It has to start from multi-ethnic community leaders, reflecting a bottom-up approach to bringing about radical change, Ronald Benjamin writes.
Environment Day was celebrated worldwide on 5 June, and the sad reality is that in Malaysia we are still very much backward in protecting the environment. It is time for some reflection.
As a nation we have moved from a commodity-based economy to manufacturing, but we have failed over the years to strategically plan for a greener economy that will be sustainable for future generations.
Malaysia, previously ruled by the Barisan Nasional government over the decades, has embarked on industrialisation policies rooted in the neoliberal economics, executed extensively during the Mahathir years in the 1980s.
There were national car projects and privatisation of social services. These created a context where there was an accumulation of wealth without a sense of love for nature and the common good.
Jobs were created in many industries where the preservation of environment was not a major criterion. Large acres of forest were cleared for oil palm plantations contributing to greenhouse gases.
The concept of industrialisation was to get rich without much thought about its sustainability.
Instead of false pride over a national car, we should have created an efficient public transport system that would have brought down pollution in our cities and safeguarded the health and wellbeing of Malaysians.
While politicians and intellectuals take pride that Malaysia has created a strong middle class over the years, the question is, in what direction?
Was it based on a holistic understanding of creating a culture of love for nature and for society, which would love to experiment on various initiatives to protect the environment? The answer is clearly no.
What we see over the decades is a lot of littering by Malaysian consumers, who do not know how to distinguish between environmentally damaging and environmentally friendly material. The extensive use and disposal of plastics is an example of this.
We do not have a single leader in the Malay polity who has a vision of protecting the environment that covers politics, the economy, governance and policy, especially among government leaders.
The PH government was no better as it was made up politicians who prefer to work within the frame of neoliberal economics with improvements here and there.
According to BP research, Malaysia’s carbon dioxide emissions amounted to 250.3m tonnes in 2018, up from 241.6m tonnes in 2017. The main sources of the emissions were energy (electricity consumption), mobility (vehicles) and waste (municipal solid waste that ends up in landfills).
Malaysia has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 40% by the year 2020.
The government is duty bound to explain to the Malaysian public whether such a reduction has been made.
Currently, in the context of Covid-19, it has been a tough time for many business entities to reorganise themselves as the nation waits for the right timing to lift the movement control order. Business owners are ensuring operations are as lean as possible (to mitigate losses) by laying off workers and granting staff unpaid leave.
The question is, could there have been a better and sustainable alternative where the laying off and retrenching of workers is seen as a last resort?
It is obvious profit maximisation has been the main focus of business elites over the decades, instead of embarking on the sustainability of processes and operations by upgrading human capital skills and preserving the environment. For example, there should have been an initiative a decade ago to build the concept of sustainability – by ensuring sustainable profits and strategically planning to ensure operations ultimately become green and lean.
Embarking on energy-efficiency projects, green procurement, better management of water resources and digital technology would have saved substantial costs for business operations. The cost savings could have been used to survive the current economic crisis and to train or retrain workers for higher-value jobs.
It is obvious there has been a systemic failure by Malaysian political and business leaders over the decades to chart economic progress that would have been sustainable for future generation.
Malaysia needs a green revolution that should be helmed by the young. We need strong labour-linked environmental base movements and political parties to bring about significant cultural change on how Malaysians should view the environment. It has to start from multi-ethnic community leaders, reflecting a bottom-up approach to bringing about radical change.
I would like the young to take up this challenge to bring about a green revolution in Malaysia that would help preserve the environment for future generations.
We should learn from the Scandinavian countries which have made remarkable progress in making their economy green.