The environmental drama

Moustafa H Kamel
Friday 27 Aug 2021

Unhappy endings

On stage and screen, we are fond of happy endings, but in the environmental drama currently unfolding – which stars Mother Earth opposite Humanity – the ending is bound to be disastrous. This is a different kind of drama altogether. For one thing, it is real. Competing with their Hollywood counterparts, governments, societies, institutions and individuals have been tramping all across the world, leaving behind a tearful trail of irreparable destruction. This has been going on for decades but it is only now emerging in all its horror. 

Unprecedentedly high temperatures occurred in Russia and India. Temperatures of up to 50℃ have led to fires in Canada, with hundreds killed as a result; 240 fires haven’t yet been fully put out there. Turkey and Greece have likewise seen unmatched devastation resulting in large-scale displacement; so has Algeria. In New York, for the first time, residents were asked to stop using high-power appliances, including air conditioners, to safeguard the electrical grid. Closer to home, Iraq announced a mandatory official holiday after the temperature exceeded 50℃ and the grid collapsed; Kuwait recorded the highest temperature in the world: 54℃ in the shade (and up to 70℃ in the sun). 

According to scientists’ forecasts, heat waves will be more severe and more frequent year after year. Is the northern hemisphere becoming uninhabitable? Do we really face extinction and, in  the process, ending all life on the planet? Is this how we like to end our environmental drama with? A global alert was announced but it seems preventative steps were slower than the danger engulfing the planet. This is our dramatic work in brief and its details are enough to fill global screens for years. For environmental catastrophes, episodes are innumerable from earthquakes, volcanoes to pollution, poor waste management and many others. But what ending do we plan on working towards? 

In the film of the future, everyone is crucial to success but the biggest role is reserved for directors, who show aspects of their skill in innovative ways. Only governments around the world play this role in our environmental drama. Their responsibility is huge but their potential is even bigger because the problem is also momentous.

But how might governments and countries save life and raise the level of their commitment to combating climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions? In this regard we require the necessity of change and developing or modifying conceptions, together with the behaviour and environmental practices of every human on the planet’s surface. Sooner or later, we will return to nature as a last resort in terms of preserving the planet. There are excellent ideas that require practical application on the ground. In fact, every change is originally very closely related to the level of awareness among the target group and the group responsible for sponsoring or endorsing the change in question.

Issuing laws and legislation, holding conferences, launching campaigns and raising alarms are all just ink on paper unless accompanied by effective work yielding concrete results. Are we all aware that as humans distributed across the continents we are responsible for our lifestyle and its repercussions on the environment?  Are we aware of the outcome of every action we take or any harm we cause the environment – or the dangers we are facing? Or are we rather parrots repeating what we hear in the news? Are we aware that our very existence is under threat, or that we have collectively participated in what we arrived at today and need to join forces to make change possible?

Such questions will remain open, with no frank or clear answer. For the world is in a raging chaos messing with its internal systems. Politics, economics and society are all in chaos – and what can you expect of the environment? We are sleeping with our eyes wide open and our desperate hearts waiting for a way out.

*The writer is a professor at the Faculty of Science, Cairo University and former minister of the environment.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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