Eagle Eggs, the Amazon and Normalcy of Weather Extremes

By Ahsen Jillani

Back in the glorious summers of the carefree 1970s, my cousins and I would walk the vast gardens of my grandmother's estate in Sahiwal, 100 miles south of Lahore, in central Pakistan, kicking up dust with our bored feet at the peak of the hot, dry afternoons, waiting for that magical time when the chiks, cane curtains that blocked the sun, would be rolled back up, the sizzling brick courtyard would be sprinkled with cool hand pump water, and the adults would finally rise from slumber like sleepy bears off the padded wooden platform, the tukht, as servants spread out a large tablecloth in preparation for evening tea.

Occasionally during those parched afternoons, an adult, cringing at the oppressive heat, would implore us to come inside during this time when the cheel, an eagle, laid its egg. Legend had it that the cheel did that only in the peak of summer heat. I sometimes searched the majestic trees and once even saw that eagle's nest, perched above the leaf line of the shesham, a native hardwood tree; I wondered why it didn't nest in the shade—and I wondered why it would lay an egg during the brutal mid-afternoon.

The temps were really just 90-95 degrees during those summer days of my childhood. Lahore in recent years is consistently at 110-120 degrees and the misery seems to extend from March into late September now. I remember reading in trivia books in the 1970s that Death Valley, CA, had the world record for heat at 126. Now, that is just another summer day in, well, Paris, France.

America Looked Forward

While America stands alone, due to mysterious right wing opinions in denying climate change, weather extremes are becoming the new reality for generations that have never known milder climates. And actually, the political agenda maybe isn't a complete mystery after all. Slave labor, child labor, indentured servitude, chemical filled rivers, and asthma-inducing air pollution were always the domain of rich business owners who opened their purse-strings only for the right caliber of politicians who would do their bidding locally and federally. The difference for a few generations might have been that America looked forward, and seemed to have a sincere desire to protect the will of the voters who theoretically could change the course of government.

In 2016, the voters did just that—of course, as the Mueller Report now acknowledges, with the help of President Putin (and a little help from an antiquated Electoral College system). There's no point crying over spilt coal ash now. The corporate argument has always been since the plantation days that millions will lose their jobs if government tightens environmental regulations and enforces too many labor laws. America voted to pollute, just so long as the enormous “colored people problem" was solved. America voted to pollute, because heck, you can't Make America Great Again if China and India and other developing giants continue to pollute on the way to massive wealth.

I have read often and with alarm over decades that if just the Amazon rainforest continues to deplete at the stunning and exponential rate that it is being stripped presently, all life on this planet may be wiped out in a handful of decades. We are now at the cusp of total annihilation as a species—along with the millions of other living beings that we share the earth with. The cynical approach is, of course, heck nothing is happening today, or tomorrow, so all this is fake news and we need to calm down and create jobs by cutting down another million trees. No dead trees, no jobs, after all.

Embarrassing and shameful as the U.S. position on climate change is, we must consider an important economic and societal factor in the politics of global warming. Who is it hurting today?

How Much Worse the Mosquitoes

Yes, very occasionally, climate change even stings us couch potatoes. I spent last weekend building a storage shed in my back yard. The 95 degree temps and 90 percent humidity were so grueling that I literally set the house A/C at 64 degrees, and worked outside for 10 minutes, and ran inside for another 15 to recover from the heat. This continued for 7-8 hours both days. While cutting wood, hammering, moving pieces to the foundation and assembling, I thought about a million things. I thought about the trees. I thought about the chemicals the wood was dipped in.

I thought about how much worse the mosquitoes had become over the years as the planet heated up by a few degrees every year. But above all, I thought about how most of the planet could survive this brutal heat while working outside doing physical labor; how people could survive without gallons of Gatorade, coolers of ice, straw hats, fans, bug sprays—how they could then go home to no electricity and no water to shower, and lie down in bed when it was still over 100 degrees at 2 o'clock in the morning.

Just two days after my shed project, I was sitting in my car, A/C running, eating my sub sandwich, and watching 7-8 men working on a street project in front of me. They were all Hispanic. One guy kept wiping his face by raising his shirt up. He seemed to be about 60, about my age. “You get used to it," someone told me later when I related how tough the heat was. Over the years, I had seen plenty of donkeys and horses dead on the melting streets of Pakistan. Even decades later I remember a man beating his dead horse, still hitched to a carriage turned sideways.

“You get used to it."

You get used to Hispanics digging ditches while the rest of us are lounging in front of TVs and ordering stuff on Amazon. You get used to old men carrying bricks in 120 degree summers. You get used to people standing at hot burners making street food. You get used to farmers tilling fields when the cheel is about to lay its egg. You get used to kicking dust while a servant is boiling water for evening tea on a wood stove sitting in direct sunlight.

There are two planets. One is air conditioned and you have an electrolyte filled drink in one hand and the cell phone in the other, and you have gotten used to it. The other is where most of humanity lives and where climate change has happened.

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Ahsen Jillani a former editor and publisher, is originally from Islamabad, Pakistan, and now lives in Mint Hill. He owns Must Media, a PR company focusing on both political and corporate clients.