Viewpoints

Contradictheory

Published: Sunday December 21, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday December 21, 2014 MYT 9:52:02 AM

The winds of change

The sea waters will rise, regardless of who is in charge in Putrajaya. The environment will turn against us, whatever our beliefs or our skin colour.

“A PERSON has already been born who will die due to catastrophic failure of the planet.”

(Pause.)

“Okay, can you expand on that?”

In writing and on the screen (big or small), a hook is a short, sharp moment that grabs a reader’s or viewer’s attention. It is usually shocking and surprising, and compels the audience to want to learn more.

The exchange quoted above is from an episode of the American television drama series The Newsroom. A news anchor (played by Jeff Daniels) is interviewing an analyst from the Office of Environmental Information about global warming and climate change. Though usually a dry topic, this fictional treatment is full of drama.

As an introduction, a voiceover reports that there are now 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, higher than at any time in human history. When the expert is asked to comment, his response is the quote above.

Those in the producer’s booth suddenly go silent as they digest what has just been said. Global warming will be the cause of death of somebody who is growing up somewhere at this moment.

The news anchor attempts to put a positive spin on things, but the expert goes on to explain how the climate will change, how this will significantly affect much of the planet’s population and – worst of all – how we continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere despite knowing all this. The scene ends with the expert concluding that despite our best efforts, he has no idea how we can solve this problem.

At least we can take comfort from the fact that it’s a work of fiction. Except that it isn’t.

People have fact-checked the key points made in this episode, and it seems to all hold up.

The concentration of carbon dioxide passed the 400 ppm threshold in May 2013. In half a century, the Earth will be anywhere between 2°C to 4°C warmer. This is higher than the 2°C threshold that many scientists have placed as the “safe” limit.

The impact of this will be significant. Rising sea waters will cause mass migrations from the coast inland, with significant impact on agriculture, and consequently, food production. Along with this, there is expected to be a greater shortage of fresh water, more wildfires, and more extreme weather.

And all this will happen within our children’s lifetime.

The even more amazing thing is that the facts presented here are not new or surprising.

Scientists have been publicising this evidence for a long time now.

But it takes somebody to shout it from the rooftops in a very deliberate way for people to sit up and listen. I think it may have something to do with how the human brain doesn’t see gradual changes but reacts strongly to large, dramatic gestures.

We need a jolt to wake us up.

It’s a little like the letter written by those now known as “25 prominent Malays”. (For the purposes of full disclosure, I must note here that I know some of these people personally, but did not know about the letter until it appeared in the newspapers.)

In it, they express their dismay “over the continuing unresolved disputes on the position and application of Islamic laws in this country”. However, they recognise that these are “difficult matters to address, given the extreme politicisation of race and religion in this country”.

The attention it has generated is large even though the points made are common knowledge already. But it took a group to give those facts the limelight before there was a concerted reaction to the idea that the politicisation of Islam may be detrimental to the development of Malaysia.

This group isn’t without its critics. Datuk Ibrahim Ali, the president of Malay rights NGO Perkasa, said, “Malay liberals have now replaced those who want to destroy Islam”.

Former Information Minister and Utusan Malaysia chief editor Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin wrote in his blog (tinyurl.com/q49azdm) that, “The 25 Malays should be careful that they do not become a tool for The Star (newspaper) and their hidden agenda”. (To be fair, he also seems aware that it is ironic to warn a group that it is being used politically by enemies of Islam, when that group itself is warning that Islam is being used as a political tool.)

But, putting aside the debate on whether there needs to be a debate, a better understanding of the issues at hand would benefit all. Informed discussion is a good way of doing this. Having inclusive policymaking is another. This letter should not be a clarion call to hitch yourself to one bandwagon or another, but to better educate yourself about the issues at hand, and to work together to forge a way forward.

For these retirees to come out so drastically indicates how bad they think the situation is. But my fear is that some quarters don’t want peace as a conclusion.

Like those who profit from war, they need a battleground to show their value as leaders, and bullets are neverending. They could be labelled “pluralism” or “talibanism”, or “sedition”, as long as they hurt when fired. There is no lack of issues to divide and occupy us.

But the time and energy we invest in dismantling issues between us should instead be used to tackle the larger problems facing us. The sea waters will rise, regardless of who is in charge in Putrajaya. The environment will turn against us, whatever our beliefs or our skin colour. Our time in this world is temporary, we must live it in the most positive way possible – which cannot be by fighting among ourselves.

Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions. Speak to him at star2@thestar.com.my.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQ9_2K2_z3A

Tags / Keywords: Contradictheory, column, climate change, climate change deniers

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