The origins of the phrase ‘adapt or die’ are disputed, but one possibility is that it was first uttered by PW Botha who was prime minister of South Africa from 1978 to 1984. He was speaking in the context of apartheid, and the phrase has become part of the language of business and trade — and climate change. In that context, never has it been more apposite, and never more so when applied to Pakistan that is currently in rabbit-in-the headlights mode when it comes to worries about the weather. A moot of climatologists in Lahore on October 14 was unequivocal in setting out the challenges and deficiencies that Pakistan faces as climate change advances and its effects are ever more extreme.
The bottom line was spelt out by Marc-Andre Franche, the UNDP Country Director, who said, “The level of existing knowledge about climate change is appalling.” He was right. It is. He stressed the need to maintain a balance between development — citing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — and the environment which would inevitably be degraded by the huge increase in traffic this would bring. He went on to be scathing about the developmental choices that Pakistan was making, saying they were redolent of the 1950s and 1960s rather than 2015. ‘Climate literacy’ needs to be the new buzz-phrase though whether it will ever gain currency outside the halls of academia is an open question. There is no push to include climate literacy in the ramshackle national curriculum, and children remain as ignorant of climate change and its effects on their country as they were 30 years ago. Two areas of particular concern are water shortage and the effect of climate change on the agriculture sector that is the economy’s backbone. Temperatures have risen, and rainfall has become more erratic in frequency, location and fluctuations in levels of precipitation. In terms of an existential threat to the survival and integrity of the state, climate change presents a challenge far greater than that presented by terrorism or even the growth of an extremist society. Adapt or die is no cliche, it is the grimmest of realities.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2015.
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