Current weather trends clearly indicate that the meteorological department’s forecast of a harsh winter is correct, and this being the case, global warming monitors could well be disappointed in their forecasts of a corresponding surge in the release of carbon emissions emanating from the burning of fossil fuel in Pakistan.
Scientists studying global warming patterns under the aegis of the US Department of Energy recently revealed that there was a six per cent global increase in carbon emissions during 2009-2010, with China, America and India accounting for 212 million metric tonnes, 59 million metric tonnes and 48 million metric tonnes of the total 512 million metric tonne global increase respectfully. This has raised carbon emissions from 8.6 billion to 9.1 billion metric tonnes, a rise unprecedented since records began in 1751. During 2009-2010, however, Pakistan actually showed a small decline in carbon emissions, which is possibly, at least partially, due to what was a relatively mild winter but more probably is a direct result of staggering inflation that put, and continues to put, fossil fuel in the shape of coal and wood, way beyond the financial reach of those dependent on it for both cooking and heating.
Take the case where I live. The price of a maund of firewood ranged from Rs260 to at least Rs450 last winter, residents of far-flung northern areas paying the most, so many low-income households had no option but to shiver through the meagre chill. This winter, low-end prices begin around Rs340 per maund and high-end prices will be around Rs500 and higher. A maund of firewood does not go very far and the average household requirement of 60-100 maunds over the cold season has become a luxury few can afford. Due to the absence of piped gas in the majority of cold-prone areas and gas loadshedding in others, combined with electricity loadshedding and prolonged breakdowns, the latter exacerbated during extreme weather conditions, the burning of fossil fuel used to be a viable option, but unless people resort to stealing trees from what little forest remains in the country, this is no longer the case.
A ‘responsible’ government would have made environmentally sustainable heating and cooking arrangements available to the population long since yet, as is also the case with well-coordinated disaster relief, however, this is nowhere evident despite the fact that relatively inexpensive options do exist. Decentralised biogas units, from a single household up to village and town capacity, are an obvious solution, with solar and wind energy playing lesser roles: solar being ridiculously expensive as a result of commercial greed and wind power only being viable in certain areas of the country.
The absence of affordable heating arrangements in what may prove to be a very big chill indeed, plus, the financial inability to purchase adequate, nutritious food, let alone warm winter clothing, is set to further decimate, both physically and mentally, a huge section of an already suffering population which has already suffered more than enough. It is therefore pertinent to wonder — will this winter be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?
Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2011.
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