Our political soul has no feel for the burning earth

pollutionRonald 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 call 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 social economic goodies for minority groups, who will be considered as a vital constituent component that will determine the outcome of the elections.

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

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

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

For example the hill top development issues in Penang and bauxite mining in Pahang has 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 of politicians on 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 implication of climate change in Malaysia has not been seriously debated or addressed in Parliament, in the media or in town hall gatherings that would translate into effective policies.

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

The surface mean temperature increase is around 0.14 degrees Celsius to 0.25 degrees Celsius 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 0.56 degrees Celsius to 1.0 degree celsius 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 of private vehicles in Malaysia that uses unrenewable fossil fuels that emit carbon, and corresponding deforestation over the years that 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 has great implications on the health and well-being of Malaysians.

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

BN and 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.

A citizen who closes his or her eye to extreme heat, toxic chemicals, the erosion of soil, pollution of rivers and the levelling of mountains cannot be regarded as the true sons and daughters of the land. Rhetoric on ethno-religious identity and supremacy alone will not qualify one to be the sons and daughters of a nation. One has 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.

Ronald Benjamin is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.