The Cries of Pakistan

by Pippa Bartolotti, September 6, 2022

As the water levels in Pakistan continue to rise, the exhausted people of that land run out of ground to live on. In this case it is not the sea level rise which has concerned us for so long, but the ever-faster rate of glacier melt.

It is astounding that Pakistan has 7000 glaciers within its borders – all high in the Himalayas – but horrifying that every one of them is melting at a speed never before encountered; never before predicted.

The melting ice flows into glacial lakes, themselves damned by broken chunks of ice. When the ice gives way … Boom! Thousands of tons of water rush down the mountain side and there is nothing to stop it. Whole communities are washed away. Livelihoods, cattle, homes, crops, everything. The water is polluted, the harvest decimated, and the waters keep rising. Historic levels of rainfall compound the problem and in a matter of days one third of the country’s inhabitants cannot find a patch of dry land to rest on.

Seventeen of these lakes have burst in Pakistan so far this year. 33 million humans have been displaced. More than one million cattle have been drowned, and nobody is counting the chickens. In a matter of days, the entire means of survival for these people has been washed away.

The culprit is not “climate change”. The culprit is us. In 1953 the amount of C02 in the atmosphere was an unremarkable 311 parts per million. The trajectory was clearly upwards, and at that stage could have been reversed, or at least halted. We knew as far back as 1896, when Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius first predicted that changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect, but we did worse than nothing. We pumped ever more pollution into the atmosphere. Today the amount of C02 in the atmosphere is 418.90 parts per million and rising.

But it’s not just C02. Warming is melting everything from the permafrost to Arctic snow and methane is being released in massive quantities. The snowfall in the Arctic is now rain. The rain darkens the surface. It is no longer pristine white. The darker surface attracts more heat, the warming increases. This is just one of the feedback loops scientists have been dreading.

No amount of money will stop this glacial melt. Global warming has been baked into the climate system by wilful political negligence. If we move to carbon negative emissions right now, today, (which obviously is not going to happen – it is a vote loser) we will not see the change for 100 years. So it’s not about us is it. It’s about the future, our children and their children. Heaven help them.

To put the harm we are doing to nature in further perspective, the US uses more than 5 planets worth of planetary resources every year. The UK uses 2.6 planets. Pakistan 0.5 – that’s equivalent to half a planet. Another perspective would be that in 2022, the day the world used all the resources the planet could sustainably regenerate was July 28th. That date gets earlier every year. It’s called Earth Overshoot Day.

Pakistan is responsible for less than 1% of global carbon emissions, yet it is paying the price for Western-world greed. The Conference Of the Parties (COP), the one forum we had to start the process of carbon reduction on a global scale, has been reduced to a talking shop, the moments for concerted effort deliberately undermined by unspeakable greed and political hegemony. Any hope for Pacific Islanders, for low-lying countries, for the disproportionately affected poor is drowned out by the sound of money, profit, greed.

At every point up to now there was a way out of this calamity. The desperate struggle to save birds and animals from extinction is in direct contrast to the money grabbing industries who created this catastrophe. We have doomed millions of humans and species to annihilation through such stupid measures as GDP (Gross Domestic Product) where even prisons contribute to the wealth of a nation. Our debt-based economy allows us to not just borrow into the future, but pollute into the future. Western corporations have offshored their filth and emissions to low wage economies in the developing world and their shareholders thought they were smart to increase their profitability by poisoning the fish in someone else’s rivers, clever to drive costs down by manufacturing their products where environmental standards were negligible. And all the time pollution of our one safe planet increased exponentially. We live in an age of sheer stupidity.

You and I cannot hear the cries of Pakistan. We do not know the grief of those who have lost everything. We cannot imagine the agony of having our loved ones ripped from our arms and battered and drowned as the torrent rushes onto us.

For the rich and criminally unequal industrial nations, climate justice is clearly off the table. It always was.

*Featured Image: The Passu glacier in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region. src: CNN


Pippa Bartolotti is a Climate Change activist, peace activist and author of novels and short stories.  In her own words: Climate Change author of Barbarian, Poetic Symmetry, Blind Symmetry, Elemental Symmetry

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One comment

  1. Thank you for a clear summary of why we are where we are. As you indicate, what’s happening in Pakistan is the result of greed, and deliberately ignoring the warnings that started more than 30 years ago. Ultimately, our political systems have failed to elect leaders with the intellect to understand complex issues, or get to grips with the false notion of never-ending growth.

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