This is not a heatwave

US has long started considering the threat of climate change as a national security issue


Imran Jan July 02, 2023
The writer is a political analyst. Email: imran.jan@gmail.com. Twitter @Imran_Jan

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It is quite a strange idea on the part of the makers of the Game of Thrones to depict a world where everybody feared the arrival of winter. Perhaps they were depicting life during the last ice age right before the Agricultural Revolution or maybe they imagined that life must have been driven by that fear in such harsh winters of those times. Whatever their rationale was, the irony is undeniable that people found it entertaining while living in the age of relentless planetary warming. Perhaps that is exactly why people loved the show where a super cold world appeared so pristine and so peaceful even when humans shed each other’s blood for the same reasons for which they shed it today.

Cyclone Biparjoy hit Pakistan and India. I live in the American south. We, immigrants, talk to our family and friends back home every day — thanks to WhatsApp. As soon as the cyclone left the news cycle and social media noise, we all sleepwalked into extreme summer. The typical commentary about the intense heat never fails to tell us how many years of records has the latest one broken. This is typically done in America. In Pakistan, the excessive heat is made worse by the hide-and-seek that the electricity plays. While that is touched upon and some people may be seen in videos burning tires on the roads and gathering outside the offices of Wapda, here is what I almost never hear anyone talk about in Pakistan: this heatwave is the result of climate change. Here is what I also do not hear; this is going to be our new normal.

I remember during my school days in Pakistan. At the start of summer, kids would either fake collapsing due to the heat or one of us would actually collapse due to playing excessive cricket in the heat. This would prompt the school to announce summer holidays abruptly. Heatwaves used to happen. They don’t happen anymore because what they are now calling a heatwave is actually the new summer. The heatwave of the past is now our summer. These so-called heat waves are going to be longer, meaner, and more frequent to the extent that they would last through the entire summer. Many places in Pakistan and India will become uninhabitable. Migration to greener and cooler lands will potentially trigger civil wars. Everybody is going to fight for their piece of bread. Speaking of which, the excessive heat will render many agricultural lands useless turning them into wastelands.

The US has long started considering the threat of climate change as a national security issue. Pakistan and India are some of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change. Yet, both countries only see themselves as their enemy. Pakistanis and Indians would die at each other’s hands only if they survive starvation, migration from uninhabitable places, drowning, loss of income, and so forth.

So, if we are to make a realistic Game of Thrones, one which is not based in some fantasy land then the first episode of season one would rather be named Summer is Coming. Because to say that winter is coming would not only be disingenuous since the winters, we have known are over but also the arrival of winter is not seen as a threatening situation. People would take it to be a good omen rather than some grim idea. I had a brief interaction with Michael Mann, the author of the forthcoming book Our Fragile Moment. He explained to me that it is still possible to revisit those really cold winters from our childhood if carbon emissions stop. Between zero carbon emissions and the cessation of surface warming, the lag is between 0 and 3 years. But will we even start working on, let alone achieving zero carbon emissions seems to have a much longer lag than 0 and 3 years.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2023.

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