What the United States can learn from Pakistan

You read that right: Pakistan. On Sunday, July 12, Pakistan announced that it had met the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13: To take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. 1 The United Nations (UN) has 17 goals for member countries to meet by 2030 in order to make sure that we’re taking care of our planet and each other, now and into the future. 2 The goals cover all sorts of good things: protecting our land and seas, eliminating hunger and poverty, fighting for equality of all people, reducing waste at home and in industry, connecting and empowering people and governments to create jobs, and the previously mentioned Goal 13: Climate Action. The idea behind Goal 13 is simple: “Act Now To Stop Global Warming”. Carbon Dioxide emissions have increased by almost 50% in the past 30 years and because of this our climate and weather patterns, our world, will not be the same.

As a brief aside, here’s an example to show the difference an extra 50% makes. Say you graduated high school in 1990 and weighed 150lbs, if your weight increased by 50% over that time you’d be tipping the scales now at 225lbs. Imagine what that would feel like, none of your clothes would fit, you’d be hardly recognizable, and probably not very healthy. Neither is our planet. As a person, you’d have a highly trained expert, your doctor, telling you it’s time to make some lifestyle changes and shed that extra weight before you get diabetes or have a heart attack. We have highly trained experts in climate science too, and these scientists are saying the same thing. We need to lose the extra CO2 emissions before we have more weather disasters with deadly consequences.

Pakistan is an example of a nation that’s listening to the warnings of climate scientists. And they need to–they’re like the person who has hereditary high blood pressure and bad genetics. By no fault of their own, Pakistan ranks 5th on the list of countries most at risk from the effects of climate change. 3 The United States isn’t far behind, ranking 27th out of 181 nations. We’re in the most vulnerable 15%, with our territory of Puerto Rico topping the list as the most at risk of all.

Back to the health analogy, when you and your doctor have that uncomfortable conversation, the first thing you do is acknowledge there’s a problem. America is already feeling the effects of changing weather and climate. Instead of brushing it off as a few more hot days (a few extra pounds…), we can follow Pakistan’s example and look at the big picture. Climate change to them isn’t only an environmental problem, it affects their economy, the health of their people, their agriculture and food systems, their whole ecosystem. Pakistan has an entire list of government-led initiatives to reduce carbon emissions overall and to soften the blow from the changes already happening. 4 These include creating 15 new national parks, developing renewable hydro-power plants to replace coal-generated power, and even tying climate change into their COVID-19 stimulus by creating conservation jobs.

The United States can absolutely do things like this. I’m sure all of you have heard talk of conservation, renewable energy, and green jobs in the news from Washington. Talk, with little to no action. It seems that what we really need is some warming in our current political climate. If Pakistan can unite behind the Sustainable Development Goals, so can we, as long as politicians from both sides realize that we’re all in the hospital gown together.

Tracy Bartella-Metell relocated to the Monadnock Region in 2013 pursuing her Master’s in Sustainable Development from Antioch University. Since then, she’s made very strong connections to people, work and place and has never left. In her spare time, she practices and teaches yoga and is a board member for the Monadnock Sustainability Hub.

1 https://www.geo.tv/latest/297692-pakistan-takes-big-stride-forward-in-climate-change-meets-un-goal-decade-before-deadline
2 https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/climate-change/
3 https://www.germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.or/file/20-2-01e%20Global%20Climate%20Risk%20Index%202020_14.pdf
4 https://www.msn.com/en-ae/news/other/pakistan-achieves-un-climate-action-goal-10-years-ahead-of-deadline/ar-BB16H0i0