January 5th, 2007 by Hafiz Noor Shams
It is nearly three years since I wrote in ReMag that Malaysia needs a green spark if we are to see environmental issues sitting on top of the Malaysian priority list. After so many false sparks, the spark might have come in form of a huge disaster that had hit Johor and the Peninsular Malaysia in general several weeks ago. It is unfortunate that it takes something a horrendous disaster to strike us for us to act on the matter but we all need a remainder to wake us up sooner or later.
For the past few days, major Malaysian dailies have been placing the term “climate change” and its variants on their front page more than once. It seems to me that the highlights on climate change cuts through the language barrier — or at least, the barrier between the Malay and the English dailies. I am unsure if the Chinese, Indian or any other dailies in Malaysia are reporting on the same issue.
There are several examples to back this up. One is an article from The Star:
KUALA LUMPUR: The global climate change has prompted the Government to study its effects on the country to better prepare for possible disasters.
Another is from the New Straits Times:
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis said the Cabinet had directed his ministry to conduct a study on climate change and how it affected Malaysia.
The ministry will hire local and foreign experts to conduct the study which will offer medium and long-term scenarios, in view of the changing global weather patterns.
The first study will be submitted within this month to the National Disaster Management and Relief Committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Dear sir, once that study is completed, please make it public.
Also, as blogged earlier, Utusan Malaysia:
The disaster comes as a blessing in disguise to the greens. It is a political victory and staged by mother nature herself. This victory must be used by all greens to force actions on climate change in order to save the environment, so to speak, within Malaysian context.
Politically speaking, if Malaysia had a coherent environmental movement the way the United States has, the movement would have pounced almost immediately on the issue, further capitalizing the issue. Alas, Malaysia does not have a coherent green movement to play up this issue and influence Malaysian public policy greatly.
Once, I was driving down to Florida from Michigan to escape the gruel winter Michigan is famous for with friends. Along the highway in Florida on our way to Orlando and later Miami, there were large billboards warning Americans and others alike of the danger of climate change, of the ever increasing storm strength, as is claimed in several scientific papers. In the aftermath of Katrina, we all saw on the greens played the issue well enough to obtain the desired effect of political support among Americans. In fact, the investigation on link between global warming and storm strength was brought to public sphere because of Katrina.
It is during this kind of time of disaster when greens could throw scientific appeals out of the window and apply emotional and consequential appeals instead. Both are logical fallicies but sadly, it is almost a fact that scientific appeal, the science does not impress on the masses too much. As disgusting as it might be, it takes logical fallacies instead of pure reasoning to move the masses and directly, the state. This might be the factor that contributes to our reactive attitude whereas we need proactive policies to the environment.
The fact that the government is concerned of the effect of climate change and by proxy, climate change itself however is a development for all greens to celebrate. It is a political point that is ever so precious in a society that places priority on matters that do not matter to our well being.
What important though is not a study or another set of ineffective greenwashing policies. If the government wants to conduct a study, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report is due for release this February. Most that the government might need might be available in that report.
What important instead is the will to make our home a better place to leave in instead. We must be proactive as far as the issue of climate change — we could for instance introduce carbon trading and encourage ASEAN to do so same thing. Each moment of inaction will make the impeding adverse changes the more unbearable for us.
For me, the first step towards such end is economics: the internalization of all negative environmental externalities. The initiation of carbon trading as those in the United States and the European Union might be part of that internalization. Or, more radically, the green tax shift — application of full cost accounting, Pigovian tax, etc.