By ANG LAI SOON
Earth Day, which is observed on April 22, is claimed to be celebrated by more than a billion people throughout the world.
It describes itself as a day of action that changes human behaviour and provokes policy changes. Yet the ravages of climate change due to human activity are becoming more apparent day by day.
Those of more mature years have had sufficient life experience to see this happening.
Last year the aim was to end plastic pollution. Our country claims to be one of the first countries in Southeast Asia to take bold action on plastic pollution by aiming to single-use plastic by 2030.
It was reported a few weeks ago that a dead sperm whale found on a Sardinian beach had 22kg of plastic in its stomach certainly makes one wonder what condition marine life will be in by then, if there is not a real world-wide attempt now to stop plastic being dumped in the ocean and a real world-wide attempt now to try to clear most of the plastic already in the world’s oceans.
Can we, the public of Malaysia, not demand that we try to become a world leader in this? Or are we a mere onlooker, all too busy dealing with our everyday lives?
Protect our species – the theme of Earth Day 2019 – is even more directly relevant to Malaysia, as over 50 years ago an American marine biologist wrote, “The unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides to name a few”.
As individuals, most of us do not have an influential voice on our country’s and the world’s stage. But as individuals we can try to ensure our own activities and lifestyle do not add to the reduction of plant and wildlife populations in any way. Simple things like taking care that we dispose of all waste responsibly, not just dumping it, whatever it may be, from a simple drinking straw and cigarette end to a used car tyre, an old car, an old refrigerator, and so on and so forth.
Only recently many of our brothers and sisters in Pasir Gudang in the Sultanate of Johore were taken ill due to toxic fumes caused by chemical pollution brought about by some highly irresponsible businessmen.
And this was followed by the serious oil slick in the same Sultanate. The black oil was found on beaches, and posing a threat to the marine ecosystem and tourism.
It is estimated that rehabilitation efforts would take not less than half a year.
It is heartening to note that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has come out in full support of protecting and preserving the environment. He said that Malaysia would not be successful as a developed nation if it did not balance physical development with the preservation of nature and maintaining the existing environment.
It was very encouraging to hear that Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg was quoted by Bernama recently that “the state is doing its level best to contribute to preservation of the environment. Sarawak is a small state but it has its obligation in its role to preserve the environment. We make sure that 80 per cent of our land mass must be covered by primary and secondary forests”.
For this to be a reality, appropriate laws must be amended or enacted, and strict enforcement to follow.
People must be educated to care for the environment. Not only all institutions of learning playing their part, the most influential mass media can play a key role in this exercise. Warm tribute must be paid to the Fourth Estate for its contribution for disseminating information and thus educating the people.
It is our hope that our lawmakers are those who recognise and are willing and able to act on what could well be the life saver of life as we know it on this earth, control over and elimination where necessary of human activities detrimental to flora and fauna, the atmosphere, the land and the oceans.
Our future generations deserve nothing less.
Datuk Seri Ang Lai Soon is St John Ambulance Sarawak chairman and commander. He is a philanthropist and social worker.