AT THE Asean Dialogue session during last week’s Pangkor Dialogue, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar did not mince words when he spoke about environmental degradation.
The Natural Resources and Environment Minister warned the audience of the dangers of mismanaging our natural resources. We have pristine jungles and forests that are the envy of many. Yet, there are those who wantonly destroy these precious assets in the name of development.
The minister believes strongly that it is impossible to carry out development without sustainability in mind.
The truth is, we are callous and disrespectful towards the environment. Development is taking its toll on our natural resources. Our jungles are new battlegrounds, with those who are concerned about the environment pitted against those who see nothing but ringgit and sen. More and more trees are being cleared for plantations and farms. Humans are encroaching into wildlife enclaves.
We are witnessing dramatic changes in weather patterns, even in Malaysia. It rains more than usual, its ferocity is disturbing, and flash floods have become the norm. We are right now experiencing a wet season that usually comes a few months later.
Look at what is happening the world over. Far from home, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and the US states of Texas, Florida and Louisiana. These are no ordinary hurricanes; they come with so much rain that many areas are inundated by water.
The US is not alone in dealing with massive floods. India and Bangladesh are reeling from one of the worst floods in years. This year’s floods have killed 1,000 people in India and 144 in Bangladesh. Many more casualties are expected before the year ends.
And we are all too familiar with the state of the ice at the poles. Global warming is already here.
There will be 8 billion humans by 2040 and by 2050, the world population will breach 9 billion. Imagine the resources to feed them. According to reports, there are 20 billion chickens, 1.5 billion cattle and 1 billion sheep competing with 7 billion humans for food today. We will need more of those animals in the future. And more land to be cleared for their food and ours.
For far too long, we have been taking the environment for granted. Developed nations are blaming developing nations for deforestation in the name of development. Developing nations are saying, “Who are you guys to call the kettle black?”
Rich nations are destroying the environment in many ways. We have the Montreal Protocol, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Accord, but with US President Donald Trump making it an election promise to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, things are not going to get any better. He even pledged “to get rid” of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
So far, he has made good on those promises. The US did withdraw from the Paris Accord.
Ironically, hardly three month later, Hurricane Harvey came and taught a lesson or two on how not to mess with Mother Nature. People in New Orleans are still recuperating from financial and psychological trauma after being hit by Hurricane Katrina some 12 years ago.
Now Houston, Texas, faced the full wrath of the Harvey. And sadly, the city experienced three major hurricanes over the last 50 years – Claudette in 1979, Allison in 2001 and now Harvey. Those are the so-labelled “500-year floods” that are supposed to happen twice in a millennium. The estimated property damage alone is believed to be approximately RM130bil.
It is not so much the ferocity of Harvey that attracts the attention of the world. Trump’s reaction is equally important, for it is his first major natural catastrophe as President. And the first one after his exit from the Paris Accord. Is he doing the right thing? Or does the withdrawal a death knell for the well-being of this planet?
Where do we go from here? We know the narratives well by now. The environment is not our problem; it’s someone else’s problem. In our case, it rests on Wan Junaidi’s ministry and its relevant agencies.
We will carry on destroying our jungles, polluting our rivers and clogging our drains. We will have to endure the repercussions of our actions. But worst, future generations will have to suffer more.
What is lost will never be recovered. It is time for the Government to stand firm against reckless plantations owners, developers and polluters. Enough is enough.
Wan Junaidi was right – advocacy is critical now more than ever. There is even a necessity to teach about environment in our schools and universities. It is better late than never.
Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. The views expressed here are entirely his own.