People living in Punjab, and Lahore, the ‘heart of Pakistan’ in particular, have been breathing acid rain for years. It becomes more visible, dense, and hurting when the temperature begins going down around November-December. Who is to be blamed for smog and what has the ‘development-oriented government of the PML-N done to reduce it or eliminate it? Three misperceptions need to be addressed.
First, smog or acid rain is not a natural phenomenon, as one federal cabinet member asserted. It seems coming from the ‘heavens’ but it is man-made pollution — the result of bad policy choices for industrialization, transport, urbanization, and power generation. Second, smog has been a persistent issue for the past couple of decades; so it is not something new that the Punjab or the federal government are witnessing. Third, there can, and there are scientific and policy interventions that we need to address the problem. Finally, it is not just humans that are suffering from acid rain, it is the plants, animals, and micro-biological life that are equally affected.
Any purported solution of any environmental issue that focuses just on humans and leaves the plant and animal life out of policy debate is based on ignorance about the constituent elements of the environment. The environment in which we live, breathe, grow food and benefit from the bounty of nature is integrated into an eco-system. When animals and plants are affected by our ever-growing greed for property development — reducing greener space — or smoke and acid from vehicles, industries, and power plants, we, humans also get affected. Protecting all animal forms from bees, birds, fishes to mammals and vegetation from wild grasses to trees, we protect our own health and quality of life. The environment is not just for us; it is for all living things.
Who is to be blamed for the acid rain? There is a tendency to push deterioration of the environment in Pakistan to the collective sphere — by saying, as I heard many say on the ill-informed media, ‘we all responsible’. Not really, it is the government first and last. Those in power now and in the past, and the permanent government, the bureaucracy, have to be blamed for weak regulation, bad and ineffective policies, and wrong-development priorities.
It is true, and it is a matter of common observation anywhere in Pakistan that people litter, throw away trash into streets, in green areas, or collect and burn garbage, including cancer-causing polythene bags and wrappings. These days, you may witness stubble burning fires along the motorways. Neither the governments nor the agriculture universities have come with cheap and affordable alternatives to burning stubble—the agricultural waste that can be used for organic fertilizer or even for generating power. Who has the responsibility to educate the public and regulate behavior causing environmental degradation? None other than the government.
For matters about governance, Pakistan represents a situation of anarchy. The public at large has grown very pessimistic of the political class and its style of governance. A common dictum for decades has been ‘nothing will change in Pakistan, so why waste one’s time. It is the role of the media and the public intellectual to break and counter pessimistic outlook. Things can change and must change, but no change can be possible without public participation and generating popular pressure against the governments.
The industrialized states have controlled pollution and people breathe in cleaner air because of true democracy. This is possible here too, but if people elect those who will govern Pakistan better, not the corrupt and inept political establishment.
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