The Climate Crisis - Plastic, Environment, and Trees, with Shahzad Qureshi.
Imran Khan’s speech at the UN on the 27th of September has been making headlines. While the most popular part of it was the Kashmir issue, and rightly so, the rest of his speech can’t be ignored either. PM Khan brought up some key points regarding the global climate crisis that were in line with the beliefs of global climate activists such as Greta Thunberg, amongst others. This is not an issue that is affecting a certain group anymore. It is a global crisis that needs to be understood beyond mere words.
Talks of climate change and its impact are not new. In fact, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was established in 1992 and was followed by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Yet despite these efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and control the impact countries have on the climate, very little actual change has been brought about. This lack of action by governments has brought young activists out onto the streets since it is the younger generation that now feels the threat of climate change.
This may come as no surprise but despite the fact that Pakistan, and other developing countries contribute far less to Greenhouse Gases, with Pakistan’s contribution being a mere 1%, it is these same countries that bear the brunt of the climate crisis. We’ve all seen the erratic weather conditions in Pakistan over the last few years. Flooding and heatwaves have taken countless lives and there isn’t much left to need to convince us that we are in the middle of a major crisis. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority for the Karachi region reported 1200 deaths and 65,000 heat related illnesses in June 2015. The recent climate march was proof that people are indeed listening and want to take action.
The fact that Pakistan is an agricultural country means that we depend heavily on our natural resources. The melting of glaciers in the Himalayas threatens precious water resources and furthers our ongoing water crisis. Depletion in mangrove forests that protected our coastal areas has left us more vulnerable to natural disasters such as cyclones and storms. The way our country will react to, and be affected by the results of climate change differs drastically from other nations, particularly developed ones, given that they function on a completely different system. That is why we need to look at what works in our favour. Which brings us to the ever popular debate. Are plastic straws the real problem?
There’s been a huge movement recently, to cut down on individual use of plastic, in particular plastic straws. Quite a few restaurants have also followed suit and removed plastic items from their inventory. Both sides of this debate have a lot to say. Every individual can indeed make a difference and that is where this ban comes in. If every individual cuts down on plastic waste, it eventually adds up to a much more eco-friendly result. However, at the same time, we cannot ignore the larger corporations and organizations that are having a much bigger impact on the climate. The idea that only individual use plastics are the sole cause behind the climate crisis takes responsibility away from governments and big corporations. Rather the ban on straws and other plastic items should be seen as a step in the right direction until more is done.
Where the problem lies is in thinking that our responsibility ends with using one less straw or planting one sapling. According to Shahzad Qureshi, founder of Urban Forest, it is this very lack of understanding that has caused us to make the mistakes we have in causing our environment harm.
We spoke to Mr. Qureshi about Urban Forest, his thoughts on the current climate crisis and what he feels needs to be done in Pakistan. Urban Forest was created 3.5 years ago to create purely natural forests within urban settings to reconnect with nature and allow cities to benefit from natural systems. Despite their importance, trees and forests are being cut down at a far faster rate than they can regrow and there are now less than 3% of natural forests remaining worldwide.
Mr. Qureshi emphasized on the importance of trees and plants around us but he was also quick to point out that sustainable planting and growth is about more than just greenery. It is about understanding native species and how they can benefit each other. What we see as a way to decorate our yards and cut down when they are no longer needed are self-sustaining ecosystems, not mere decorations. We seem to have become so used to living in perfect looking bubbles that we have tried to control nature as well. Trees and plants live close together in order to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. The idea of spacing trees far apart is more for aesthetic purposes and in fact limits the benefit they can bring.
It was disappointing to hear the obstacles Urban Forest has faced, not just in getting the support of the people but in working with government organisations as well. Despite a successful example of a forest that had grown over 1.5 years in Karachi, not many understood what was needed to support its growth. In fact Urban Forest also felt the need to adopt the park and work on it in a private capacity in order to be able to achieve what they wanted to. He found that most people were wary of investing in this project since they felt they weren’t getting enough recognition out of it. However, slowly but surely people are understanding and supporting the cause.
There’s still a long way to go if we want our country to survive the climate crisis. We need to constantly improve our habits and lifestyles. That being said, every little act should be appreciated and seen as effort made in the right direction. Instead of debating whose efforts are more valid, we need to collaborate with anyone who is willing to make a change. Time’s running out and there’s only so much talking can do.