Air pollution and health hazards in Dhaka city in particular and the whole country in general are persistent and perennial. The dwellers of the city, nearly 21 million living in an area of approximately 310 sq. km, had to endure very high health hazards and strangely there were no serious attempts by the government to reduce them. This deplorable situation is known not only to city dwellers but also to Bangladeshis living abroad such that they are seriously deterred from visiting the motherland, particularly in the winter months, when there is no rain and the pollution levels are at highest levels.
Air quality is normally estimated by the concentration of particulate matter (PM) and gaseous substances per unit volume that are present in the air that we breathe. Particulate matter, as the name suggests, is solid matter as well as some water droplets that floats in the air. Obviously large and heavy particulates cannot float in the air. Particulates with 50% having the maximum diameter of 2.5μm (1μm is millionth of a metre) are identified as PM2.5 and are most extensively used as the indicator to measure air pollution. Other indicators such as PM10 as well as gaseous substances such as carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3) and NOx and many more are also used. It has to be stated that PM2.5 is used because it can pass through the human respiratory system relatively easily and settle at various human organs, whereas bigger sizes like PM10 are normally filtered away by human’s filtration system. Once the materials are lodged inside the body, they either stay there intact and build up or get absorbed in the blood stream within the body.
The PM2.5 is taken as main source of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as they reach terminal bronchioles and alveolar structures; whereas gaseous substances pass through the respiratory system harming the body and eventually get out of the body. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that the average annual limit of PM2.5 concentration (μm/m3) should not exceed the target of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The higher this concentration is, the higher is the health risk. In Bangladesh as a whole, as reported by the World Air Quality Report 2020, the concentration was 77.1μm/m3, which was more than twice the WHO target. It was not only that particular year that Bangladesh exceeded the target, Bangladesh consistently exceeds the target very badly and is almost always nearer the top of the offenders’ list in the world!
The quality of air in day to day speak is specified by Environmental Agencies in terms of Air Quality Index (AQI). All the above-mentioned items such as PM2.5, PM10 and obnoxious gases are taken into account and their relative harm to human health is considered to come to the final quantity called the AQI. Thus, AQI is an indicator of how hazardous the air is for humans. The AQI of below 100 is considered satisfactory and admissible. People can carry out indoor and outdoor activities without any concern from air pollution. An AQI of 101 to 200 is considered to be ‘unhealthy’ for sensitive groups; AQI of 201 to 300 is considered as ‘poor’, whereas AQI of 301 to 400 is considered to be ‘hazardous’ meaning serious health risks to residents.
Road dust, chemical and cement factories, brick kilns, construction works with no dust-dampening measures, are the polluting offenders. Of course, vehicles using petrochemicals are polluting air all the time. The badly maintained vehicles emitting fumes and obnoxious gases are serious offenders in city roads. Breathing polluted air increases a person’s risk of developing heart diseases, lung infection, chronic respiratory diseases and cancer. No wonder that large fraction of human population living in Dhaka suffers from these ailments.
In Dhaka AQI of 184 was recorded yesterday (22 May 2022) making it the most polluted city in the world now, followed by Riyadh in Saudi Arabia (180) and Wuhan in China (173) as the second and third polluting cities. An AQI of 215 was recorded in Dhaka on 21 Dec 2019. Dhaka is the 3rd least liveable city in the world, immediately after Damascus and Lagos.
It is estimated that air pollution takes away on the average 3.05 years of life expectancy in Bangladesh, according to the report by US Health Effects Institute, and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The life expectancy in Bangladesh is 72.6 years and thus air pollution takes away 4% of human life. This figure in Bangladesh is higher than the neighbouring countries such as India, Bhutan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only Nepal exceeds this with 3.05 years of life expectancy loss. The economic burden of air pollution in Dhaka city alone is estimated as US $192 million per annum.
The government must take urgent steps to tackle this menace of air pollution in Dhaka in particular and Bangladesh as a whole in general. It must be stressed that for the sake of health and prosperity of the population of the country and for the world climate, the government must take immediate steps.
Pakistan never had easy time politically or economically since its inception. The reason is quite simple – if something is made out of flawed or defective material or designed out of misconceived ideas, it is bound to reflect on its imperfection and show up in its poor performance or existence. Pakistan is no exception to that.
The country, Pakistan was envisaged on the basis of a flimsy ideology which had no philosophical underpinning or deep deliberation. The Two Nation Theory (TNT) was produced by Allama Iqbal in his dissertation in 1930 as an academic discourse. It was not meant to be a political philosophy chalking out the birth of a nation in the turbulent post-colonial times of British Raj. There was no serious discussion on whether there was any mileage in taking TNT seriously or was it just an arm chair discussion document? Mohammad Ali Jinnah, took up this half-baked TNT as a potent political tool to suit his purpose for a separate nation and thereby stave-off Indian National Congress’ (INC) political supremacy. He did not give any serious thought on the implications of TNT, nor did he initiate any proper discussion on it before taking it up as a serious political tool. When he was asked whether he had thought through this political ideology, he replied in 1946, just one year before the creation of a State, that “let us get it before we think about it!” It was like building a factory before thinking what to do with the factory! To a large extent, this TNT may even be synonymous with Tri-Nitro Toluene – a chemical substance used to blast off a building or a barrier.
The perceived ideology of the TNT was that as Hindus and Muslims are two separate peoples, with separate religions, culture, philosophy, education and upbringing, they cannot live together. That Hindus and Muslims had been living together for centuries had been cast aside for the political shenanigan of the day. Two nations, one for Muslims called Pakistan and the other for all other religions in India, had been curbed out in the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and to do this, communal riots and violent antagonism had been whipped up by the blatantly aggressive communal politicians. That there were more Muslims in India than in the whole of Pakistan – East Pakistan and West Pakistan put together – was considered irrelevant and superfluous.
Within a few years of creation of Pakistan, it was found that religion far from being the unifying force was, in fact, a poisonous pallet blowing apart even Muslims of various sects and ethnicity. Pakistan adopted a foreign policy that was primarily based on anti-Indian, anti-Hindu philosophy in order to keep incongruous Muslim communities together. Inherently it was assumed that this attitude would bind the loosely bound religious people of both the provinces together and thereby make Pakistan viable. The religious opportunists had the field day in that situation in Pakistan. They made Pakistan an Islamic State and then made non-Sunni Muslims second-class citizens. Even Ahmadiyya sect, to which Prof. Abdus Salam who won Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979 belonged, had been declared non-Muslim and thereby made Abdus Salam a non-Muslim.
The running of the State which Field Marshal Ayub Khan had forcibly taken away from the civilian rule in 1958 had never really reverted back to civilians. The aggressive exploitative stance that Pakistan government took under the tutelage of the Pakistan Army had caused Pakistan to break up in 1972. East Pakistan which became Bangladesh is now in much better shape, both politically and economically. Unlike Pakistan, Bangladesh is not a theocratic State and therefore free to run the country for the well-being of the people, not for the brain washed dogma that everything is done by Allah and we are just His lowly creatures!
Pakistan had never been a democratic State. Nearly half of the time since 1947 Pakistan was ruled by Army and the remaining other half by civilian governments under sharp eyes of the Army. As Shashi Tharoor of India said, “The State of India has an Army, the Army of Pakistan has a State.” No civilian government in Pakistan under a prime minister had managed to complete full five-year term of office. Either the incumbent prime minister had been killed or removed by the Army or in the present case, the sitting prime minister Imran Khan, had been removed under no confidence motion. The Pakistan Army is truly called “The Establishment”. The Establishment is in charge of the country whether in power or out of it.
Pakistan is in a very sorry state. Foreign interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs is a recurrent phenomenon. Of course, Pakistan had demonstrated that it had no moral compulsion either against interfering in foreign countries. The most recent incident was the Pakistan Army’s surreptitious involvement in Afghanistan, which made American military power pull away in disgrace like a third-grade power. America is now taking the revenge in removing Imran Khan from power. A number of times Pakistan resorted to despicable activities – sending saboteurs to India in Taz hotel killing more than 20 people; sending arms and ammunition to religious fanatics in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
Ayub Khan wrote a book, back in 1960, called ‘Friends Not Masters’ pointedly telling America that Pakistan seeks friends, not masters. But, given half the opportunity, Pakistan would not shy away behaving like masters to other smaller States. East Pakistan had enough of Pakistan’s barbaric mindset and when Pakistan had been beaten and made to surrender in 1972, Pakistan showed no remorse at all. Now Bangladesh as an independent sovereign State would have no reason whatsoever to shed any tears at Pakistan’s desperate situation. As the saying goes, “If you dance with devils, you should be prepared to have devils bite your neck.”
After nearly 75 years of outright hostility and deadly animosity towards India, Pakistan’s deposed prime minister all of a sudden found that India is a decent democratic country and Pakistan should have good relations. But is it not somewhat incongruous to see that the mouth which is used to spew out vile words all the time now preaches amicable words?
With the evolution of human species over the past tens of thousands of years from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens to Modern Humans, human intelligence and skill continued to develop sequentially through the Stone Age to the Bronze Age to the Iron Age and then on to Industrial Revolution.
At the earliest of times, human beings were subservient to some presumed superior intelligence or powers and that subservience was based on pure belief. That belief gradually transformed itself to faith. The faith is a collective, communal mental undertaking. Faith, once established, is difficult to root out as it comes as a joint undertaking, although each one individually holds the strands of that faith. The ownership of the faith is then taken up individually as well as collectively and it becomes part of their collective identity. A ‘faith’ can then easily transmute to a ‘religion’. When the group size becomes large enough or a significant number of groups coalesce together to form a community, the ‘faith’ becomes truly a ‘religion’.
The German historian of religion, Rudolf Otto, in his book, The Idea of the Holy, stated that the feeling of ‘numinous’ was the basis of religion of devotion. This ‘numinous’ feeling placed human beings to subservient position and at the same time uplifted the mystical powers of the unknown to higher levels. This feeling predated the period of human knowledge and understanding and hence, any attempt to explain things such as the beginning of life on Earth and everything on Earth had been passed on to the superior, unknown powers.
Religions of bewildering varieties started to evolve in various parts of the world. Shinto in Japan, Daoism in China, Buddhism in India, Hinduism in India, Zoroastrianism in Persia, Paganism in Europe and other places, Abrahamic religions (all three mono-theistic religions) in the Middle East, the Sky-God in Africa and many more evolved at various times on Earth. It is estimated that altogether more than 10,000 religions evolved on Earth, but most of them went extinct or merged with the more dominant religion.
The main point here is that there is virtually no substantiation that any of these religions originated from the presumed creator. However, Paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism and few more religions do not rely on single creator or divine authority as the source of the religion. Buddhism believes in eternal cycle of life and death until terminated by nirvana.
On the other hand, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and a bewildering variety of sects within these religions believe in Yahweh, God or Allah as the creator who is assumed to be all-powerful, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient and incomprehensible. God is ineffable, beyond any query, and any aspersion or derision of this powerful creator is blasphemous. All knowledge derives from Him and all praise to Him. However, Judaism and Christianity have gradually moved away from blind adherence to such theological doctrines. But Islam or more particularly the Sunnis have maintained total reliance of such narrative. Allah created human beings, there is a day of judgement, heaven and hell awaits life after death etc. Human beings are composed of body and soul – body perishes on death but soul returns to God!
As mentioned above, Judaism, the originator of monotheism through Abraham, had moved away from strict submission to scripture dealing with life after death. Rabbi Manis Friedman, dean of the Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies, said in a speech in 2012 that the question of life after death is non-sensical. But he believed that soul is a living thing which goes back to where it came from, probably to heaven; but body perishes and goes back to soil. He also held the view that heaven and hell don’t exist, but if someone wants to believe in these things, he has the right to do so.
The Christianity, particularly Catholicism, and Islam, both Shia and Sunni, believe strongly in life after death; because without it the whole edifice of the religion incorporating the final day of judgement; existence of heaven and hell etc would collapse. The question may be raised that how the body of the dead person would be revived, at what age and in what condition etc would that revival be and it remained unanswered in these religions.
These two religions along with Judaism proclaim that the creator created the vast universe, made every animate and inanimate thing follow certain orders etc. The traditional creator had been assigned in these religions essential attributes – He must be present right from or even before the beginning and will last until or beyond the end of creation. He is all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent and He is not accountable to anybody; He can see past, present and future. Any derogatory or disrespectful remark or any question about God’s authority is blasphemous.
The Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza’s (1632 – 1677), view of God was totally dismissive of all these gobbledegook. He showed through the power of logic that God and Nature are one and the same thing. He started from the fundamental logic that there must be a single self-subsistent entity that must be the creator and the creation. This unity of cause (source) and the consequence (creation) must be there to remove the inexplicable question that if creator created everything, then who created the creator? The creator and creation must be merged into one.
Thus, in one big swoop Baruch Spinoza dismissed the fundamental basis of monotheistic religions that there is a transcendent creator who created everything. He argued that the creator and the creation is one in Nature and it is infinite in its expanse and immanence. He held the view that human being is a composite entity of body and mind; body being the material object in space. The movement of the body is due to physical laws of motion whereas thought is a mental state.
Some years previously, French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) advocated mind-body dualism. Descartes’ (pronounced as Dekorta) philosophical view was that mind and body have separate existence within the body. This led to the belief that whereas body was material in character and would eventually decay away on Earth, the soul is subliminal and lives on eternally! It chimed or had been made to chime with the religious views. This philosophical basis remained extant until Spinoza vigorously opposed such un-scientific epistemology.
The most prominent German philosopher of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, produced his most important contributions to phenomenology and existentialism in his book called ‘Being and Time’. In that book, he argued that ‘Das Sein’ meaning ‘Being’ is the reality of our existence here. After being ‘thrown’ into the world, we strive to move from inauthenticity to authenticity. We strive to gain freedom from social milieu, freedom from archaic prejudices and practical necessities that are not our own making and move away from ‘they-self’ into ‘our-self’. Getting the freedom of ‘our-self’ releases us to attain our ‘Being’ here. But all Beings are inter-connected and there is the ‘unity of Being’. Our authenticity arises from ‘unity of Being’ with all things, making the ‘common Being’ with the universe. So, Heidegger was saying effectively that the ontology (the sense of being that exists as self-contained individual) encompasses the ‘unity of Being’.
One may find a strong resemblance, almost an echo, of Tagore’s philosophical discourse, which he argued when he met Einstein in July, 1930 in Berlin that as individual atoms or molecules join up to form a smooth congruous substance, so does the humanity of individuals form the universal humanity and human universe. Truth of the universe is the human truth; without humans, beauty and truth are irrelevant.
Where does the religion fit in the epistemology of existentialism and human truth? Religion, any religion for that matter, is fundamentally dogmatic, sectarian and divisive. The edifice of religion is based on unproven axiomatic assumptions and social provincialism. It is no wonder that when Albert Einstein was asked whether he believed in God, he answered that he believed in Spinoza’s God “who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind”.
Thus, he upheld the belief of God as the Nature itself that provides universal humanity.
Human-induced climate change is ravaging our planet and every country, including Bangladesh, is struggling to deal with its impacts
As the world battles record-shattering heat waves, calamitous droughts, deadly floods and landscape-altering wildfires, a roughly 4,000-page report released on August 9, 2021 by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) spells out, in unequivocal terms, how anthropogenic climate change is ravaging our planet. Prepared by IPCC’s Working Group I and described by its authors as a “code red for humanity,” the report warns that global temperatures will likely to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040 if warming continues at the current rate. This is the threshold value agreed upon in 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris.
Key takeaways from the IPCC report
> Climate change is a reality and it is going to get worse
> Humans are responsible for the “widespread, rapid and intensifying” effects of climate change, and some of them are irreversible
> Extreme weather is on the rise and will keep getting worse
> Oceans have warmed, their acidification has increased, and there has been a drop in Arctic sea ice
> Glaciers are melting at an accelerated pace
> Sea-level rise will be worse than once thought
> We must cut greenhouse gas emissions now, before brutal weather becomes more prevalent and more destructive
> Tipping points, or cut-offs—which, when exceeded, will set off self-perpetuating irreversible loops in the natural world—have a “low likelihood,” but they cannot be completely ruled out
After the report was made public, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.” Many media outlets did not mince words to describe the nightmarish scenario painted in the report about the future of our planet. The frontpage headline in The New York Times read, “A Hotter Future Is Certain, Climate Panel Warns. But How Hot Is Up to Us.” The Atlantic described the crisis with two words: “It’s Grim.” One of the authors of IPCC’s 2001 report told CNN, “Bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change, because it’s here.” On the other hand, in an opinion piece in the conservative The Wall Street Journal, a physicist expressed scepticism about coverage by the media. He wrote, “Despite constant warnings of catastrophe, things aren’t anywhere near as dire as the media say.”
Eight years in the making, the report essentially validates the seemingly bleak future that many of us foresaw with trepidation. It also confirms what scientists had predicted even before coal-fired power plants were built. In 1856, American scientist Eunice Foote was the first to describe the extraordinary power of carbon dioxide—the driving force of global warming—to absorb heat. The first quantitative estimate of climate change influenced by carbon dioxide was made in 1895 by Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist and Nobel laureate.
For the general public, physicist James Hansen of NASA sounded the alarm about climate change after his testimony to the US Congress in June 1988 on the detrimental effects of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Yet in 1995, the IPCC is on record stating that the ability to connect climate change to human activities is “currently limited.” This time around, the IPCC admits that they can now link recent natural disasters with climate change in a way that they have not been able to before. What an about-turn!
The latest IPCC report is a stark reminder of what we are experiencing today—scorching summers roasting millions of people worldwide, out-of-control wildfires, protracted droughts, widespread famine, killer storms, torrential rainfall followed by cataclysmic floods, and more. These are among the most visible and damaging signs that the Earth’s climate is changing for the worse as a result of burning fossil fuels. And all these weather-related events are happening because the world warmed by a “mere” 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. Clearly, with each passing day, these events will become more intense, turbocharged, amplified, and worse.
Thanks to the report, many Republicans in the US Congress, who for decades disputed the existence of climate change, no longer deny that the Earth is heating up because of greenhouse gas emissions. Or perhaps the statement from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—that July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded—forced them to acknowledge climate change. However, they are still unwilling to abandon fossil fuels.
Since the 1980s, emissions, particularly of carbon dioxide, have ballooned to unprecedented levels despite repeated, and at times frantic, warnings from scientists about “civilisation-shaking” catastrophes. Scientists at the International Energy Agency say that emissions of carbon dioxide “are on course to surge by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021, the second-largest increase in history, reversing most of last year’s decline caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Climate is controlled by how much of the Sun’s heat arrives at and remains trapped near the Earth’s surface. Because the Sun is expected to shine at the minimum for another five billion years, we can envisage no major changes in the incoming heat for many thousands of years to come. Thus, the changes we will see in climate from now until 2050, a cut-off year determined at COP21 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero, will mostly depend on how much of the arriving heat is retained by the Earth’s surface.
Having said that, even if the goals of COP21 are met, the Earth will still be warmer in the future than it is today and the warming trend will continue because it takes a long time for the Earth’s climate to adjust to the changes in its energy budget, resulting from increased greenhouse gas concentrations. Besides, if emissions of carbon dioxide dropped to zero tomorrow, climate change will continue to play out for centuries because the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere have lifetimes of hundreds and thousands of years. Given this circumstance, we can still keep warming below catastrophic levels by going carbon negative together with zero emission. Carbon negative means removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than adding to it.
Climate change and Bangladesh
As for Bangladesh, it is among the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Although the global share of carbon dioxide emissions by Bangladesh is a meagre 0.21 percent, climate change has already been inflicting untold miseries on its people. The government has identified floods, cyclones, droughts, tidal surges, tornadoes, river erosion, water logging, rising sea level and soil salinity as major hazards that are behind a shift in migration and increasing poverty.
Bangladesh has a hot climate, with summer temperatures that can hit 45 degrees Celsius. In a world that is hotter by 1.5 to two degrees Celsius, heat waves will break new records, with more than half of summers being abnormally hot. Northern Bangladesh will enter a new climatic regime, with temperatures above levels not seen in the past 100 years. In light of this fact, the government is rightfully demanding that industrialised nations, who are also the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, reduce their planet-warming pollution without further delay, compensate poor countries for the damages caused, and fund them so that they can be better prepared for a perilous future.
In the past few years, the Bangladesh government made significant advances in disaster risk reduction. It has constructed a series of multi-purpose buildings that are used as storm shelters during cyclones, significantly reducing mortality. Notwithstanding, the damage and loss of income due to climate change is on the rise. Nevertheless, if Bangladesh wants to become a middle-income country, the government should focus on mitigation along with adaptation, and move away from coal-fired power plants.
On a different note, the amount of methane emitted by Bangladesh is so high that the country is now becoming a significant contributor to environmental degradation. Methane is a greenhouse gas that can cause 28 times as much warming as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide over a period of 100 years. According to IPCC, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere is higher now than at any time in the last 800,000 years.
Melting of glaciers and ice sheets
A few words about the effects of global warming on one of the primary sources of fresh water are in order here. Out of the 71 percent of water that make up the Earth’s surface, the vast majority, over 96 percent, is non-drinkable saline water in seas and oceans. Just 3.5 percent is fresh water, but a minuscule amount—approximately one percent—are in freshwater lakes, streams and in the atmosphere. The bulk of the fresh water, almost 70 percent, is trapped in ice and glaciers. While most of the ice is in the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland, some are scattered as glaciers in the mountains around the world.
The glaciers we see today are remnants of the past Ice Age, an alternating period of melting and freezing that lasted about a million years. Yielding only to the warmth of the Sun’s rays, these giant rivers of ice grind their way to the sea, crushing everything in their path, scouring the landscape, shaping mountain peaks and carving broad valleys.
Considered to be the “gold standard for measuring climate change,” glaciers are a natural data bank. In between their thick layers of compacted snow, glaciers hold records of volcanic eruptions, chemicals in the air and changes in the atmosphere. They reflect variations in the pattern of weather and climate over long periods of time.
Glaciers feed many of the world’s important river systems, including the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus, and directly or indirectly supply millions of people with food, energy, clean air and incomes. Communities living at the foothills of large mountains use glaciers as a source of water.
Across the high mountain region from the Hindu Kush to the Himalayas, which stretches from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east, air temperatures have risen by nearly two degrees since the start of the 20th century. In response, glaciers are melting and retreating, permafrost is thawing and weather patterns are becoming more erratic, disrupting previously reliable water sources for millions and triggering more natural disasters. Scientists are worried that the impacts will hit not just those living in the mountains, but also millions of people in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan living in the river valleys below.
Melting of glaciers has another effect. More melting means more water pools in lakes on top of the glaciers or at their lower snouts. Since the late 1970s, the number of glacial lakes across the Himalayas in Nepal has more than doubled. These lakes are often growing so fast and hold so much water that they have gushed through the rock piles holding them back, resulting in devastating floods. Additionally, steep slopes that were locked in place by frozen soil have thawed, causing rockfalls, collapsing terrains, avalanches and mud slides.
Because of global warming, ice sheets are melting at breakneck speed and will continue to melt. Indeed, a historic heat wave in July melted ice in Greenland large enough to flood the entire state of Florida with well-nigh two inches of water. At the same time, extreme flooding from higher sea level will continue to get more frequent, and the sea level itself will continue to rise well into the next century, mainly because of thermal expansion due to the amount of heat the oceans have absorbed so far.
Widespread loss of ice sheets will likely alter climate in other complex ways. For example, their white surfaces help to keep our climate relatively mild by reflecting the Sun’s rays. When they melt, darker exposed surfaces will absorb and retain more heat, thereby raising global temperatures.
It is now a truism that global warming begets more warming. Therefore, the effects of climate change will worsen with every fraction of a degree of warming. Even if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees, the kinds of extreme weather events we are experiencing this year, in winter and summer alike, will become more severe and more recurrent. Beyond 1.5 degrees, scientists say the climate system will be unrecognisable. In all likelihood, it will lead to the disappearance of small island nations and low-lying coastal countries, as well as unleash tens of millions of climate refugees upon an unprepared world.
What will be the response of our leaders and policymakers after they read the IPCC report? It will not be an exaggeration to say that world leaders, who are under tremendous pressure to deliver on promises made at COP21, cannot distinguish the divide between rhetoric and reality. Hence, at COP26, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland later this year, we should not expect any firm commitment from them to save the world. Instead, their speeches will be like the ones given at past climate-related summits—”full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Finally, the well-researched and well-intentioned report on climate change and recommendations for mitigation and adaptation contained therein can, metaphorically speaking, be characterised as a “recovery mission” rather than a “rescue mission.”
Quamrul Haider is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.
The United States of America (USA – in short, America) still is world’s number one superpower, but nobody can say how long it is going to last. By all accounts, the end is not too far off. As the adage goes, what goes up must come down. Going up is tortuous, but coming down is simply rolling back or tumbling down.
America had risen to the stature of super-power only after World War I, when Allied and Axial powers of Europe and Asia had embarked on annihilating each other, destroying each other’s towns, cities, industries, infra-structure etc., whereas America escaped with little or no damage to its homeland as the country was physically isolated by two huge oceans, one on each side. Winning the war with such minimal damage and benefitting subsequently from the industrial revival was the root of America’s economic success!
Then came the World War II within a short space of time (within just twenty years). Admittedly, America did not jump onto the European war bandwagon straightaway, not because America had visceral dislike of war, but because America needed time to assess which side had the upper hand to join in and in the mean time doing a roaring business trading in arms and ammunition with both the warring parties! Nearly half way down the war, America joined in. With minimal suffering and damage to man and material, she romped home to victory. To save lives of few hundred American soldiers in Japan, she dropped two atom bombs in two cities in Japan killing nearly 200,000 innocent Japanese outright and that made Japan’s surrender inevitable!
After the war, America became the undisputed leader and superpower of the world, not because of her war skills or war sacrifices, but because of her ruthless aggressive stance and no moral inhibition. War is perceived in America as a way to establishing supremacy and enhancing superiority.
America acquired the mindset that it is the master of the whole world and its dictum must be followed. When Saddam Hussein tried to defy American hegemony, he became a target for regime change. America invaded Iraq on the concocted narrative that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Of course, America supplied chemical weapons and other items which can be called WMD previously during the Iran-Iraq war, but Saddam Hussein destroyed them all. Despite his repeated denial and despite international weapon inspectors’ failure to find any evidence of WMD whatsoever, Iraq was still invaded and no WMD of any description had ever been found in that country. But that is beside the point. If America said something, that must be true!
During that invasion of Iraq, a number of Hezbollah soldiers from Lebanon were spotted in Iraq and an American General declared that no foreign soldiers would be tolerated in the country. America does not consider her troops in Iraq as foreign! Moreover, to give a religious flavour to the invasion of Iraq, George W Bush revealed that he was, in fact, asked by God to invade Iraq and he just carried out His orders!
America was not mature enough in the world stage to assume the position of a superpower; it was thrust upon her unequivocally after the WWII. Consequently, American foreign policy became lop-sided and unidirectional. Nearly 40 years ago (in 1979), when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to keep America off its backyard, American’s immediate reaction was to take revenge and drive Soviet Union out. It was a blatant display of America’s superpower arrogance and desire to avenge its cold war rival, the Soviet Union. How best it could be done was not a consideration for the mighty superpower.
Force must be met with force was possibly America’s guiding principle and its unidirectional policy. She started giving large quantities arms and ammunition to the Islamic fundamentalists, called Mujahideen, disregarding the fact that these fundamentalists also vowed to take revenge against the west. Pakistan, a fundamentalist Muslim country, was trusted with the Jihadi operation and plane load of money from America, Saudi Arabia and Qatar started pouring into that country. American arms industry was also having a bumper period selling arms to the government, who then shipped them to Pakistan for distribution to Afghan Mujahideen. Within nine years Soviet Union had been bled dry and militarily brutalised. The Soviet helicopters could simply be plucked out of the sky by the Mujahideen with American shoulder launching stringer missiles. America boasted when Soviet Union had to withdraw in disgrace saying, “The Soviet Union had been taught a very good lesson”. Pakistan also bragged, “We defeated Soviet Union and that may have caused the break-up of Soviet Union”.
The same Jihadi group (Mujahideen) with Pakistan’s tutelage became Taliban in less than five years and started attacking American and western interests worldwide. That Mujahideen could become Frankenstein and turn the guns on Americans did not come to American heads; driving Soviet Union out was the one-dimensional approach of America. A superpower with such short-sighted blinkered military strategy is unthinkable. Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other Jihadists around the world had flocked in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule. Within five years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, twin-towers in New York had been blown-up, when the scheme was hatched by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Islamist terrorists must have felt grateful to America for creating a safe haven for them in Afghanistan.
In fact, Mujahideen, Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, FSA (Free Syrian Army) and many more Jihadi groups owe their existence to American patronage. Money and material were supplied by America through various sources to these groups to fight Russia and other countries who are not in America’s good book. That America was creating Jihadi monsters that may one day devour the creator did not come to its consciousness.
Following the attack on twin-towers in New York by al-Qaeda operatives on the 11th of September, 2001, America embarked on a revenge attack on Afghanistan. America issued a demand to Taliban government within a few weeks of 9/11 attack that Osama bin Laden be handed over to America henceforth. Taliban asked for evidence of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in twin tower attack before he could be extradited. America, with her arrogance and rage, would not provide any evidence and issued an ultimatum. When Taliban rejected the ultimatum, America with Britain and other western democracies invaded Afghanistan in December 2001 and systematically started destroying Afghan government infrastructure and Taliban offices. Within few weeks Taliban had been dislodged from power and America took over the country. But there was no trace of Osama bin Laden, as if he had just vanished into thin air!
A decade later, America’s foremost terrorist, Osama bin Laden had been found, not in Afghanistan but in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Pakistan, who was America’s close ally and confidante and who benefitted from shedload of money from America all these years, had a duplicitous role. Osama bin Laden was killed and dumped at sea, but Pakistan’s role in giving sanctuary to him and then denying his presence in the country remains an enigma.
For 20 years, America and its allies had been fighting a losing battle against the Taliban. The Taliban with a large number of war veterans from Mujahideen during the Soviet era had been lodging a war of attrition against the west. America, in those 20 years, had been pouring in arms, ammunition, tanks, planes etc as well as training Afghans to fight a modern warfare. But the newly trained Afghan soldiers could not or would not fight against the Taliban and just melted away when faced with Taliban. Now Taliban are in control of Afghanistan with all military arsenal that America had amassed and with all freshly trained soldiers. It may also be pointed out that corruption in the Afghan government as well as among American contractors and arms suppliers was simply unprecedented.
Now over 32 years after the Soviet Union’s withdrawal, it is American turn to withdraw. During the past 20 years, America gave the most up-to-date arms and ammunition to Afghan forces, which have now become Taliban’s property. If al-Qaeda, ISIS or any other terrorist group does coagulate in Afghanistan, America would have no guts to go back. Taliban have now become too strong to kowtow after owning all the advanced weapons, tanks, planes of various types etc that America left behind. On top of that, America will have difficulty forming a coalition of partners after the present debacle of unilateral decision to pull out, whereas a collective decision was taken to form a coalition in 2001. America may well also remember the great adage ‘Once beaten, twice shy’. Russia may even have the last laugh and say, “American has learnt a very bitter lesson.”
America can now look forward to its time of ‘progressive nationalism’, as Joe Biden professes and huddle back home as Taliban have completely clipped off its wings and even chopped off its fuselage. Within two years of Soviet Union’s withdrawal, that country disintegrated losing a large number of constituent republics. What fate awaits America’s withdrawal is only future to tell. But undoubtedly reputational damage to America due to its financial weakness, reliability and trustworthiness is simply beyond reckoning. It would be a miracle if America can recover from this debacle with its reputation intact. After all, one must remember that when something starts to slide down, it slides down and down, it never slides up.