Blissfully Unconcerned or Just Plain Naïve?
My wife and I recently drove up to George Town, all the way from Petaling Jaya, to attend a forum titled, ‘Penang At The Climate Crossroads’. It was a timely, informative and interesting event co-hosted by Areca Books, a leading niche publisher in Malaysia and the Penang Institute.
The Penang Institute was founded in 1997 and it was initially known by another name. After a rebranding exercise, it is now known to key stakeholders and others as the Penang Institute. It has established itself as one of the country’s leading think tanks. It is funded by the Penang State Government.
Serving as an Intellectual Hub
Its principal aim is to secure Penang’s reputation as an intellectual hub. Another equally important aim is to serve as the cultural capital of Malaysia. As many are already aware, George Town’s attractive street food has already rocketed the city, state and country to worldwide fame and acclaim.
Relatively Indifferent to Global Warming
Incidents of climate change related disasters and issues connected with global warming have been reported with increasing frequency for a number of years. In addition, Malaysia is a signatory to the Paris Agreement.
But what in reality is happening here on the ground at the individual level, at the city level, at the state level and also nationwide?
According to a Merdeka Centre Survey carried out in December 2016, 81% of the respondents seemed unconcerned! Now that is something to be really concerned about.
Lip Service as Opposed to Real Action
Governments throughout the world are often seemingly ready to act on this matter on paper only, often give the right sort of speeches but are much too slow and tied to vested commercial interests to take immediate and concrete steps to address this worrying phenomenon.
Even one leading superpower, in a show of petulance and total disregard for the facts associated with climate change, recently opted out of the Paris Accord!
Are we too, here in Malaysia, going to fiddle around and act in a nonchalant manner while Rome burns? Failure to act sensibly and in a timely manner as well as with great resolve brings with it dire consequences for our children, grandchildren and mankind in general.
Asia and the World at Climate Crossroads
As Gurmit Singh, the author of ‘Memoirs of a Malaysian Eco-Activist‘ stated quite vehemently at the forum, it is not just Penang that is at the Climate Crossroads – Malaysia, Asia and the world are also at the Climate Crossroads. Gurmit is a pioneering Malaysian environmentalist and human rights activist.
Gurmit founded two NGOs – EPSM and CETDEM – and represented Malaysia at various international environmental seminars, conferences and forums for many years. He was conferred the Langkawi Environmental Award in 1993.
Sombre Scenarios Presented
Another speaker at the forum, Dr Kam Suan Pheng, who holds a doctorate from Cornell University, has been an academic at Universiti Sains Malaysia as well as a scientist at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and the WorldFish Centre.
In her presentation, she outlined three sombre scenarios. There is a general consensus that these are as follows: Virtually Certain to Happen; Very Likely to Happen; and Likely to Happen.
She touched in passing on diminishing snow, ice and permafrost. As far as Coastal and Ocean events are concerned, she mentioned the rise in sea levels; storms and tidal surges and ocean acidification.
Two Pathways Await Us
A third panellist, Clare Westwood, holds an MBA. Clare has extensive experience in the areas of food, agriculture, biosafety, food sovereignty and climate change resilience mainly through working with NGOs serving poor rural communities across Asia. She too shared her thoughts on this topic.
We could choose to adopt a Life and Hope approach and in that sensible spirit act with a greater sense of purpose and immediacy.
In her presentation, Clare gave actual examples of the feedback she received from these rural respondents all over Asia to this important matter. While they may not have had much schooling in life, they understand the grim realities of living through these regular climatic disasters.
Clare reminded the audience that there are actually two stark Future Pathways awaiting us. The world is in a climatic crisis and we had better believe it.
We could choose to adopt a Life and Hope approach and in that sensible spirit act with a greater sense of purpose and immediacy. Alternatively, we could choose to disregard the reality and the seriousness of the situation and act with the sense that there is only Death and Destruction that awaits us from our folly and foolishness.
Book Launch by Dato Dr. Anwar Fazal
Prior to the forum, the audience heard Dato Dr. Anwar Fazal introduce Gurmit Singh in glowing terms. He also lauded Gurmit’s vast contribution, as a concerned citizen, to the growing environmental awareness issues in Malaysia. The guest speaker also mentioned that for all his efforts Gurmit was often referred to as a ‘thorn in the flesh’ of the government.
Dato Dr. Anwar Fazal himself has been an outstanding consumer awareness advocate and he once headed the International Organisation of Consumer Unions ( IOCU ) which has its world headquarters in Penang. Dato Dr. Anwar is also the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award.
Dato Dr. Anwar then took the opportunity to launch Gurmit’s book, ‘Memoirs of a Malaysian Eco-Activist’ and remarked that he hoped many would buy and read the book. The book is published by Areca Books of Penang.
You Can Depend On The Brand
On a different note, I cannot end this sharing without giving my faithful steed a well- deserved plug. At the start of this article, I mentioned that we drove up to Penang and then back again to Petaling Jaya. This was a round trip that covered about 1000 km in all, including driving about town in both Ipoh and George Town.
I enjoyed the drive in my reliable, well built and sturdy 16-year old Toyota Camry 2.2. It is an exceptionally well-maintained vehicle that has attractive alloy wheels shod with low profile radial tyres. It gave us a wonderfully safe and comfortable drive. It is also the car we use for our out-station driving adventures from time to time. Only when you can depend on the brand, does one undertake these driving expeditions.
There are also three other options that we could have chosen. We could have made the journey to Penang by bus, by KTM’s Electric Train Service ( ETS) or by air.
We have heard many good reports about the ETS. The journey by bus, however, is fraught with danger because many of the drivers are sometimes not as professional as they should be. I have witnessed many bus drivers driving erratically and speeding recklessly. Since we did not have any time constraints, we chose to drive at a leisurely pace and made sure we stopped for comfort breaks along the way. We look forward to yet another driving adventure in the not too distant future.