IN just the past six months, the media has highlighted many controversial issues pertaining to the environment. These include the bauxite mining fiasco, pollution and depletion of water level in Sungai Pahang due to deforestation and agricultural activities, ammonia contamination in Sungai Johor and, most recently, garbage dumping into rivers like Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang.
No doubt these cases of environmental degradation are just the tip of the iceberg as our quest for progress and development will naturally involve exploiting our natural resources. In our pursuit of material wealth, concern for nature, it seems, has to take the back seat.
But does it have to be this way? Do we have to stop development in order to truly preserve our environment? Even some pro-environment groups cannot deny that development is important. If this is the case, is our environment doomed in our march for progress?
Malaysia has undergone rapid development in the past 60 years, which actually isn’t a long time when it comes to the age of a country.
Anyway, in those 60 years, Malaysia has managed to construct buildings that are among the tallest in the world, Kuala Lumpur has developed into a global city, and the number of engineers, doctors, lawyers, professors and other professionals has increased tremendously. Indeed, much has been achieved in such a short span of time.
Along the way, though, have we ever reflected on what this sheer pace of development has done to the make-up of society or on how we interact with the environment?
Such questions may seem philosophical but they have real bearing on environmental and developmental sustainability. Perhaps while we were engrossed with economic development, we put aside our sense of civic responsibility. Otherwise people wouldn’t throw garbage into rivers, businesses wouldn’t pollute the first chance they get (when the authorities are not looking), and public roads, vehicles and homes wouldn’t be covered with red dust and people wouldn’t be waiting for somebody to do something! There would be a sense of collective responsibility for the greater good or at least to do what is right.
Ironically, while environmental awareness is at an all-time high now, affirmative action is at an all-time low.
The point is, environmental preservation and sustainability is as much a matter of good morals and ethics as it is control and regulations. Even if there were good legislation and governance, loopholes are bound to exist and these can be exploited.
This is what we are seeing today. There are too many cases where pollution originates from legally-sanctioned premises when the authorities are not looking.
For example, it is an open secret that some premises discharge waste when it rains (the effluents become diluted or are masked by the stormwater), at night or on weekends when the authorities are off duty. It is disturbing that preservation of the environment is being reduced to a game of cat and mouse.
Does someone really need to watch over you for you to be ethical? Come on, show a bit of class. Wealth can be attained but class is innate.
Inculcating the awareness that pollution is wrong and environmental destruction loathsome must start at an early age. Steps have to be taken to accomplish a first class mentality in tandem with the development we’ve achieved.
DR ZAKI ZAINUDIN