It was like something out of a movie. The small boy sat, gazing in awe at the numerous sign boards and infographics that littered the main streets of Karachi City. What did it all mean? ‘Earth Day’ was what they called it. The multiple events and functions that hailed this special day had made it very clear that this was the day that Mankind would make a desperate plea to his fellow brethren to stop attacking the planet we inhabit. It was the day for event organizers to state their case—to make it perfectly clear that this is our world and we have a duty and obligation to protect Earth at all costs. It was noble. It was valiant; it would surely change the face of the planet.
This pondered in the boy’s mind just as a car pulled up—its engine facing him; the child stared into the large gaping engine hole, a slight look of bemusement on his face. Seconds later, a great gust of black smoke burst from the engine, smothering him as he coughed and spluttered, desperate for air. This was no uncommon sight; all around the streets, thick black smoke suffocated the air; desperate passers-by tried shielding themselves from the blazing heat of the sun, begrudging the most powerful star (sun) and blaming her for everything that was wrong, for the entire reason they had to attend this one-day event in the first place. But is the sun truly deserving of such wrath? She is blamed by many for the rapid increase in temperature, yet can we truly deny that she is an innocent party in all of this? It is one of the most important, crucial points that so many tend to forget: the sun has been radiating the same amount of solar radiation since the birth of the Earth. Humans, however, cannot quite claim the same consistency. So who is honestly at fault here?
The nights are getting warmer; there can be no denying this. But contrary to popular belief, it is not solar radiation that has caused this. It is we humans who have destroyed the only thing that has been trying to keep the Earth’s temperature at equilibrium: our ozone layer.So what if the ozone layer gets thinner and ultraviolet radiation penetrates the earth? Wouldn’t it be better since UV radiation is a benefactor of life? UV is a powerful type of energy that facilitates mutation and brings about change. Many life forms will struggle to survive while others will completely be annihilated. It’s a phenomenon that has occurred since the existence of the very first bacteria that turns into multicellular life – which later on turns into strange creatures in the sea and on the land. This led to the creation of amphibians, dinosaurs, and mammals, each of them to survive for millions of years, creating dynasties that hosted the life and death of some of the Earth’s unknown creatures. These basic facts tend to get lost somewhere along the line when we – whether due to our own arrogance or determined ignorance – choose to blame Mother Nature for the problems we experience now.
An interesting point would be the following. A hundred years ago, we did not have transportation such airplanes, cars and trains. It was an entirely different situation back then. For the Earth, however, one hundred years – even a million – is nothing. The lifespan of the average human is merely the blink of an eye to the Earth, akin to a split-milli-second that occurs for each and every one of us in our daily lives. Consequently, a hundred years, a thousand years, a million years – the meaning it holds for Planet Earth is vastly different from the meaning it holds for us. It is our lack of empathy with the very soil we stand on which drives our overwhelming sense of self-superiority that has, time and time again, contributed to the downfall of our species.
Let us not forget the event organizer whose car spat wafts of black smoke at the small boy. It reeks of an almost laughable hypocrisy when actions of the self-proclaimed noble and valiant damage the very people – and planet – they are sworn to protect. Today, countless Earth Day events will go underway. While many will wait in eager anticipation to witness the efforts of organizers to make this world a better place, we can instead expect to experience the grandiose solutions from so-called speakers, guests and debaters. They will smile on stage, they will shake the hands of the people, they will talk with passion and dedication, and they will make it abundantly clear that only their proposals will reverse the horrific damage that has already been caused to our planet. But this fantasy-driven scenario is only one side of the coin—the shiny sparkly side which glitters with gold and captures its audience in fascination. The other side, hidden from the public eye and nowhere near as attractive or sparkly, is the picture put forward by Petroleum Cartel. What are they doing? They are pumping unprecedented amounts of CO2 into our atmosphere. As a result of this injection of CO2 into our world, scientists have predicted that the temperature rise, which would otherwise occur in centuries, could be at our doorstep within decades. A frightening prospect, no doubt.
Let’s take a look at another planet in our solar system. Venus. This is a planet that isn’t much different from our own. Natural disasters erupt just the same as they do here. After some time, the planet Venus took a wrong turn along the way. Clouds of greenhouse gas began to form; such a development led to a state of vicious inferno, so hostile that even lead could be found in molten state within a few minutes. One would think that the presence of clouds, which trap the sun rays would make the planet grow cold. Instead, a disastrous opposite occurred. Instead of the planet becoming colder, the clouds retained the heat – rendering them stuck in limbo, now unable to find their way home. Now, if you comprehend how the sun may warm a room through its windows, you can reflect on how the greenhouse has affected Venus. It gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘It’s so hot, you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.
The Northern Hemisphere plays a major role in keeping perfect balance of the global climate. This lushly inhabited half of the globe’s terrain ranges from green forests to barren tundra. When the seasons change, an interesting occurrence takes place: during Spring, plants and trees inhale carbon dioxide. In the Autumn, however, they exhale it back into the atmosphere. The Southern Hemisphere consists mainly of oceans and has very little impact on the emission and reduction of greenhouse gases. This is how nature keeps our atmosphere in balance and it is one of the major reasons why we must protect vital forests across the globe, especially in the Northern Hemisphere where the forests are being curbed down at a larger scale. Although carbon dioxide is necessary for our survival, there is a catch: too little of it and we’ll all be living in igloos, while too much of it and we may as well be roasting in the oven.
It appears there is an average of a 1 degree Celsius rise in the atmosphere every one thousand years. Environmental scientists have plotted a graph of the 20th Century which indicates that we are now experiencing dangerous levels of temperature rise; this is in total contrast to millions of years of lower temperatures. But, you may wonder, how can we be sure of this? The evidence is dictated in the waters of yesteryears. Iceland and Greenland have been drilled down by the climate scientists to find contaminant levels in the ancient air trapped inside the ice which leads us back to eight thousand years. How about that? The CO2 never rose more than 3% until the turn of 20th century. Now wouldn’t the CO2 emitting from the volcanic eruptions be the very thing causing the issue? Not quite. If we sum up all the CO2 emitted from the natural catastrophes – say, the largest estimate of 500 million tons – we will find out that it doesn’t even amount to 2% of the 30 billion tons of CO2 we throw in the atmosphere. The climate scientists can also distinguish between the CO2 emitted from natural catastrophes and the one we emit, which confirms one thing: the problem lies from our end.
What a shame that CO2 is an invisible gas! Had it been a little glossy and tinted, there would have been no denial about the negligence which we are dealing with year in and year out. Due to our release of 6 billion tons from factories, the atmosphere is getting warmer. All the additional energy has to go somewhere; some goes into air, some goes to melt glaciers. Many may think, “Well, why should I care if there is no ice around the North Pole?” I would then categorically state, “Believe me, my friend, you should care.” Ice is the brightest natural surface of the earth and the ocean is the darkest. Ice reflects the sunlight back to surface, and water absorbs sunlight to keep the Earth warmer, which melts even more. With this melting phenomenon, the shores are being occupied at 5 ft/year to 30 ft/year at some coastal areas. This means that the occupied areas are now exposed to erosion, storms and seasonal tsunamis. Our interference has disturbed the global weather to an astronomical degree, a lose-lose situation where no one wins and only a terrible fate awaits us all.
I sometimes wonder about the apathy of humankind when we fail to concern ourselves about the type of planet we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. This year NASA issued a shocking statement regarding the dramatic rise in our planet’s temperature and the catastrophes it will cause. Environmental conferences are organized on a regular basis, but none of the decisions seem to produce positive results. Likewise, the consequences are real. Pakistan is one of the worst victims of climate change; we have seen floods and heat stroke, which claimed the lives of more than 1,500 people in this country. Every year, Earth Day is celebrated and energy conservation is exercised all over the world. The time has come when energy restraint should be practiced on a daily basis, rather than focusing on a single day in the year. Trees should be planted at every opportunity and alternatives to fossil fuels should be actively researched and encouraged before the earth becomes a ferocious inferno. “Earth Day!” shout the activists. “Save the Planet!” yell the protesters.
What is it about human arrogance that gives us this innate belief that we are far more powerful than Mother Nature herself? That, after billions of years, of which we have only been in existence for a mere fraction of, we as a species could possibly presume to wipe out the very land, sea and sky that surrounds us? Look at what happened to the dinosaurs (actually, don’t – it doesn’t bode too well with our own sense of superiority, that the Earth obliterated an entire species. Even the snarling ferocity of T-Rex could not contend with the awesome power of Nature’s wrath.) Think about it. Earth has survived every single major catastrophe that has attempted to annihilate its clear blue waters. Hazrat Noah’s (A.S), the Great Tempest, the Five Mighty Mass Extinctions of human history, Nuclear Attacks, World Wars – not to mention the odd asteroid hurling towards us from the center of the universe, trying (and failing) to take pot shots at us. Floods, avalanches, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, tsunamis – let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not the Earth that suffers during natural disasters; it’s we humans. The awesome power of the sea, the furious wrath of the volcanic mountain, the formidable essence of the wind. Perhaps it is time for the human race to eat a slice of humble pie and give ourselves a “Human Day” as opposed to an “Earth Day.”
Not likely though. Human superiority has a rather sad tendency to trump this desperate, tiny voice which struggles to find its way out of Pandora’s Box—a voice which goes by the name of Humility. Power, action and authority lie at the heart of the worst of human nature – and ‘Save the Earth!’ is the epitome of such grandiose. What human genuinely likes to consider himself servile and powerless? Such feelings invoke a sense of despair and impotence, and the dawning, depressing realization of just how limited our capabilities are. No, no. That wouldn’t do at all.
So forget Earth Day. If you truly want to make a difference, if you feel genuinely compelled to rescue the planet that we have so abysmally and shamefully subjected to our own foolishness and greed, then throw away the idea of Earth Day and instead celebrate the concept of Earth Year – where every day of the year is dedicated to ensuring the survival of our planet and the continual healthy, harmonious existence of our children and grandchildren. It is time to opt for alternative sources and curb down the carbon dioxide levels which cause glaciers to melt and enable shores to erosion and disaster. Failure to act now will result in the destruction of the very land we walk on, condemning our descendants to a life of hardship and struggle, or perhaps no life at all. There is surely no greater crime than that.
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Author: Muhammad Saad Iqbal
Field Engineer, Well Production Services & Frac Operations, Sprint Oil & Gas Services