Look beyond hazy skies

  • Letters
  • Friday, 20 Sep 2019

THERE is no doubt that the haze is terrible and exacts a deadly toll on our health, well-being, economy and education. But the haze is merely a small symptom of the much bigger problem: the climate emergency.

Prompted by multiple failures to change the status quo over 25 years, we previously proposed that Malaysia take legal action against Indonesia in the International Court of Justice for a declaratory judgment of a legally binding commitment to prevent any future fires in Indonesia, using the symbolic figure of RM1.

Such action comes packaged with continual fire-fighting aid to Indonesia, legal action in Malay-sian courts against Malaysian companies guilty of any pollution anywhere in the world, and partnerships between civil societies of both countries to find cross-boundary solutions to cross-boundary problems.

We are grateful for and acknowledge responses from various lawyers that our proposal is legally unworkable. We believe our lawyer friends are sincere, not anti-solutionist or obstructionist. In response, we ask for a joint and constructive effort with lawyers from all countries involved to find a legal means of fighting the haze, especially in light of repeated past failures.

The proposed lawsuit is our stand as Malaysia asking for new, bold and imaginative legal solutions. It is crucial to deploy the law in our fight against the haze, alongside political, economic, scientific and behavioural measures. We need as wide a set of options as possible.

If our current decades-old laws don’t or won’t permit us to act effectively, then let’s propose new and better laws instead of merely stating that our hands are tied.

Secondly, the bigger picture. South-East Asia’s annual haze crisis goes deeper than just open burning. There’s the economics angle (cheaper to burn fields than to clear mechanically), the “tragedy of the capitalist commons” angle (plantation owners can escape the haze holidaying in Europe while ordinary workers and citizens suffer at home), and the “failure of nation states” angle (where one country’s problems affect another, and neither can solve them alone).

Therefore, we can’t only focus on the lawsuit as a magic solution; it’s only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle. We must have the uncomfortable discussions and implement the difficult solutions for these three other angles.

However, when we compare the annual haze crisis with the climate emergency, the haze is really only child’s play: a few fires burning in a neighbouring country. The climate emergency is infinitely more complex, with infinitely more variables, actors and vested interests.

Frankly, if we fix the haze problem, we only graduate to the next-level problem of the climate emergency, where all three aforementioned angles still intersect and where we’ll need even bolder legal infrastructure. Let’s not imagine that the haze is the be-all and end-all.

Today’s world has few truly important problems that exist narrowly within the borders of any one single country. Whether we understand, acknowledge, like or even accept it, our world today is one big planetary commons, and problems affecting the commons cannot be solved by any single country either.

Apart from the severe human rights problems – poverty, hunger, disease, inequality and discrimination – the other major challenge the world faces is the climate emergency, and with it comes a severe threat of extinction for our species.

Human rights and the climate emergency are, therefore, the two grand problems to which the solutions require the very best of humanity’s talents, ambitions, energies and sense of mission.

If two “bangsa serumpun” neighbours like Malaysia and Indonesia with otherwise good relations cannot come together to fix a “small” problem like the haze, what hope is there for a humanity of eight billion people in 195 countries to fix the gigantic issues of climate change, refugees or global inequality? These are not zero-sum games where one country can win only if another one loses.

In facing the current haze, indeed, we have never felt closer to our Indonesian brothers and sisters, breathing the same air as we are. So you see, there are no enemies in our species-wide struggle for our own survival. The only zero-sum game is where all of humanity dies if we don’t all play to win together. The real enemy is our extinction.

To beat the enemy, we first have to beat selfishness, greed and apathy everywhere. A successful fight against Asean’s annual haze crisis must employ new and innovative legal solutions alongside political, economic, technological, scientific and behavioural solutions.

This fight can then provide early lessons necessary to solve the grand problem of our age: the climate emergency.

Let’s get started, Malaysia and Indonesia, Malaysians and Indonesians. If we can successfully come together to tackle the haze issue, we will have plenty to teach the rest of the world.

From tomorrow till Sept 27, we have a special chance to do something: The world will see an unprecedented “strike” by children, youths and others bringing attention to the climate emergency that threatens to engulf all of humanity.

It shouldn’t take children to ask adults to fix the problems that adults created in the first place. Find out more, dear Malaysians, come on board, get informed, and make a difference. This is the right fight.




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