As ecological problems mount, listen to voices of the young

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Given the mess adults have created, youths may have better ideas on how to build a sustainable and happier world, says Mustafa K Anuar.

The importance of safeguarding the environment could not have been stressed more in recent weeks.

Reports emerged about imports of plastic waste, legal or otherwise, polluted rivers and idle rare earth waste at Lynas in Pahang – all of which raised deep concern among Malaysians.

The use of plastics in particular has become so overwhelming in our daily life that there are already moves domestically and internationally to reduce single-use plastics. For Malaysia to be known as the world’s dumping ground for plastic waste is a reputation we can do without.

Some of these damaging environmental incidents are often the result of an irresponsible and lackadaisical attitude among some civil servants, business people and ordinary Malaysians. These incidents have an impact in varying degrees on the health and general wellbeing of ordinary Malaysians.

Such environmental issues have also raised a red flag on food security.

Leaked effluents from chemical or plastics recycling factories, for instance, have a serious impact on vegetables and fruit grown in the vicinity.

Similarly, polluted rivers and coastlines will poison marine life such as the fish and prawns that end up on our dining tables.

Our domestic food supply will dry up over time if little is done to tackle land, air and water pollution.

Meanwhile, unregulated logging and deforestation will hit the Orang Asli hard. These communities are actually custodians of the environment. Often, they find themselves fighting against rampant logging, which destroys their livelihoods, their lifestyles, their culture – and degrades Mother Nature.

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That’s not all. Intrusion from so-called modernisation projects eg the construction of highways and other forms of human intervention disturbs animal life. These animals then become vulnerable to predatory poachers and end up as endangered species.

The impact of all this adds up, contributing to climate change and ecological degradation.

It was thus heartening and refreshing to see young people, inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, taking up the cudgel and mobilising in a worldwide campaign to tackle climate change. They are demanding that adults in positions of power behave more responsibly towards the environment, which will be inherited by future generations.

Certainly, environmental degradation is not a legacy that the adults of today should bequeath to the young.

In this regard, we applaud and commend the relentless efforts of the Sungai Ara Tamil Primary School for having raised environmental consciousness among its pupils. The school is an excellent model for other schools in the country to emulate – rather than being turned into an easy and unnecessary target of vilification in political circles.

Environmental awareness in Malaysia can be traced back to the pioneering work of the late consumer advocate SM Mohamed Idris, who founded and helmed the Consumers’ Association of Penang, Sahabat Alam Malaysia and Third World Network for a long time.

Idris and his colleagues helped to raise awareness especially among schoolchildren about the rights of consumers. Not only that, he warned of the dangers of a consumerist culture and a development model that prioritises profits over people while wreaking havoc on the environment and in ordinary people’s lives.

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To say all this is not being anti-development; what we are really seeking is sustainable development.

Perhaps it is time we lent our ears to the young ones who may have better ideas on how to build a sustainable, peaceful and happier world.

Mustafa K Anuar
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
19 June 2019
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