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Political Planet – Journal – DAWN.COM


IN 2019, the journal Science Advances published a study on the state of glaciers around the world. This study found that glaciers in the Himalayan mountain range are melting much faster than at the end of the last century. Current losses at Siachen and other glaciers reveal they have lost a vertical foot and a half of ice since 2000 – a statistic that warns of a future of drought as those in South Asia face shrinking water supply to major waterways.

The melting of glaciers and the rise of seas, everyone knows (or should know) propels us towards an environmental catastrophe which in turn produces a human catastrophe.

The heat wave currently hitting South Asia is an iteration of the environmental cataclysm. For days, Jacobabad in Sindh remained among the hottest places on earth. Dozens of people have died across the subcontinent from the ravages of heat exhaustion and dehydration. They are the victims of climate change killed simply because humans had misconceptions about global warming or failed to pay attention when such a scenario was predicted.

Since their existence on Earth, humans have consumed the planet’s resources and, in recent decades, have released too much carbon dioxide into the planet’s atmosphere. Even now, growing economies like India and China are uninterested in committing to reducing carbon emissions for fear it will stunt the growth of their economies.

The fact that climate catastrophe does not respect national borders is proving to be a problem.

At the same time, it is precisely this phenomenon of environmental degradation that reveals how far old ways of understanding the nation-state as the primary political unit are failing. The Treaty of Westphalia signed in 1648 gave birth to the nation-state as the main political unit in the world. “Kingdoms” and “empires” gave way to countries organized around borders. Living inside or even traveling through them required documents, a very new concept. Ancient travelers like Ibn-i-Battuta never had to worry about passports and visas like all travelers now have to. But at the time of the treaty, it was about new ideas, including the fact that governance by the people would replace the system of monarchies held together for hundreds of years. It is very likely that just as we cannot envision a world without the nation-state, our ancestors also scoffed at the idea that there would be countries that were not ruled by kings and their courts. .

New systems appear when the old ones are not enough or because their shortcomings make them redundant. In our current situation, the fact that climate catastrophe does not respect national borders is proving to be a problem. When farmers in Indian Punjab burn straw stubble on their fields, smog settles over Lahore and produces days of air quality so low that even seeing a few feet away is very difficult. Nor is it smog alone, as many experts have pointed out. Pakistan’s status as a lower riparian vis-à-vis India also creates a security problem, serving as the sword of Damocles hanging over our collective heads. If the last few weeks have revealed the hell that climate change can be, imagine it multiplying many times over as rivers dry up permanently and drought becomes a regularity.

The nation-state model also fails because its outdated mechanisms are incapable of dealing with climate change fairly or equitably. Take for example the fact that Pakistan emits less carbon dioxide than most countries. Either way, no concessions are ever made for Pakistan to receive more resources to deal with climate challenges that it has contributed little to produce.

It follows, then, that one of the most important challenges of our time does not sit well with the nation-state model. Advances in studying ice cores from melting glaciers mean humans can now look at their planetary history stretching back thousands of years. The emergence and popularization of earth sciences such as geology and geophysics and others means that a large amount of data has been converted into numbers that can be put into predictive statistical models and reveal the future. Humans could barely predict the weather when the Treaty of Westphalia was signed; they can now predict weather and climate disasters with great accuracy. It is precisely this type of technology that has enabled humans to truly understand the depth of the climate catastrophe facing the planet.

Even though wars such as the one in Ukraine seem to emphasize the importance of the nation-state, and the construction of fortress-like border walls suggests as literal a meaning as possible of the nation-state, it may well be let this be the last gasp of the nation-state. Environmentalists point to the planet becoming a political unit such that its borders and general well-being become the basis for global cooperation. Simply put, the millennial-scale assessment of time made possible by scientific advances and supercomputers highlights the need for new political unities that focus on the interconnectedness of everyone and everything on the planet. The Covid-19 pandemic is arguably also the product of rising temperatures. He stressed that countries have yet to come up with a collective response.

The shift from nation-state to planetary cooperation is inevitable. The long-term vision of our planet, evidenced by ice cores from glaciers, revealed what the earth was like long before humans even. The planet is warming, habitats are disappearing, and environmental catastrophe is being courted and flirted with at every opportunity. The nation-state model of political organization has not produced the means to contain the greatest threat facing our planet. It might be time to consider a new one.

The author is a lawyer who teaches constitutional law and political philosophy.

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Posted in Dawn, May 18, 2022