With our eyes wide open | By Shah-Naz Hayat Khan, US


With our eyes wide open

THERE was a picture on CNN website which could easily have passed for one of those stark sketches hanging in a museum, where the subject is Dante’s inferno.

Only, it was a photograph of a hapless boy climbing up a mountain billowing plumes of smoke from unseen fires burning somewhere within.

‘The mountain,’ was two hundred feet of garbage piled at a landfill in India. Those living in the ghetto nearby have health issues and die.

Naturally, India needs to clean up its act. It’s not our problem. Isn’t it? A lifetime ago, while growing up in another corner of the world – Pakistan, cyclically news came of famines in African countries, like Ethiopia.

One felt sorry and the world doled out aid or alms, depending upon one’s point of view. Too bad, the country was in an unfortunate geographical location. Or, maybe they should know how to protect their topsoil. Those nations are corrupt too.

Not our problem? Live long enough and comes the realization that a ripple in the farthest corner of the earth, eventually makes its way to your waters.

We may not care whether or not the earth is heating and, if the ice melts in the north or south pole.

Our air conditioning works just fine. Or, if the remote inhabited islands the Allah Almighty knows where, are at risk of being submerged.

Except, the rising waters reach our shore too and inch by inch, eat it away. Imperceptibly, but incontrovertibly.

Because we do not look for it, we will not see. Perhaps, the shores are not our problem because we live farther in?

Ever wondered what’s behind the frequent, furious storms or, the floods that wipe away whole towns?

It couldn’t be that all the affected folk were plain stupid, building in flood zones or tornado alleys?

Often, change happens imperceptibly, leaving one wondering what climate issue the tree huggers are harping about.

In which case, maybe look at the same landscape through the eyes of your parents’ or grandparents’ generations: Where there was once vegetation, there may be none.

All that building and population density since, and yes, droughts brought on by climate change may have caused water scarcity resulting in restriction being imposed on usage, be it limits on the amount of water used to bathe or shower in Jordan or South Africa, or watering of lawns in UK and parts of water rich Canada.

Already, there are those in the south-west of the United States who have abandoned homes for good for lack of water.

In your neck of the woods, the problem may not rear its ugly head until well into days of your children or grandchildren.

It will be their problem. So, maybe you have nothing to worry about? The other day at the office, I was griping about feeling limited at the grocery store because a lot of items came needlessly packed in plastic.

Did it make sense that cauliflower was plastic wrapped when broccoli was not? It wasn’t as if we would wash one but not the other!

If it had to be, why not use paper or cardboard rather than something that would hang around for centuries, being an eyesore in or out of the landfill, polluting water, choking off fish and birds and eventually, turning oceans into cesspools with steaming mounds that one just might use to hop across?

If you think that impossible, consider the follow statistic. Anyone born earlier this century, has about 50% probability of contracting cancer during their lifetime.

The chemicals and industrial waste dumped into the seemingly pristine waters well into the 20th century, have something to do with it.

The waste returned in the water we used and drank and, in the fish, animals and vegetables consumed.

Effectively, our recent ancestors inadvertently poisoned us. Should we poison the generations who follow?

As I whinged, a listener interjected stating that she did not understand my irritability with plastic wrapped stuff.

She, on the other hand, disliked people who threw trash around the neighbourhood and tossed out used diapers instead of properly disposing of them.

That was it! It’s a matter of perspective. There are people who believe in climate change and those who do not. We must respect the difference of opinion.

However, it is safe to assume that the overwhelming majority would prefer not living in a neighbourhood with garbage strewn around.

A way to avoid that, would be to prevent the earth from turning into one big garbage dump.

So, when the ‘developed’ countries ship their “recyclable” waste to a ‘developing’ country where it is burnt off, the chemicals and toxins in the smoke pollute the air which is indifferent to national borders.

Those lowly plastic bags created for the sole purpose of carrying a few items (likely also in plastic) just once and for a few steps, are they worth creating ever growing garbage heaps that leave us flummoxed for a solution?

The price of the fuel we burn causing temperature rise, is paid in another continent suffering floods of biblical proportion, with enormous loss of homes, lives and livelihoods.

Like it or not, we all have something to do with that mountain in the landfill, spewing toxic fumes poisoning the boy climbing it and those living nearby.

If we do not take steps to protect this earth, we head to our destruction with our eyes wide open.

—The writer is an endovascular neurosurgeon practicing in US.