Fostering transition | Pakistan Today

Fostering transition

  • The rest of the world is tackling the problem of pollution

Environmental pollution is now a visible, tangible, acutely serious issue, and Pakistan ranks second only to Bangladesh as the country with the second dirtiest air quality in the world. We see the problem manifested all around, in Lahore for example with its horrendous smog that reaches ‘hazardous’ levels, becoming worse every year. And no, this is not an Indian attempt to destroy Pakistan, although smoke resulting from crop burning across the border does drift across to us contributing to the problem. Crop burning is alive and well in our own country where there are, in addition, unrestrained and growing ‘fuel emissions from vehicles on city roads, untreated emissions by industries, particularly steel re-rolling mills that burn used rubber tyres and plastic waste material as an alternate to costly electricity and gas.’

The overuse of plastic is one of the major reasons behind this pollution. At least eight million tons of plastic end up with other waste in the oceans all over the world, destroying the natural water habitat and its creatures. When eventually the water breaks up the plastic, it takes the shape of tiny flecks that make their way into the bodies of humans and animals on land and sea.

Several organisations are trying to combat this problem such as The New Plastics Economy, in initiative sponsored by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity registered in the UK. The New Plastics Economy is trying to eliminate unnecessary use of plastic, and to make plastic reusable, and eventually recyclable and biodegradable.

In Pakistan there has lately been an attempt at bringing down the use of plastic bags, but like all other things in this country, this is a patchy attempt, almost definitely born less of a concern for the environment than a quest for applause. Some places are stricter than others and some are ignoring the initiative altogether.

The world is in transit, moving from ignorant violation of the environment to the present where we are aware of what we are doing, but have not as yet worked out how to change the situation. The reason is often economic. If we aspire to 3D housing for example, it requires not just expensive equipment, but it uses 50 per cent less manpower, so we lose jobs for construction labourers on a large scale. The benefits could yet outweigh the losses, but not unless a serious attempt is made to make it so. No such attempt is made, however, which is to do with a lack of long-term vision and a genuine dedication to the cause

Countries that are serious about combatting pollution have come up with some marvellous solutions. Seoul is putting up solar panels on all public buildings and a million homes, and Kenya is the proud owner of Africa’s largest windfarm.

According to a publication of the World Economic Forum, pollution in Indonesia is acute, and is killing its rivers and beaches. Indonesia has now come up with ‘plastic’ bags that are utterly and completely biodegradable. Made of cassava, the root vegetable similar to sweet potato, these bags dissolve in water if left in it, and the resultant solution is safe enough for both animal and human consumption. Unlike plastic therefore, if it is dumped into the river it will neither clog and pollute the waterways, nor will it kill sea life.

Most of the trash and plastic in the world’s oceans comes from just a few rivers and canals. A Dutch start-up has devised a ‘bubble barrier’ composed of nothing but bubbles to stop waste from travelling to the sea. Tests prove it prevents 80 per cent of the trash from floating downstream. Amsterdam is using this system in its canals. How difficult/expensive is this system? It works by laying a tube diagonally across the bed of a river or canal. The tube has holes all along its sides. Air is pumped into the tube. The air comes out upwards from these holes into the water in the shape of bubbles which float to the side of the waterway, carrying trash upwards and sideways with it. The trash can then be retrieved easily and prevented from carrying on to the sea.

On other fronts, Dubai has come up with its first two-story building entirely printed on a 3D printer. With this technology there is 60 per cent less construction waste. France has used this technology as well to make affordable housing, also with less waste, and 3D-printed shelters are also being built in Haiti and El-Salvador.

In India, the place we love to hate, there is a serious attempt to cut down pollution in Kolkata where 80 electric buses have been introduced into the city’s mass transit system this year. By next year they plan to introduce another 100. It is hoped that these 180 electric buses will together lead to an annual reduction of 14,086 tonnes of CO₂ emissions. A report by the World Economic Forum says ‘the government provided 60% of the funds for the initial 80 electric buses and helped install the charging infrastructure.’

The report also noted that ‘partnerships can foster rapid transitions. For example, the long-term vision both at the state and national levels enabled Kolkata to set out the strategy to transition its entire bus and ferry fleets to electric.’

The world is in transit, moving from ignorant violation of the environment to the present where we are aware of what we are doing, but have not as yet worked out how to change the situation. The reason is often economic. If we aspire to 3D housing for example, it requires not just expensive equipment, but it uses 50 per cent less manpower, so we lose jobs for construction labourers on a large scale. The benefits could yet outweigh the losses, but not unless a serious attempt is made to make it so. No such attempt is made, however, which is to do with a lack of long-term vision and a genuine dedication to the cause.

With all the enterprise and ability to work hard that our society has to offer, what innovations have we come up with as yet? What transitions have our governments fostered other than a constant transition from one government to another with dire consequences for the country? At present all we appear to be producing is a leadership in uniform woven with seminary fibre. You wonder if any of this is compostable.

Rabia Ahmed

The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at http://rabia-ahmed.blogspot.com/



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