris and the divide leaves both India and Pakistan hostile to each other ever since. Thus, the danger of a nuclear war breaking out in the 21th century is entirely due to imperial machinations of the mid-19th century.

It is just one example of how the past shapes the present world. Knowledge of history is thus important for proper understanding of present day problems. It’s fair to say that history has not worked in Pakistan’s favor very much. Nevertheless, to be better able to work towards a brighter future, we must become cognizant of the good in our past. A nation’s history and that of its predecessors is an important source of pride for its people. Awareness of past achievements can motivate a people towards greater accomplishment in their time.

Pakistan, indeed, has something in its heritage worthy of high acclaim. Pakistan, along with the Subcontinent in general, is the first European colony to gain independence after World War 2, initiating the process of global decolonization that today results in a world of free nation-states. That alone imparts a high distinction on Pakistan. British India hosted the world’s biggest independence movement, of which the Pakistan Movement was a significant part. After the war, the British departure from the Subcontinent was a foregone conclusion. However, the Muslims of the Subcontinent obtaining their own sovereign nationhood, independent of Hindu-majority India, was an unlikely outcome, achieved, in the face of great opposition, without recourse to violence and with rational political discourse led by a professional advocate named Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The making of Pakistan is thus one of mankind’s great achievements in the annals of world history.

Since then, as a nation, another great accomplishment of Pakistan is the building of the Karakorum Highway. Built in the ‘60s and ‘70s with Chinese help, it is the world’s highest paved international road and runs through some of the world’s most lofty mountainous terrain, rendering the construction project an immensely difficult feat. As a result, the Karakorum Highway is often regarded as the Eighth Wonder of the world. Indeed, the construction of the Karakorum Highway is the crowning achievement in highway engineering.

Pakistan is also a nation of high prominence on the international stage, due in part to its military industrial strength. In this context it is the most powerful Islamic country. It is one of the few countries in the world which managed to build a nuclear arsenal as part of an impregnable defense system built to ward off a much bigger enemy, India, after the 1971 war dismembered Pakistan. Scientists in the remaining half of Pakistan built a nuclear weapons system with civil military collaboration unrivaled elsewhere in the Muslim world.

All of this shows that Pakistan is endowed with a huge potential. It is not fully fulfilled because equally enormous obstacles lie in the way of tapping all of it. These include problems of the past and present. Pakistan’s very birth was mired in tragedy, as millions died in the extreme communal violence of Partition, and in disappointment as it had far less territory than its founders envisioned, who thus called it a “moth-eaten state”. Then, right from the beginning, our new nation was beset by the Kashmir dispute and in its heel, the death of our founder, Quaid-e-Azam. A few decades later, catastrophe befell Pakistan as it was split in two, when East Pakistan, containing half the country’s population and much of its natural resources, broke away, rendering the original purpose of the country (to be a homeland for Indian Muslims) moot. Since then, Pakistan has been in the grip of institutional stagnation and in 2001, a whole new sort of geopolitical trouble for Pakistan started with the War on Terror, which led to the spread of civil war and terrorism in Pakistan. The resultant strain on the country made some regard Pakistan as a failed state. That is an unjustifiable characterization. The state is still intact and struggling towards greater achievements but the problems it is dealing with are overwhelming.

Pakistan’s troubles are due to a large and complex variety of factors. It seems that several different problems converged on Pakistan to make it such a troubled country, problems coming from both inside the country and outside. Events like the recent standoff with India are a serious concern and stand as a reminder of our longer-term situations. With the post-Pulwama military confrontation and the threat of nuclear war we just went through, we must realize that we cannot go on like this. In order to do something, we need answers. Solving the problems of our nation will not just require effort and unity. Pakistanis are already a hardworking people, but they are in want of guidance. In order for us to guide Pakistan through all our troubled circumstances, we need to analyze and comprehend the issues that we face and think up solutions to them. If we are to make our country better, we need knowledge and ideas.

That is what we commemorate on 23 March. One would think that Independence Day would be our more important holiday, as 14 August means the struggle for Pakistan was at last realized, but 23 March signifies the idea that materialized the struggle. We recognize the importance of the idea of Pakistan by making Pakistan Day as big a day as it is.

That is why we hold both Allama Sir Mohammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah in high regard as the two great founders of Pakistan. Jinnah was the statesman who led the political struggle for Pakistan. He did the work as a skilled politician who could mobilize his people and negotiate with the Indian National Congress and the British. Iqbal was a prolific poet and writer, called the greatest Urdu Poet of the twentieth century, who formulated the concept of Pakistan and persuaded his fellow Muslim Indians to believe in it. It was in Iqbal’s great mind that the need for a separate Muslim homeland was first recognized. A journey of a thousand miles begins with the decision to embark on that journey and an awareness of what course to take. The part of an endeavor that takes place inside the head is in itself often a significant task.

On 23 March and August 14, we celebrate the existence of Pakistan itself. We have the nation, but we have yet to make it into a truly prosperous one. Pakistan’s creation is only the beginning, but we have to do more to move forward. As a 21 year old Pakistani, I am very much a supporter of carrying on the struggle of our founding fathers. For this, I propose that just as 23 March, 1940, the All-India Muslim League adopted the idea of a separate Muslim homeland and launched the struggle to achieve it, we must spend every 23 March formulating and promoting ideas of what we can do for Pakistan. The best way to celebrate Pakistan Day is to engage in discussion about how to make Pakistan greater.

Every day, of course, should be a day for doing that. But 23 March can be a day of special focus on this subject. We can spend the whole year prior engaged in investigation and discourse in academic institutions, think tanks, government departments, civil society organizations, and just about anywhere, studying concepts and developing ideas and putting our work on display on 23 March. That day, we can also decide what we are going to be doing the rest of the year and simultaneously describe what we have achieved towards the goal post. The journey for Pakistan is still far from over. We can’t spend 23 March with just jubilation. We should also dedicate it to reflection and discourse and a determination to act.

That is actually how we get together and spend Pakistan Day. But I believe that we need a change in our thinking, an intellectual revolution, in fact. We need to broaden our horizon when it comes to awareness of our challenges. We must push more for academic pursuit of knowledge and ideas and be open-minded about where to find them. An analysis of Pakistan’s journey over the ages and where it is now, a discourse on where we can go from here, and a comprehensive investigation into the issues surrounding Pakistan are essential for us as a nation. Part of the reason why we have not managed to solve some of Pakistan’s endemic problems may be because we neither fully comprehend the issues, nor know where to search for ways to solve them. We do not possess tools to fathom our own capacity to meet our challenges. Gaining knowledge is a relatively easy task and so Pakistan, if it wants to make itself a better nation, should devote itself, before anything else, to learning.

I propose, therefore, that we create a national forum for research and idea development, an open forum where all can post for issue identification and analysis and for dissemination of ideas for issue resolution. In the age of information technology, a national forum, open to all, designed for developing ideas and plans of action for the country is not only feasible but also desirable. I have hereby decided to create a program for such studies. Feel free to contact us for ideas and inquiries. With your help, it may develop into Pakistan’s foremost research and advocacy think tank.

So what is it that we can do to solve Pakistan’s problems and turn it into a better country? The possibilities are endless. We just need to engage in thorough, scientific study of Pakistan’s circumstances and think outside the box in looking for answers to our problems. Awareness of history is necessary, as is proper awareness of the wider world and Pakistan’s place in it. Here is a basic overview of the sort of subjects relevant to our pursuit of knowledge for our nation.

First thing we have to know is that Pakistan does not exist in a vacuum. In our discourse on national issues, it appears that we have an unwitting tendency to regard it that way, to disregard the world as a whole. But the world is highly interconnected and individual nations tend to be heavily impacted by global or faraway developments and events. Pakistan’s history bears testament to this in its entirety. Pakistan was able to get independence because Britain was weakened by World War 2. The political system the new country adopted (because it could not go back to being a monarchy like in Mughal or Sikh times) was the same as those developed by the West, by our very imperial masters. Pakistan’s subsequent history was largely shaped by international affairs such as the Cold War and the War on Terror.

That last part we well know of. But strangely, even when many Pakistanis are dealing with foreign matters impacting their country, they seem to avoid actually trying to understand those events happening afar. For example, many Pakistanis resent the West because they think the foreign powers still have imperialist intentions. Thus, they do things like accuse Malala Yousafzai of being an imperial stooge because she came to reside in Britain. But they do not really study what is going on in the West, to familiarize themselves with those countries (thereby rejecting the desire for learning that Malala advocates).

This sort of thinking is common in the wider region around us. For example, some analysts believe that the protests that broke out across the Muslim world over the Innocence of Muslims film were so strong and widespread because the people involved in it, in addition to being uneducated and isolated, spent most of their lives living under repressive dictatorial governments and so assumed that any film made anywhere in the world must have had government backing or permission. They knew very little about faraway parts of the world and, crucially, they were unwilling to realize that they knew so little, so they made assumptions based upon what their own country was like. Millions came to a conclusion without being close to knowing enough and that, unfortunately, happens too often in Pakistan. Learning how to learn is a requirement for learning.

So Pakistanis need a global perspective and must become intimately familiar with happenings all around the world, past and present, in both countries rich and poor, big and small. We should study the outside world both to find out all that affects us and to uncover lessons that could help us understand our national affairs better. It’s time to expand our horizon. Perhaps our global ignorance, even as we remain experts on everything within our borders, is a big factor keeping us down.

Knowing about Pakistan in fact entails knowing quite a lot about the world, because the nation occupies a position of international importance. The importance of its geographic position becomes very obvious the moment you glance at it on a map. It lies right between West Asia and South Asia, and Central Asia lies to its north. It is both a regional power and right in the middle of major geographic regions. In fact, looking at the map, we can say it looks a lot like Pakistan is the main bridge between the western and eastern halves of the world. Such a strategic position provides Pakistan with a huge amount of opportunity. It is safe to assume that it is also an underlying cause of many of Pakistan’s problems.

Pakistan has relevance especially for the Islamic world. Besides being the most prominent Islamic country, and being a link between the main block of Islamic territories and the wide expanses of Asia to the east, it is the only nation in history that is created in the name of Islam. Pakistan thus has the potential to play a leading role in the Islamic world. Its hostile relations with India mean that Pakistan’s main regional outreach will have to be to its fellow Islamic nations west and north. However, instability, sociopolitical troubles, and unrest are very common in these countries, as well as within Pakistan itself, and are a defining feature of the Muslim world in the 21st century. With its importance, Pakistan has to take on the responsibility of tackling these challenges. For it to build a bright role for itself, it should play a leading role in guiding the world’s Muslims towards peace and progress.

The neighboring country of China also has very important relations with Pakistan. China is an emerging global superpower, currently the world’s second richest nation. China and Pakistan have very friendly relations due to having India as a common enemy. Currently, following up on the construction of the Karakorum Highway, both nations are constructing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). One of the world’s most significant trade projects, it is being planned as China’s main route to Africa and the Middle East. Pakistan is thus a major partner in China’s emergence on the world stage and CPEC is slated to be a game-changer for Pakistan.

It is therefore very important to study China and what its rise means for the world. We also have to plan our economic integration and partnership with China wisely. Xi Jingping’s Belt and Road Initiative, which CPEC is part of, is a global economic revolution in the making. The future of Pakistan, and that of the world as well, will be largely shaped by China’s growth. It is a promising future but one we have to proceed towards carefully, as we have no idea where it could lead us. It begins now, as the steps taken today will decide tomorrow.

The world’s future is likely to be decided by China and other eastern countries. But the world’s past and present has been largely decided by the West. Western countries like the United States continue to play a leading role in the world and will for the foreseeable future. They also hang like a specter over Pakistan’s existence. The West is responsible for Pakistan ever coming into being, for otherwise the Mughal Empire would still exist in its place. Through its dominance and influence, the West is in fact responsible for almost every single way the world is today. It has played a fundamental role in the forging of the modern world.

That role has also been hugely multi-faceted. It has brought enormous good and inflicted great harm. The only way we can summarize modern Western civilization’s impact is that it is enormously complex. Take as an example the legacy of slavery for Western countries like America. It is usually regarded as a dark stain on that nation’s history as slavery was practiced on such a major scale and resulted in entrenched and chronic racism. But when you put it in the bigger perspective, many societies throughout history practiced slavery. It was a common and mostly unabated practice of civilization. Then Britain, the world’s biggest power, banned slavery and actually used its navy to block the Atlantic slave trade. Shortly afterwards, the United States fought the only war in world history to end slavery. Western anti-slavery efforts spread worldwide and it is now because of Western countries that slavery all over the world has been restricted to being an underground activity. They brought us the worst of slavery and the end of slavery.

The West and its shaping of modern history is thus a very complicated subject but also one that we have to comprehend. Understanding the West means understanding the world. Even China can be largely thought of as a Western product now. For 4,000 years, it was one imperial dynasty after another. That came to an end in 1911 when China got a republican government inspired by George Washington’s ideals. Then, in 1949, it got a communist government inspired by Karl Marx’s ideas. China later became what it is now due to Deng Xiaoping’s adoption of capitalist ideas, in which we can say he was inspired by Adam Smith. Here in Pakistan, Western influence is pervasive in our society, to which the fact that this article is written in English, not Urdu, is testament.

Pakistan has also had frosty relations with Western countries. It is not alone. Virtually every non-white society in the world has had frosty relations with the West at some time or another. But a lot more has to be done on our part than just holding up banners saying “Hang Raymond Davis” or something like that. We also got to get to know the West, to start to understand this immense, globe-transforming phenomenon that is Western Civilization.

Knowing history, of course, is generally important in understanding the world. But it also may be worth our while to peer far back into history. Doing so for the land where Pakistan lies, we find another great achievement in Pakistan’s heritage, which is that it is one of the world’s earliest seats of civilization, the Indus Valley civilization, or Harappa. The Harappans at their peak may have comprised one-fourths of the world population and their developments include urban planning, water supply systems, and elaborate drainage. If we study these accomplishments of theirs, it could inspire us with useful tips for today.

The Indus Valley civilization was centered on the Indus Basin, which remains the ecological foundation of our nation-state today. It serves as the reminder that the natural world is what makes civilization and humanity possible. Pakistan’s natural environment thus has to be included as an integral part of our national outlook. As we develop our nation, we must keep it in mind and learn to treat it responsibly.

Preventing environmental degradation therefore must become our top national priority. Pakistan’s existence comes at a time when human civilization is growing at a tremendous rate, fundamentally altering the balance of nature, which will in turn affect human societies everywhere. Most analysts say that Pakistan will be one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to environmental changes. Thus, Pakistan now has a whole new set of severe problems it will carry into the future. Most of the problems keeping our nation down are of the past, such as the Kashmir dispute, which is rooted in old struggles which the rest of the world has mostly moved beyond. But now, even if Pakistan overcomes all such problems, environmental change such as overuse of water, the shifting of the monsoon, and the shrinking of the northern glaciers will be a whole new challenge for the nation, impeding its development.

It will most likely even threaten Pakistan’s existence. Our nation thus has a very uncertain future. It is the most important thing for us therefore to study environmental changes and find out what can be done about them. Changes in the Indus River are believed to be responsible for the collapse of the Indus Valley civilization. We should study this event as it may give us insight into Pakistan’s prospects now. But all in all, understanding the entire field of human-caused changes to the natural world will be the biggest challenge in our intellectual endeavors.

This will hinge upon science. Science, the study of the material world around us, is in fact very important for the world. We should not neglect it as we endeavor to understand Pakistan’s challenges in the world. Scientific literacy will be enormously useful to us and will be necessary for making Pakistan a great country.
A wide variety of fields will have to be mastered if we are to strive to serve Pakistan with knowledge. There are social, economic, political, cultural, environmental, and other aspects, all interconnected, of the issues surrounding Pakistan. A multi-disciplinary approach is needed. Critical thinking skills are needed. Even when we learn all the facts, we must decipher the meaning behind them. There is much we will have to learn, to analyze. That includes big questions that will be challenging to answer.

Take, for example, the issue at the of Pakistan’s troubles. Newly-formed Pakistan and India fought a limited war in Kashmir in 1947 and the United Nations, also newly-formed, decided to intervene to bring an end to the conflict. It oversaw a ceasefire and got India to agree to a plebiscite in the part of Kashmir it occupied, which came to nothing. At the time, it looked like what the UN was doing was good, bringing peace, but on the long term, it condemned the region to a perpetual threat of war.

That is an example of the dilemmas inherent in international relations and the pursuit of peace-making. The UN is an organization founded on the goal of preventing war. It decided to stop a very small-scale war in the Himalayas but ended up moving the problem to the future and making it worse. We have had two wars, far more destructive, since then, seven decades of tense relationship, and we are now at the risk of nuclear war, a horrifying possibility. All of this could have been averted if Pakistan and India were left to fight it to the finish in 1948. So why all this?

It is just one of the many issues requiring a world perspective. The UN was founded due to World War 2, a war caused by German expansion in Europe. That expansion was first met with British appeasement. Then, when it got too far, Britain and France went to war with Germany, but it was in a way too late now. Germany would have been easier to defeat if they went to war before it took over Czechoslovakia and maybe carnage as tremendous as what WW2 turned out to be would have been averted. So one would expect the UN to absorb this lesson and consider that it sometimes is counterproductive to avoid the fighting of a war at the first chance you get. To investigate events like the Kashmir ceasefire which affect Pakistan, we need to look at these wider processes in the world and events in other countries.

There is a memorial in Burma, dedicated to the soldiers who fought in the war there, many of whom would later be Pakistani citizens, which says “All those who come here, let them hear us say- For your tomorrow, we gave our today”. That often holds true of war. It seems, also, that some attempts at peace-making have been a case of “For our today, we gave your tomorrow”.

This month’s war scare between India and Pakistan is a result of this. It is quite a problematic and controversial issue, certainly. War and peace is generally a very complicated and precarious subject but getting a grasp of it is a must for being able to tackle some of the world’s biggest and most fundamental problems, including of Pakistan. How peacemakers brought us the hostile relations with India that have been Pakistan’s longest plague and what could have been done instead is just one of many complex issues we need to unravel.

There is so much we will have to be exploring. Having gone through this yet one more nuclear war crisis just before Pakistan Day, we need to wake up as a nation and resolve to finally tackle Pakistan’s challenges. We, of course, do call for that each Pakistan Day. This Pakistan Day we are spending discussing the resolutions we should make and that we must push for a bright future for Pakistan. But how are we to be able to do that if we are not learned as a nation? To serve Pakistan, we need to gain knowledge before anything else. Pakistan’s problems may be unresolved so much because we lack a complete understanding of them and of the world around us. It is time to change that and embark on a voyage of discovery.

There is a long way to go for that because lack of intellectual productivity is another one of Pakistan’s problems. The country’s education sector is underdeveloped, with poor-quality schooling for much of the population and high levels of illiteracy. Scholarly activity in the country is generally of modest levels. What Pakistan needs first and foremost is the promotion of a culture of knowledge. Learning paves the road to prosperity. We don’t just have to do it within our borders. Pakistanis can and do go abroad to study, such as Dr. Abdul Salam, a Pakistani scientist who worked in London and won the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics. Nowadays, knowledge economies are considered the most promising form of economy, so if Pakistan is to rise as a big power in the world, it must do more to pursue knowledge, starting with knowledge of the challenges it faces.

79 years ago, our forebears adopted the idea of an independent homeland for the Muslims of South Asia and made the resolution to bring our great nation, Pakistan, into the world. On this anniversary of the landmark event, let us adopt the resolution to take on all of Pakistan’s challenges by developing the ideas needed for forging Pakistan’s path in the world so that it can become all that it is capable of becoming.

Shahzeb Khan is an Islamabad-based columnist, environment activist, and co-founder of Pakistan’s People-Led Disaster Management (PPLDM).

Waking Pakistan up to the World’s Need to Safeguard the Natural Environment

Pakistan is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to human-induced environmental change and ecological degradation. It is an enormous national issue, a severe threat to our long-term future, in fact, and yet, we Pakistanis don’t give the matter enough attention. Our level of concern is dangerously low. Instead, issues in politics, the economy, international relations, etc., are the subject of daily discourse. Environmental issues lurk in the shadow of other pressing matters, matters essentially pertaining more directly to human affairs, which our country’s people, media, and leaders find worthy of attention.

The reality, though, is that human beings, societies, and all related issues exist in the shadow of the natural world. Nature is the basis of our existence. It provides us everything and holds us firmly in its grasp. People and all that they have created are utterly diminutive compared to nature and its dynamic processes, which you can plainly see by how large the Earth is. Humanity has come to where we are now, to this point where we are such powerful agents on Earth, only because nature enabled us to. The thing is, we are now changing nature, altering the very face of the planet. That does not mean that we have power over the natural world now. Because nature has the final say in the end, the consequences of our actions for us will be severe.

What are those consequences for this corner of the world known as Pakistan? Our people are already suffering in many ways from environmental problems caused by human activities both within and outside of the nation. Our main concern lies in where we are heading. We aren’t exactly sure yet what the future holds in store but, by both studying the science and looking at present trends, we have a good enough indication to be hugely alarmed. Environmental degradation is progressively getting worse and worse with no end in sight, bringing graver disaster risks and a general decline in the quality of life. It could ultimately be catastrophic for the world.

One critical area of concern is water. Pakistan is a water-stressed country. Its water supplies are deteriorating. Pakistan is highly vulnerable to any changes therein because it is heavily dependent on its natural resources and is essentially a desert supplied with water from concentrated sources like the Indus and the monsoon. There is a lot of water but it is not coming into the nation evenly. Our country is slated to face a severe water crisis caused by pollution and disruptions to the water supply from overuse and environmental changes. As time inexorably proceeds, the crisis will likely just get worse and worse and the people of Pakistan will suffer intensely. In fact, a sort of indefinitely prolonged drought seems to be on the horizon.

Much of the problem is due to overpopulation. Like most developing countries, Pakistan’s population growth is skyrocketing with no end in sight and the extra people have to use up natural resources to survive. The average Pakistani family produces lots of children and it is not because there are abundant resources for them. Instead, it seems that people are having many children to compensate for their lack of prosperity. That must be the explanation for the current global situation in which the rich have few children and the poor many. Pakistan’s population growth cannot be sustained forever and if it continues, the nation’s resource base will be depleted with catastrophic results for its burgeoning populace.

Global climate change adds to our woes. It is caused by many basic human activities worldwide, especially the burning of fossil fuels for energy, and it is unlikely the world will stop such activities until fossil fuels are used up. This will completely alter the face of the planet and turn our world into a hotter one and we are just beginning to feel the effects. Energy from the Sun is the driver behind most of what is happening on Earth and the balance between the energy entering and leaving the planet plays a central role in determining the state of our world. All the carbon stored inside Earth in organic form over eons of time is being released by us within the timescale of a few centuries, which will radically change that balance. It will be disastrous for life on Earth and humanity won’t be easily able to adapt.

But there is much more than what we are directly doing to watch out for. It turns out that if we disturb the Earth, we may just prompt it into adopting a new behavior of its own and it could all just go down from there. There is a possibility, scientists say, of a runaway greenhouse effect in the future caused by anthropogenic global warming. The situation basically is that by warming the Earth, we are making nature do the same. The main way is that when the climate warms, greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide are released from melting permafrost, from warming oceans, and from boreal soil where warmer temperatures allow microbes to decompose the organic matter stored underground over hundreds of years. These gases, which could potentially be of a quantity comparable to those released from fossil fuels, will themselves contribute to the warming of the climate, resulting in the release of more gases, warming the climate more, and on and on.

So if global warming continues, the process could eventually reach “runaway” point in which the warming is self-sustaining, without human influence, and proceeds unstoppably. That will definitely not be a good situation for the world. We have no idea, under this scenario, how much the world will warm before it stops and when it will happen but it is a fair chance that runaway global warming will ultimately lead to global cataclysm which, if not wiping out the human race, will wipe out civilization and billions of people.

These sound like some rather hefty doom and gloom scenarios. But we just need to have a healthy respect for how the natural world is a dynamical and complicated structure of its own and comprehend how it works. We must also be aware of how big human civilization has become, how much it is consuming and how much it is filling the Earth, a planet which, despite its immensity, is also finite. Finally, we must recognize that civilization is growing rapidly and the world is changing immensely in our modern era and it is all accelerating steeply. We are far from certain where the world will be going from here. But we are certain that the future is bleak in many ways and we live under the reasonable chance of catastrophic changes. If bad things might happen, we have to act as though they will. Isn’t what disaster risk management is all about? What is beyond a doubt is that the planet is being changed by people and as a result, its hospitability will be compromised.

In short, the very survival of Pakistan and its people, not to mention the world, is in jeopardy. Yet, what is it that we Pakistanis care about? All we talk about on a daily basis are things like Nawaz Sharif’s court cases, some new Islamist leader rising to the spotlight, new infrastructure projects with China, fear of resurgent Western imperialism, how the stock market is doing, and such. Environmental issues do not weigh much on the minds of even the educated among us. Small things like arrests of party leaders and political scandals trigger more consternation among the masses than the possibility of an apocalyptic future for their grandchildren.

Why?

Is it because we take the planet for granted? We are not used to what we are facing now. For most of human history, until very recently, people had little influence on the natural environment. It changed little and when it did, we usually had nothing to do with it, so we had nothing to do about it except adapt. Also, environmental degradation is neither very visible nor discernible to us. We cannot easily observe for ourselves the processes that go on in nature and the mechanisms by which we are affecting it. Lastly, our apathy is because we are living for now. We have a tendency to base our actions at present on what benefits us at present. Every action of ours that is harmful to the environment brings immediate satiation to us, while most environmental problems manifest in the long term and threats like total desertification and spiraling climate warming are in the dim future. It is well-documented that the more immediate a concern is, the more responsive people are to it.

That is not entirely the case. One societal issue that is of long-term relevance and is accorded high level of importance is education. Educating children leads to a bright future. But it is materially a burden while it is happening, which is why so many poor Pakistanis keep their children out of school and in child labor. The livelihood comes in quick. There is a massive drive in Pakistan to overcome such obstacles and provide sufficient education to all children. Education is society’s exercise in focusing on the future.

It is also the key to making the masses focus on their environmental future, to make them responsive to the issues concerning the planet.

Society shapes its people in their formative stage of life through schooling. It is the best medium for dissemination of ideas and knowledge to all. While older people may be more irresponsive to environmental issues, children and youth are ready to learn new things and adapt to the changing world they will live in. We can easily inculcate concern for the environment in students. Bringing environmental consciousness into the classroom will be enormously helpful because the future of our planet largely depends on future generations.

We also have to reach out to current generations, as they, too, play a big part. The future is heavily determined by what people do now, so awareness must be spread among the masses. At the very least, they will be motivated to provide education for their children in order to make them environmentally aware. Most people will readily have the motivation inside them to save the environment. They just need to be woken up.

Academic focus on the environment will inculcate professionals and leaders in environmental protection, but much more is needed. Educating all people is crucial for protecting the environment because the changes being made to it come from the activities of the human population as a whole, each and every person. When they become aware of it, they can get to change their behavior and do what is needed for a healthy planet. As we enlighten the people of Pakistan, focus must remain on those growing up, for in order to ensure a better planet for our children, we must leave behind better children for the planet. Environmental education is Earth’s best hope.

So as it strives to make its citizens learn, Pakistan must emphasize environmental studies in its curricula, as well as in its mass media, including libraries, and awareness-raising campaigns. This is the only way ordinary people can become aware. They cannot see the future and what it brings. They cannot personally observe underlying processes occurring in the natural environment. Even when they feel the impact of environmental harm, it is usually not apparent to them where it is coming from.

We therefore see poor Pakistanis respond to problems like water shortages by protesting against the authorities. They can only think thus far. If they are comprehensively informed of the environmental changes affecting them, they will understand their own situation and their long-term prospects and will be better able to decide on the right course of action. They have to expand their horizon to beyond what they observe up close in their lives, a vital trait in today’s world. This is why education is so important. Education enables people to know the meaning behind what they see, to know what they do not see, and to know what they should expect to see.

Every nation must always keep its future in mind. To ensure Pakistan’s survival, environmental literacy must be made an integral part of its mass education sector. The first step is alerting people to the fact that the issues exist. The phase after that is for them to learn all about the issues. That will be no small undertaking. As we will learn in my next article, when it comes to the environment, to the interactions between people and nature, there is an enormous amount to learn. It is perhaps another obstacle to our gaining awareness of this most crucial subject of our times but, nonetheless, an obstacle we will overcome.