Authors: Dr. Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust
If the coronavirus is life-threatening, and almost all of the USA is in varying levels of lockdown, the speed of its arrival and impact should at least remind us of the fragility of life — not just for our own species but on the planet itself. Of course, Donald Trump disbanded the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense. Set up after the Ebola scare, its job was to deal exactly with the type of threat we are facing; that is, to prepare for, lead and coordinate resources to deal quickly and effectively with the emergency — its absence is yet another reason for the White House’s lackluster response.
Then there is man-induced climate change. The Antarctic hit a record 64.9F (18.3C) last month surpassing the previous high of 63.5F (17.5C) set in 2015. Three days later on February 9th, the same measuring research station experienced an astounding 69.35F (20.75C) (livescience.com). Perhaps it is to be expected when we are pumping CO2 to record levels in the atmosphere. Current measurements are 413 ppm (Feb., 2020), a rise of 100ppm over 1950 figures (climate.nasa.gov/evidence/).
Global warming is also blamed for hot Australian summers and the deadly forest fires in South Australia fueled by drought and extreme heat. Most distressingly, these destroyed the entire habitats of several animal species and cost the lives of an estimated billion animals.
One bright note is a stand of conifers (the Wollemi Pine) dating back to the dinosaurs has been saved through the extraordinary efforts of firefighters who dropped water and flame retardant from airplanes into the single canyon where they exist. Millions of years ago, they were common across the ancient Gondwana supercontinent.
Greenland and Antarctica are now losing ice at a six-times faster rate than in the 1990s raising sea levels and threatening coastal areas. The rise of 17.8 mm since 1992 has been 60 percent due to Greenland and the rest to Antarctica (Nature, Dec 10, 2019). Scientists now expect an extra 17mm (6.7 inch) rise in sea levels above current projections by 2100, and massive flooding of coastal areas, already experiencing very early signs (Greenland and Antarctica Ice Melt — BBC). But that is small potatoes in comparison with the Denman Glacier in East Antarctica.
This massive glacier has retreated 5 km (about 3 miles) in the last 22 years reports a new study appearing in Geophysical Research Letters (Science Daily, March 23, 2020). From 1979 to 2017, it has lost a cumulative 268 billion tons. Of particular concern to researchers is the ground surface underneath which renders the glacier more susceptible to global-warming collapse. This vast ice sheet has the potential by itself to raise sea levels by 1.5 meters (5 feet).
While global warming is causing a speedup of many ocean currents, an anomaly is the consequence of Greenland ice melt reaching the Atlantic at the origins of the Gulf Stream current. Reducing salinity, it impacts its driver, namely, the sinking salt water (Science, Feb. 7, 2020, p.612) weakening the current — its beneficence accounting for the relatively benign winters in Britain and Ireland and extending as far north as Iceland, Norway and southern Sweden
At the same time, an analysis of data from the Argo array, some 4000 floats deployed across the globe to collect data, indicates an acceleration in currents, particularly in the tropics and the Southern Ocean (Science Advances, Feb 5, 2020). Global warming is the likely cause spurring ocean winds to speed currents, although proof awaits more data collection. A speed-up of currents and rising sea levels paints a picture of a rising, raging sea threatening coastal communities (National Geographic, Oct, 15, 2019) that have been popularized by developers in living memory.
The ecosystem is also threatened in other ways, particularly through the demise of pollinator species — on whom we, too, depend for our necessary crops. A recent paper (Science February 7, 2020, p.626) reports widespread decline in bumble bee populations in North America and Europe. Warming temperature is the likely culprit. A temperature rise beyond the tolerable limits for bumble bees necessitates migration, often to areas that had been too cold for them before but have warmed up now to be tolerable.
Unfortunately, the rate of extirpation has exceeded that of colonization causing widespread decline. The resulting consequences to plant species deprived of the ecosystem services of this pollinator are clearly unfavorable — if not disastrous — but have yet to be surveyed.
Meanwhile, wild bee species are in decline worldwide. A halving from an estimated 6700 species in the 1950s to a shocking 3400 in the 2010s was reported in Science News (January 22, 2020). While previous bee studies have addressed declining populations, the evidence collected had been limited to industrially developed Europe and North America. The significance of the new research is its global scope.
In Thailand, for example, the ground nesting bee, Megachili bicolor, is fast losing habitat to expanding urbanization and agriculture.
With more scientists entering the field, the total number of bees observed by them has increased as one would expect. But sadly, the number of species recorded keep plummeting on most continents. The exception has been Australia where bee species first rose from 300 to 500 in the 2000s. Then in the 2010s they fell back to 300. What was once seen as a trend only in advanced countries is now global, and thousands of species have become either very rare or extinct.
Bees and other insects like butterflies are vital in that they pollinate 75 percent of our most important crops. Now butterflies are also under threat. The monarchs in the US are the victims of herbicides like glyphosate, and global warming upsets their seasonal migration patterns. They are also losing habitat, the loss estimated at 165 million acres in the US reports the Center for Biological Diversity.
Of the two migratory populations of monarchs, the western population numbered 1.2 million in the 1990s and the eastern about a billion. These numbers have dropped drastically to a critical 30,000 in the west and 225 million in the east. Since 2018 when these winter counts were taken, the numbers in the west have declined further this year to a little over 29,000.
Now we have the coronavirus giving modern humans an intimate foretaste of their ecological vulnerability. As it is easily transmissible, the situation can turn quickly into an out-of-control pandemic. If it affects 70 percent, as an expert recently predicted (CBS News), of the world’s population of about 8 billion, it will infect 5.6 billion people. Assuming a 1 percent death rate, which is on the low side of recent estimates, it results in 56 million fatalities — not unlike WW2. The same figures applied to the US yield 2.3 million deaths.
One might be forgiven for wondering if it is not Mother Earth’s Gaian response to destructive human activity. Could it even be just the initial onslaught? Now that is a frightening thought.
Authors’ Note: An earlier version of this article appeared on Counterpunch.org
Climate Smart Agriculture Can Help Balochistan bounce back
Climate change brings disaster to the province Balochistan, which is an arid region located in west of Pakistan. The drought-stricken region struggling to increase its agricultural productivity, faced a backlash due to catastrophic floods. The predominantly agriculture-based territory reached the dead zone as farmers had stopped farming, shepherds kept their animal numbers low, which put people’s lives on stake, as it increased food insecurity. This highlighted the need to start a policy debate for climate smart agriculture.
Climate smart agriculture is an approach that is making the planet prosperous again. It is an ambition to increase the integration of food security with enhance resilience in productivity. It is a sustainable agriculture practice that promotes soil health, water management, and biodiversity conservation with economic benefits. Its practices like, cover/tunnel farming, drip irrigation, crop livestock systems can help Balochistan to go green and integrated again. These practices can sequester carbon in soil and can fight the impacts of climate change more efficiently.
Climate change is affecting the province in various ways. The region of Balochistan is characterized by extreme aridity, with annual precipitation levels below average, causing severe droughts, which is leading to a catastrophic impact on the province’s agriculture and livestock.
Flash floods in Balochistan becomes the new common during the monsoon season as a result of heavy rainfall, with the most significant in 2022. These floods have a detrimental impact on the environment, causing soil erosion, depletion, and the loss of fertile topsoil. The soil is already deficient in minerals and cannot endure further depletion, requiring several hundred years to recover and cannot support agricultural growth.
In an interview with wealthPk, Dr. Hanif-ur-Rehman AP from university of Turbat said, that high efficiency irrigation system (HEIS) can play an efficient role in climate effected regions like Turbat, Makran, Kech where farmers had traditionally cultivated the crops for source of income. The use of drip, rain guns, Centre pivot, and sprinkler have the ability to bring back the lush green pastures that have turned barren.
Climate smart agriculture could not only fetch the lost agriculture but also increase the productivity rate by making the rest of the region green. Balochistan accounts for only 6% of cultivable land for agriculture which not only failed to meet food security needs but also added little in Pakistan’s 25% agriculture GDP.
Balochistan people despite having less literacy are very conducive to cultivating lands with new cultivation techniques. In late 1990s and 2000s when the entire western part of the province was severely hit by droughts, people brought the techniques of less resilient tunnel farming to moist the soil. They grow crops beneath protective plastic tunnels. This technique helps them cope with their immediate needs but it fails to produce yield on a massive scale. Cultivation in proper climate resilient tunnels usually requires 10 to 20 acres of area or economically 3 acres feasible, and the tunnels are created by using steel pipes, or aluminum pipes that support plantations that are usually 3 to 12 feet in height and 5-10 feet wide.
The drip irrigation technique also has enormous potential for minimizing production costs by moderating the input use of water, fertilizers and pesticides. Drip irrigation keeps the field capacity constant by enabling the crops to easily take in water and nutrients, which result in uniform growth of plants and enhances the quality that produces well. Drip irrigation distributes water through a network of valves, pipes, emitters, and tubing that can save 50-70% of irrigation water which can not only resolve the water scarcity issue of Balochistan, it also can produce efficient, extensive production of crops such as apples, cherries, tomatoes, and citrus.
The province also needs to move towards an integrated crop-livestock system (ICLS), which is sustainable, productive, and climate resilient compared to intensive specialized systems. ICLS have increased over time in arid regions but still, Balochistan lags behind due to lack of skills by producers, lack of investment, lack of sustainable awareness and market competition. Livestock production is the largest sector of the province’s economy. It is nearly impossible to have a dream of economic development for the rural masses without prior attention to Livestock and crop management.
After floods, the crops fields are destroyed due to which livestock become the main source of food for many rural households that make the rural farming through livestock less practicable. It can only be enhanced by administration policies through capital funding, educational services and markets to subsistence farmers.
CSA is a method that includes several elements entrenched in local settings rather than a collection of practices that can be used everywhere. CSA requires the adoption of technologies and policies, and it refers to behaviors both on and off the farm.
According to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the United Nation 2023 report, Local farmers are the foremost holders of knowledge about their environment, agro-ecosystems, crops, livestock, and climatic patterns. Therefore, the adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture should be aligned with the local farmers’ knowledge, needs, and priorities. . Farmers of Balochistan have shown a keen interest in drip irrigation, tunnel farming technique but the high cost of imported pipes, emitters, plantation of aluminum tunnels from china has become their hindrance.
Mainstreaming CSA in Balochistan requires critical stocktaking and promising practices by financial and institutional enablers that can create an initial baseline for discussion and investment from the globe. If the government of Balochistan supports the farmers through public funding or by joint ventures with farmers for covering the startup costs, the techniques can be very useful not for food security but also for economic benefits on a constant level. According to a report on Climate smart practices, the CS techniques could not only help to save water up to 50-70%, reduce the fertilizer use by 45%, increase yield up to 100-150%, reduce the production cost by 35%, but could also mature the crops with better quality for uneven topography.
Human History and the Wonder of the Horse
Imagine a person accustomed to traveling at 3 to 4 mph, who discovers a means (the horse) to speed up to 5 times that pace with occasional thrilling bursts doubling even that.
At 15 mph, it is then not unreasonable to assume a 1000 mile range for a week on horseback allowing for breaks and sleep at night. It must have expanded enormously the horizons of those early Kazakhs who first domesticated the horse some 6000 years ago.
If the Kazakhs roamed west, the Mongols, a few thousand years later, roamed back and began a vast empire that eventually included all of China. Ties with Russia were close but as a hegemon, until a few centuries later when the Russians threw off the yoke.
As Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping shake hands forging a new treaty, China is once again a more powerful economy, the largest in the world, while Russia’s is more akin in size to Italy’s.
If the horse made the vast Central Asian steppes explorable, its remarkable navigational skills ensured the rider would eventually be able to return home.
Apparently horses are sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field, and not unlike homing pigeons can find their way home. Confirmatory tests have shown that when magnets are slung over their withers, they get completely lost. Observers have also noted that, in pasture. they tend to stand north-south aligned with the earth’s magnetic field.
Up until the advent of the internal combustion engine, horses were used for all kinds of transportation. Where the rail line ended, horses took over. They hauled freight in covered wagons; pulled stagecoaches in the Wild West and elegant carriages in Europe; they were a cowboy’s bread and butter, and personal transportation for anyone who could afford one; horses in the cavalry delivered the punch generals were seeking in battle; in racing, they provided thrills for the audience and excitement for punters — such is true also today, and with all the special attention given to the triple crown races, the casual observer might forget the weekly calendar of racing events across the country.
Horses for courses is a common saying for they are bred for speed in short races and stamina for long steeplechases like the famous Grand National in England.
Hark back to the wagon drivers of old, when on lonely long journeys the driver could talk to his horses — like dogs they are able to understand and develop quite a vocabulary of human words plus silent signals from the reins and legs of the riders.
And pity the poor trucker now and his lonely cross-country trips — not much to say to a noisy diesel engine! The only chance to talk he gets is when he takes a break to eat, rest and sometimes sleep at truck stops along the way.
With all that horses did for humans, one can wonder what they got out of it. Apparently they form close bonds with their owners, and as with dogs, the feelings are mutual.
Race to zero in Asia and the Pacific: Our hopes in the climate fight
The latest synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes for grim reading: Every fraction of a degree of warming comes with escalated threats, from deadly heatwaves to severe hurricanes and droughts, affecting all economies and communities. It is a reality that the people of Asia and the Pacific know only too well. “The worst April heatwaves in Asian history” last month was just a taste of the worsening climate impacts we will continue to face in the years to come.
Our latest report highlights that the sea level is creeping up in parts of the region at a slightly higher rate than the global mean, leaving low-lying atolls at existential threat. Annual socioeconomic loss due to climate change is mounting and likely to double in the worst-case climate scenario. Inequity is yet another threat as climate change sweeps across the region. Asia and the Pacific already accounts for more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions and the share is growing.
But there is another picture of hope in our region: 39 countries have committed to carbon neutrality and net zero between 2050 and 2060. The cost of renewable energy is falling almost everywhere, with installed capacity growing more than three-fold in the past decade. Electric vehicles are entering the market en masse as countries such as China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Thailand have made electric mobility a priority.
This momentum needs to accelerate like a bullet train. Because nothing short of a breakthrough in hard-to-abate sectors will give us a good chance of stopping catastrophic global warming.
Accelerating a just and inclusive energy transition
The recent energy crisis has kicked renewable energy into a new phase of even faster growth thanks to its energy security benefits. There is opportunity now to leverage this momentum and turn it into a revolutionary moment.
Cross-border electricity grids can be the game changer. ESCAP has simulated different scenarios for grid connectivity and scaling up renewables. It shows that a green power corridor, cross-border power grid integration utilizing renewables, can help to remove the last hurdles of the transition. We are working with countries to chart a path to improved regional power grid connectivity through cooperation.
Achieving low-carbon mobility and logistics
The exceptional growth of electric vehicles has proved that electric mobility is a smart investment. And it is one that will help stave off carbon dioxide emissions from transport, which has stubbornly increased almost by 2 per cent annually the past two decades.
Through the Regional Cooperation Mechanism on Low Carbon Transport, we are working with the public and private sector to lock in the changeover to low-carbon mobility, clean energy technologies and logistics. This is complemented by peer learning and experience sharing under the Asia-Pacific Initiative on Electric Mobility to accelerate the penetration of electric vehicles and upgrading public transport fleets.
Building low-carbon industries through climate-smart trade and investment
The net zero transition is not complete without decarbonizing the industrial sector. The region accounts for nearly three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions in manufacturing and construction.
Binding climate considerations in regional trade agreements can be a powerful tool. While climate-related provisions have entered regional trade agreements involving Asian and Pacific economies, they offer few concrete and binding commitments. To unlock further benefits, they will need to be broader in scope, deeper in stringency and more precise in obligations.
As foreign investment goes green, it should also go where it is needed the most. It has not been the case for any of the least developed countries and small island developing States in the region.
Financing the transition
The transition can be only possible by investing in low- and zero-emission technologies and industries. Current domestic and international financial flows fall well short of the needed amount. The issuance of green, social and sustainability bonds is rapidly growing, reaching $210 billion in 2021 but were dominated by developed and a few developing countries. Both public and private financial institutions need to be incentivized to invest in new green technologies and make the uptake of such technologies less risky.
Linking actions and elevating ambitions
The code red to go green is ever so clear. Every government needs to raise their stake in this crisis. Every business needs to transform. Every individual needs to act. A journey to net zero should accelerate with a fresh look at our shared purpose.
At ESCAP, we are working to bring together the pieces and build the missing links at the regional level to support the net-zero transition work at the national level. The upcoming Commission session will bring countries together for the first time in an intergovernmental setting – to identify common accelerators for climate action and to chart a more ambitious pathway. This is the start of an arduous journey that requires cooperation, understanding and determination. And I believe we have what it takes to get there together.
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