The Earth is Paying as the Climate is Changing

Torrential rains, urban flooding, prolonged heatwaves mark out that climate change is real!

  • 23 Sep - 29 Sep, 2017
  • Mariam Khan
  • Reportage

Harvey was given birth by a tropical wave. Getting its fuel from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it was labelled as a hurricane – one that battered Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S. and wreaked havoc by pounding it with rain. Between August 24-29, 2017, more than 50 inches (127 cm) of rain was recorded in Houston.

Soon after, Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan, also suffered at nature’s hands. August 31 was when rain lashed the city – visuals of urban flooding swamped through on social media. Many localities, mainly North Karachi, North Nazimabad and Orangi to name a few, gave a lake-like view.

Before havoc inflicted the coastal city of Pakistan, our eastern neighbour’s megacity, Mumbai had urban flooding. A low pressure system in India paved way for the strong moisture currents to make way to Sindh, scattered areas in Punjab and areas up North.

At the same time Harvey was causing destruction in Houston, 33cm of rain is what practically shut down Mumbai on August 29. Going eastwards, 144 people lost their lives in Bangladesh in the same month and a similar number of lives were lost in Nepal due to flooding.

But this is not the worst. According to a paper published in the Nature Climate Change, the intensity and frequency of extremely wet and dry spells has been increasing since 1980. In Pakistan, 2,100 people lost their lives in 2010 flooding.

A recent report in the Economist points out “a law known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation (that) states for every degree of Celsius of warming, the atmosphere will hold 7 per cent more moisture.”

According to the U.S Global Change Research Program, “The global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human induced increases in heat trapping gases. Human ‘fingerprints’ also have been identified in many other aspects of the climate system, including changes in ocean heat content, precipitation, atmospheric moisture, and Arctic sea ice.”

The ‘heat trapping’ gases like CO2 which are in abundance due to massive industrial activity give rise to the greenhouse effect – an effect that traps heat in the atmosphere preventing it from radiating from Earth and into space. Methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapour and chlorofluorocarbons are the greenhouse gases. One marker that has added to the emission of CO2 is the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal, thus increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Urbanisation, deforestation or the dredging of rivers also constitute in what our TV screens show when urban flooding occurs.

As Harvey made landfall, prominent climatologist Michael E. Mann posted on his Facebook page how global warming made Harvey worse. “Sea surface temperatures in the area where Harvey intensified were 0.5-1°C warmer than the ‘average’ temperatures a few decades ago. That means 3-5 per cent more moisture in the atmosphere. That large amount of moisture meant the potential for much greater rainfalls and greater flooding.” But what was more ‘potentially relevant’ according to Mann was “the way (Harvey) stalled right near the coast… the fact that very persistent nearly ‘stationary’ summer weather patterns of this sort, where weather anomalies (both high pressure dry hot regions and low-pressure stormy/rainy regions) stay locked in place for many days at a time, appears to be favoured by human caused climate change.”

As for Pakistan, the Global Climate Risk Index ranks it seventh in the list of 10 countries that are most affected by climate change globally from 1996-2015.

Being an agrarian economy, Pakistan has its GDP majorly dependent on crops and livestock. With increased frequency of floods followed by massive periods of droughts, the populace of the nation is at risk. With reports claiming the country to experience temperature increases more drastic than other parts of the world, the scenario is gruesome and calls for immediate action by the state.

According to a climate scientist Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, “the Climate Change Act will also ensure awareness of climate policy at the highest level. The (climate change) council will hopefully expedite action, and the implementation of climate projects will pick up.”

With the bill having established a Pakistan Climate Change Council, Pakistan Climate Change Authority and Pakistan Climate Change Fund, Hammad Naqi Khan, CEO of WWF Pakistan is sceptical if this time around the new bodies will work in reversing climate change.

“While I appreciate the fact that we now have (a) new legislation in place to address issues related to climate change, the fact remains that we have policies for everything but where is the enforcement? he questioned, referring to the Pakistan Environmental Protection Council set up under the 1997 Environmental Protection Act.

With prolonged summers and increase in the heatwave period, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics has brought to limelight that 1 degree Celsius rise in mean temperature can reduce the wheat yield by 5 to 7 per cent. With the sowing period lying between November to December, and with 1 degree rise in temperature, the wheat yield may fall short to about 7.4 per cent. Along with the crops what is also suffering is the livestock production. With the currently worsening scenario the production could decline by 20-30 per cent which will cause massive food insecurity along with price hikes in the daily items – milk, meat and poultry. With 12.4 per cent population living below the national poverty line, this should ring an alarm bell. A country that relies majorly on its agricultural sector can lose $2-15 billion per annum by the end of the 21st century. With global warming resulting in massive loss of glaciers, the coastal areas are at an immense risk of getting effected, which the nation is heavily dependent on for its imports and exports.

According to a video released by the World Economic Forum, diseases that have been frozen in ice, and long thought of as eradicated could be released once the ice melts, for bacteria and viruses can survive millions of years. As the permafrost melts, deadly infections like bubonic plague and small pox to name a few could again surface and cause devastation.

It was in 17 days that two category 4 hurricanes, Harvey and Irma have ravaged Texas, Florida and the Caribbean islands and as this piece goes in print, Hurricanes Jose, Maria and Lee are in queue, all aiming for the already battered zones.

Even though scientists foresee the Arctic to be ice-free in the summer in a few years, it may not be too late for us to take steps to limit the effects of climate change, such as the implementation of the Paris Accord, and opting for cleaner forms of energy on a local and international level.

More campaigns such as the Billion Tree Tsunami, initiated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are the need of the hour. And the best way to trigger change is by starting within one’s own home. •


• The global temperature has increased 1.7°F since 1880 (0.99°C).

• September Arctic Sea ice is now declining at a rate of 13.3 per cent. In 2012 the Arctic summer sea ice shrank to the lowest extent on record.

• Global average sea level has risen nearly 7” (178mm) over the past 100 years.

• Carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in 650,000 years -406.69 parts per million.

• Data from NASA’s GRACE satellites show that the land ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland have been losing mass since 2002. Both ice sheets have seen an acceleration of ice mass loss since 2009 (source: GRACE Satellite date).

Source: NASA Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet