Saturday, November 26, 2011

Educating common people in Pakistan on Global Warming and its solutions

Common people in Pakistan are often unaware of science behind the occurrence of extreme weather events such as heavy floods or heat waves. In developed nations, where people now demand from their governments to take action on global warming, our people in Pakistan usually consider such extreme events as their fate, rather than the impacts of climate change. Interestingly, after the two massive flooding in less than one year in Pakistan, thinking of people in Pakistan is now changing. Their thoughts are now going beyond the belief that this is not only their fate or anger of God. Global warming is the word which is getting common in our discussions. However, it is very important that a common person fully understand what global warming is and how can we find solutions to fight with its impacts. It is also important to educate our people, particularly women, on global warming science and its solution as we are among most vulnerable nations in the world who are suffering from the climate catastrophes even more than before.

Our earth is surrounded by layers of different greenhouse gases, which we call atmosphere. The molecules of greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide have the ability to trap heat which comes from sun.  As our sun is the main source of energy, most of its heat is absorb by our earth. The heat waves reflected by earth are then trapped by the molecule of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This natural system in fact helps maintaining sufficient amount of heat on earth which is required for survival of life. However, due to increase in human activities on earth like burning of fossil fuel, industrialization, transportation and deforestation, we are now producing more greenhouse gases and emitting them into atmosphere.  With more concentration of greenhouse gases into atmosphere, the ability of trapping heat by atmosphere has increased, particularly after the industrial revolution which is resulting into increase in temperature of our earth. This human induced change in earth temperature is called global warming which continues to change our climate abnormally e.g. increase in earth’ average temperature, increase in number of precipitation days or decrease in average rainfall.

According to scientists, safe limit for concentration of greenhouse gases in atmosphere is 350 parts per million (ppm), however due to the factors like rapid industrialization, massive deforestation etc, this concentration has already reached to the level of 390 ppm. Scientists also believe that it is important to keep the concentration of greenhouse gases at 350 ppm to avert the chances of increase in average global temperature above 2 degree Celsius. However the way, our world is emitting greenhouse gases like CO2, scientists carefully forecast that earth temperature may go beyond 4 degree Celsius which will dramatically change our earth eco-system and increase both the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like the Pakistan floods in 2010 and 2011 or the heat wave of Russia in 2010. Due to global warming, our oceans are getting warmer and have in fact, increased the process of forming water vapors over oceans. Science proves that warmer air can hold more water vapors. Thus more concentration of water vapors over oceans are now resulting into heavy downpours and flooding in different parts of the world. Increase in temperature also result into heat waves and wind storms.

In Northern Pakistan, our precious glaciers resources are rapidly melting due to global warming. Not only this but also global warming has increased sea level and swept away number of villages in our coastal areas of Sindh and Baluchistan. Scientists also believe that the human induced climate change is shifting our monsoon season, which in fact give us nearly 60% of rain water. We are clearly observing that rains are either not on time or they happens all at once and create flash floods like we faced in 2010 and 2011 floods. We also observe that winter days are now getting shorter and summer days are getting longer. It is not good to know either that, according to scientists, Pakistan will face severe water shortage and decrease in crops production in coming 30 years due to global warming. It means we have to get ready for the big challenge of food insecurity in coming decades. Heat waves and flooding have also increased different water and other environment related diseases.

Pakistan has although very negligible contribution in global environmental pollution, still we are among the most vulnerable countries impacted by global warming. It is although a global issue however, for us it is important that need for effective advocacy by our government in different international forums, particularly in the forthcoming UN conference in Durban, South Africa, we start exploring ranges of local and regional level solutions to fight global warming. Here are some of the solutions we can adopt in our rural and urban communities in Pakistan;

First important step is to save every drop of water. We can use innovative water conservation methods. One of the ways is roof water harvesting to collect rainwater rather than wasting them without any use. People can construct rainwater ponds easily to store rainwater. Similarly, by repairing water taps and joints, we can save lot of water from leakage. People using washrooms, particularly in cities, can save good quantity of water by a simple behavioral change i.e. using water pans rather than showers. Adjusting toilet flush with a simple flush water reducer can also help protect water from wastage.

We should educate our people to plant trees in all possible free land or space in and around homes, schools and our fields. Due to massive deforestation, we faced more catastrophes during the 2010 flooding. We have less than 5% forest cover in Pakistan and our forest depletion is top in the entire world. Planting trees can help in many ways like protection from floods and landslides, improve air quality, provide shades to protect from heat and improve underground water table. In addition to planting trees, we can avoid using different chemicals and use organic fertilizers to improve our lands fertility and increase food production. We can grow fruit plants and vegetables along with seasonal crops. Using different techniques like construction of check dams, gabion walls and planting trees can protect our agricultural land from erosion. We can learn and encourage multi-cropping techniques and promote ideas like floating gardens in flood affected areas to cope with extremes weathers and improve livelihoods.

Using different alternate and renewable energy resources, we will not only contribute in achieving clean energy targets but also help in overcoming issues like electricity crisis or dependency on forests for fuel and heating. Community based micro-hydal power plants, fuel efficient stoves, wind farms and solar energy are number of good options available for us in Pakistan.

We can promote eco-friendly and safe constructions. We should avoid construction in locations exposed to flooding or landslide and construct in a way which can maximum use daylight instead of electricity. Roofs with white coated sheets can help in reducing heat inside home during hot summer. We can also reduce our electricity bills at home or work by number of simple ways, particularly in cities. Use air-conditions as less as possible. By keeping AC unit at north side of home, people can protect it from direct sunlight, along with plants trees and shrubs around AC unit to keep it cool. Keep thermostat at 26 degree C. Open drapes, curtains and blinds open at evening time to escape heat from home. Use daylight during work and wear weather appropriate dresses rather than using air conditioners or heaters. Turn off electric appliances when they are not in use. Use fans in room and exhaust fans in kitchen to escape hot air. Equipments on standby still use 90% of energy. Turn off unnecessary lights and use energy savers.

We can also promote simple practices like buying items in large size packing rather than small packs. Before buying or using anything, first think do you really need it. Avoid plastic bags and encourage reusable canvas bags for shopping. Use kitchen waste for compost making and separately keep different waste items likes plastic, papers and iron waste to make it easy for recycling rather than throwing them off. Use recycled papers which use half the water than the new paper. Explore and contact recycling companies and send old/used equipments to recycle. Make less use of papers, be online or print on double side. Print drafts on scrap papers. Be creative in using old things for household use e.g. use plastic cans for food storage or roof gardening. We can also contribute in clean environment by using public transport or even bicycle rather than running cars. If cars are necessary to use then make sure car are fuel efficient by their proper tuning.

And finally we need to speak up. Global warming is a global issue which doesn’t see boundaries but impacts all of us. We need to join campaigns and raise voices at community, business and government level to motivate them and play their role to fight the issue of global warming.