An integrated policy that addresses the impact of the rising number of vehicles on air quality is required, says Ronald Benjamin.
Every morning, when I send my wife to her workplace from our residence at Lim Gardens to Jelapang, I use the shortest route through Kampong Manjoi.
This road is full of cars driven by those wanting to avoid the traffic lights along the main road. The route is used by motorists heading to nearby schools, government offices and factories.
As I go through the emotional inconvenience of being slowed down along a congested road, I realise that it is not just about my inconvenience but the impact of all those vehicles on air quality and global warming. After all, the majority of Malaysians are dependent on petroleum products for their cars, which emit carbon.
Obviously, a poor transit network in the country has contributed to a desire among Malaysians to own private cars, resulting in road congestion and increased greenhouse gases detrimental to human health and wellbeing.
According to BBC’s Asia Edition Knowledge, besides carbon emissions, air pollution related to high temperature combustion in the air – produced by cars and planes – creates nitrogen oxides that react with other gases to form even more noxious gases. Human lung tissues are damaged in the long run through these processes. According to researchers of this magazine, air pollution is responsible for one in eight deaths around the world.
When I was a kid, there were few vehicles on the road in Ipoh. Public transport was efficient, and families travelled by bus around Ipoh. Buses ran until midnight. We seemed more environmentally friendly a generation ago, when there was more use of public transport than there is now.
Today, roads are widened to cater for an increasing number of vehicles. Roadside trees are seen as obstacles and are chopped down indiscriminately.
The hallmark of a developed nation is not about how many Malaysians own cars, but how sustainable the environment is for future generations.
The pertinent question is, what is the impact of noxious gases in the air on the health of Malaysians? Politicians and the media have paid little attention to the impact of air pollution on the health of the people.
The 2014 automotive policy states the use of energy-efficient cars in its objectives, but details as to how this objective can be met are lacking apart from rhetorical statements. The current automotive policy is basically crafted for business growth and to empower automotive entrepreneurs within the bumiputra community – with minimal concern for the environment.
There is a dire need to tackle rising air pollution in the government’s automotive policies. The blind acceptance of neoliberal policies that feed into the greed of global and domestic automobile industry players, along with the lukewarm attitude and ignorance of anything concerning the environment, is an existential threat that needs our serious attention.
For a start, there should be a strategic green initiative to reduce the number of cars on the road. This should come with a value-added nation-wide public transport masterplan that addresses environmental concerns. Though the increasing number of vehicles on the road is not the only cause of air polution, an integrated policy that addresses the impact of all these vehicles on air quality is required.
An innovative solution capitalising on technology should be the way forward. A sense of urgency is vital to protect Malaysians from pollution-related health hazards whose impact could last for generations.