Children should be given encouragement to be articulate and forthright about things they treasure for the present and the future especially the environment, says Mustafa K Anuar.
Environmental degradation is taking place in our country at a pace where having a Greta Thunberg of our own might not be such a wild idea.
For the uninitiated, Thunberg is a Swedish schoolgirl who, at the age of 15, started protesting against climate change outside her nation’s parliament. This later turned into a worldwide phenomenon.
A sharp rebuke from young people in our midst may be needed to call out the complacent and irresponsible behaviour of some politicians, government officials, business people and ordinary Malaysians in relation to environmental protection and sustainable development.
After all, the future generation will have to reap what is sown by the adults of today.
That is why the recent remark by Penang Island City Council member Vino Dini Chandragason is deeply disappointing, especially when it has a patronising undertone.
She accused two civil groups – Klimate Action Utara Malaysia and Klima Action Malaysia – of making use of children in their public protest against climate change and forms of human intervention perceived to be detrimental to the environment.
She even called for action to be taken against them by invoking the Child Act 2001.
The groups replied that these children, who are Sungai Ara Tamil Primary School pupils, participated in the gathering with the permission of their parents and school principal.
To be clear, these are thinking kids who have environmental awareness, thanks to their far-sighted school. Like Thunberg, they, too, want to make a difference in society – and not to be merely obsessed with achieving many As in their academic performance.
To give an idea of how serious they are about sustainability, these pupils even put into practice nine of the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals at their school – which has an organic farm to boot.
Councillor Vino Dini should, instead, be proud of the fact that Penang is able to produce such young people, who have acquired some degree of social awareness and confidence.
They should be given encouragement to be articulate and forthright about things they treasure for the present and the future, especially in the current climate of the supposedly “new” Malaysia.
These children and their parents and teachers would have witnessed in recent times, and learnt a lesson from, the rampant destruction of Mother Nature – primarily driven by human greed. This, in turn, poses a grave danger to our very survival as human beings in the long run.
Take the toxic pollution in Johor’s Kim Kim River that affected the health of about 2,000 people. It also affected marine life, such as fish, which is part of the food chain that eventually reaches our dining table.
Take plastics. We have heard stories of plastics being imported and smuggled into Malaysia and – add to that domestic plastic waste – these will eventually pose a danger to the health of people living in the vicinity of landfills and recycling factories.
And not to mention the plastic bits strewn all over the place when grass-cutters throw away plastic blades after their work is done.
Then, there is the case of the Sungai Buloh Orang Asli whose water supply is being polluted by illegal quarry operators in forest reserves.
These are just a few examples that should remind us that this is not the kind of world that we, as adults, ought to bequeath to future generations.
Such environmental concern should be part of the conversation of young people, who cherish a safer, healthier and greener life.
They need to have a voice – and not one that is muffled – in order to dream of a better world.