Ben Okri, a Nigeran Poet and Novelist, graced his presence at the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) and took us on visual journey through a story his mother told him.

She said; there is a frying pan filled with water. Now there is a frog that has leapt into this frying pan. He sits there, perfectly comfortable. There is a very small flame underneath, not strong enough to be noticeable to the frog. It alters the temperature of the water just enough, for the frog to acclimate. And so he never really notices that the temperature is increasing. The flame grows, ever so slowly, but he doesn’t feel it, and unbeknownst to him, he is cooked alive.

A metaphor perfectly suited to the political, as well as the quite literal, climate of today’s world. Earth is the frying pan, filled with water, and we are the frogs cooking in it.

This metaphor was then a perfect parallel at another session held at the LLF called ‘The Ground Beneath our feet – Coping with Climate Change’. Poorly organised, with technical difficulties, the session truly resonated with the lack of interest shown to this topic by the general public on a daily basis. Speakers included; Dr. Pervez Hassan a Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court of Pakistan - well known for drafting the Environmental Protection Ordinance for Pakistan in 1983 and a member of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Council; National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek, a journalist undertaking ‘Out of Eden Walk’; and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan Director General Hammad Naqi. The session was moderated by author of ‘Mountains to Mangroves’ and award winning environmental journalist, Rina Saeed Khan. A truly impressive panel was not given due appreciation when they were hardly audible in a small room with poor speaker facilities and a non-functioning projector, despite being relatively well attended by at least 25 people.

However, the key takeaways from this session were the insight that Paul and Khan offered through their journeys across land where they held dialogues with locals. Salopek shared that he had a conversation with a 90 year old farmer in Afghanistan’s mountainous regions standing amidst hip high grass. The farmer told Salopek in all his life he never saw such vegetation that was benefitting their lives. “What he didn’t know”, Paul said, “was that this vegetation was only thriving because of the melting water from nearby glaciers, which will soon cease to exist”. He also stated he spoke to locals in the communities of Pakistan’s mountainous regions, who he said depicted certain schizophrenia to new projects in the region associated with CPEC. They had an underlying unease, for things such as the establishment of a fibre optic cable in their region that was meant not for them but for someone far away. These people are used to pastoral, traditional lifestyles, and are suffering environmental injustices all for people and cities they will likely never see. He further stressed about the new gateways opening with infrastructure development in the areas, leading to an influx of at least 1.7 million domestic tourists into the northern regions. Are these areas really ready for this inflow of ecologically and environmentally unconscious visitors?

Rina spoke of and shared before and after visuals (once the projector started working) on the devastation caused by flash floods in areas like Chitral. She spoke of the fear the little children exuded, who cowered at the slightest sound of thunder - worrying they will have to experience another flood. She also however shared with us the successes of conservation projects such as those with the Indus River Dolphin and the mangrove systems near the coast. Clearly letting us know that all is not lost, we need only act.

On the other hand when asked about the WWF Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the KPK Billion Tree Tsunami campaign, Mr. Hammad failed to really answer the question. He proceeded to only use terms such as ‘reforestation and afforestation’ to an otherwise environmentally unaware audience to whom this has little meaning without explanation. He proceeded to state that the KPK government was not simply planting saplings but planting seeds. Due to the poor time management, there was no room for a Q&A session with the audience. We were left not knowing how this supposed ‘achievement’ is truly affecting our ecological system. Do we even know what trees are being planted and are they in line with each sensitive ecosystem of the Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Karakoram? There is great debate about which trees are being planted – some rumours claiming that 50% of the saplings are Eucalyptus which would certainly be catastrophic for an already water stressed nation. To take on a project of this magnitude, needs thorough scientific research.

It was Mr. Hassan who truly gave a rosier picture when he said the most likely body to make a difference on the environmental front is the judiciary. Mr. Hassan claimed that Executive implementation is zero and we should look to the Supreme Court for support. This has been made apparent with recent developments such as the two day Judicial Colloquium on Climate Justice held by the Lahore High court 26th-27th Feb. The newly appointed Lahore High Court Chief Justice Mr. Muhammad Yawar Ali seems to be an advocate for combatting climate change. All projects that are working on environmental projects need to immediately take advantage of these new developments and get the show on the road.

Pakistan is already a hard hit country experiencing heat waves, droughts, water scarcity, floods and hazardous urban smog. Dialogues such as this one at LLF sare all the more crucial and need greater attention, and bigger platforms. Kudos to the LLF for making a move, albeit they could have given it as much importance as the other sessions received.


The writer holds a Masters’ degree in Environmental Conservation from New York University.