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Jufri Salim & Surayah Akbar
It was hazy when we reached the capital of Malaysia but, fortunately, the situation had improved somewhat. On our ride to Malacca to attend a climate change workshop organised by the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), we passed by acres of palm oil plantations. Malaysia is definitely rich in resources but our agenda for this conference was not about economic growth but how we, as a global community, can mitigate the risks of climate change.
The haze enveloping Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore was, of course, a top issue. Much of the discussion centred around the actions of corporations involved in the palm oil industry and other land agricultural projects. The peatland and forest fires ignited by the heat and dry conditions as well as deliberate actions on the part of corporations clearing the land for development came under particular scrutiny.
Participants agreed that governments must not allow corporations to get away easily if they are found to be the culprits behind the burning of the forests. We spoke about our Government’s Transboundary Haze Pollution proposal to enable regional authorities to take criminal and civil action against corporations and entities responsible for the fires in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Other concerns regarding the impact of climate change such as deforestation, wasteful conumption of energy, and the pollution of ecosystems and water were also discussed. Take for example, consumption of water. We ofte think of water use as in our daily activities like drinking and washing. What we don’t see is the large quantities of clean water used in manufacturing. The making of one car will need over 80,000 gallons (300,000 litres) of water while 10 litres of water is required to refine just 3.8 litres of gasoline. The construction and manufacturing industries also use much water. We may not see and feel the ecological impact of our consumption but the toll that it is taking on nature is very real.
Energy consumption was also a hot topic. We seldom think of how we are damaging the environment when we use electricity but the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal, causes huge effects on earth.
The mining of coal, for instance, causes large cavities in the earth’s crust. When the coal deposits are depleted the mines are abandoned and water fills them up. The remnants of the coal coming into contact with water produces sulfuric acid which can pollute the aurrounding streams and rivers thus reducing sources of clean water while poisoning fishes with high-levels of mercury. And when we burn coal for our energy needs, we also produce atmospheric pollution and greenhouse emissions that are the cause of climate change.
Over the years, new and more environmental-friendly methods to produce energy have been created. Popular ones such as wind-powered turbines and solar-panels are widely used globally nowadays. Malaysia has even started a few plants producing energy from solar panels to distribute to local towns. We may have to pay slightly more for solar power but the resultant reduction of pollution is priceless.
The war between consumption and conservation is proving to be lopsided, and Earth is losing. We must do more here in Southeast Asia, and in Singapore, to right the balance.
Singapore, although heavily modernized, has some few remaining corals, mangroves, and tiny acres of forest whose biodiversity are worth preserving. This is why the Young Democrats of SDP voiced our concern with the government’s plan to evict long-time residents of Pulau Ubin in order to develop a resort on the island. There is also the tragic move to remove Bukit Brown to construct an expressway.
It was recently reported that the Singapore Heritage Society is calling for heritage and environment-impact assessments to be done. But these studies needs to cover more than just buildings and societal life, it needs to include nature conservation plans for the island.
Countries must adopt strong measures to better protect the environment. People should be educated on the very real threat of climate change on our lives. Climate change and conservation is not a big issue in Singapore but it should be. The environment our children live in will depend on the action that we take to protect it today. Only then can we be regarded as a nation of clear moral values.
Jufri Salim is a member of the SDP’s Central Executive Committee. He is also the party’s Organising Secretary. Surayah Akbar is a member of the Women Democrats.