Our political soul has no feel for the burning earth

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Deforestation in Malaysian Borneo - Photograph: Rhett Butler/mongabay.com.

In the run-up to the general election, why hasn’t Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Harapan broached the issue of the erosion of our environment, wonders Ronald Benjamin.

The general election could be called anytime, and politicians are already on the ground canvassing directly or indirectly for votes.

As usual Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians will portray the ruling coalition as a vehicle of stability. The strong ringgit, GDP growth and a complex mix or paradox of ethnic unity and supremacy will be propagated, and there will be calls for national unity. It will depend on the ethnic composition of the crowd the BN politicians are engaging.

The opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) will be focusing on the 1MDB scandal, general corruption, the high cost of living, and the erosion of civil liberties.

Both BN and PH will consider highlighting socio-economic goodies for minority groups, who will be considered as a vital constituent component that will determine the outcome of the election.

In the context of elections, there is a critical national issue that has merely been given lip service or been totally ignored: the erosion of our environment.

The question is, why has this element of safeguarding the environment not been seen as a vital necessity by politicians from both sides of the political divide when it comes to the general election?

If at all there has been, it has been in the manner of scoring partisan political points within a state – which exposes hypocrisy rather that political conviction and honest engagement on environmental issues at the national level.

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For example the hill-top development issues in Penang and bauxite mining in Pahang have not created national consciousness on the environment that would have propelled the government to come up with a broader national policy on clean air, rising temperatures and sustainable economic development.

The reason that these issues have never taken national prominence is due to the ignorance among politicians of the gravity of the issue as well as the lack of ethno-religious emotions or material goodies that they can attach to the issue.

To date the implications of climate change in Malaysia have not been seriously debated or addressed in Parliament, in the media or in town hall gatherings that could have translated to effective policies.

The environmental situation in Malaysia is serious. According to a media report on March 2016, from 1970 to 2013, the trend has been a increase in temperature in Malaysia.

The mean surface temperature increase is around 0.14C-0.25C per decade according to the report coordinated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

This indeed is a significant jump in temperature as it implies a rise of 0.56C-1.0C in just four decades.

There are various complex causes for rising temperatures such as the El Nino effect, but there is also an internal contributing factor such as the increase in the number of private vehicles in Malaysia that use non-renewable fossil fuels, which emit carbon, and deforestation over the years, which has reduced the forest cover that absorbs carbon.

It is no surprise that the heat we are experiencing is due to carbon emissions where gas traps heat in the air, causing rising temperatures that have great implications for the health and wellbeing of Malaysians.

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To date, temperatures and its implication have not been measured in relation to the health and wellbeing of Malaysians. There has been no single study on the possible deaths of Malaysians due to heat and pollution in the country.

The BN and the PH are equally guilty for not working together on environmental issues. The most practical thing to do is work out a bipartisan vision and plan for usage of renewable energy in the long term.

It is time policymakers and intellectuals wake up to the reality of climate change without being hypocritical by picking and choosing issues on the basis of political expediency.

Citizens who closes their eyes to extreme heat, toxic chemicals, the erosion of soil, pollution of rivers and the levelling of mountains cannot be regarded as true sons and daughters of the land. Rhetoric on ethno-religious identity and supremacy alone will not qualify us to be sons and daughters of a nation.

We need to have a spiritual connection to the natural environment rather then put on a superficial ethno-religious identity. The political soul in Malaysia has no real feel of the burning earth. It is unfortunate indeed for a country that is seeking developed nation status.

Source: FMT News

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