A hazy solution to a hazy situation


Kuo Yong Kooi 

Let us just connect the dots here by asking some questions. Assuming there is a law enacted to prosecute the companies involved in causing the current fires in Indonesia, will the haze problem stop in the future? Another big picture question is why is there a haze problem in big cities like Beijing even though they do not have the problem of forest fires?

Yes the open burning in Indonesia is directly causing the haze problem at the moment, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many issues here that needs to be factored into the haze equation.

Fact one is that we are rampantly clearing the precious lungs of the earth which is the rainforest and substituting it with mono crop palm oil plantations. The second factor is we are obsessed with the western “capitalistic” perpetual growth industrial development model which continuously substitutes old rainforest land with new and fancy industrial or housing estates. This is a global phenomenon.

We need to shift our paradigm away from “the current development model” to be able to resolve this problem. Anything shorter than that is a band aid hazy solution. What is the point of having the latest model of whatever you want consumption goods when you are not able to go outside to enjoy the basic quality of life?

A shift of paradigm or world view happens throughout human history all the time. Take for example during the pre colonial period, many of our grandparents’ generation believed that there are spirits living in the trees. You can still see remnants of that belief nowadays where people give offerings like joss sticks to please the spirits of the big tree. People would bow and even ask for protection, usually health and safety but sometimes lottery numbers from the big tree spirits. Fast forward to the post colonial period when development is slowly taking off where chainsaws and bulldozers were plentiful. People just bulldoze everything to build big housing or industrial estates. The old belief of the tree spirits has dropped off. The advent of technological advancement has shifted the paradigm so to speak.

Today a new paradigm is needed to solve the present ecological crises like air and water pollution. Soil erosion, flash floods, overuse of chemicals in our agriculture, loss of biodiversity in rainforest and oceans, hard waste/rubbish land fills, global warming and many other environmental problems that presents itself to us now cannot be solved using the old paradigm of unlimited economic growth. That shift of paradigm might not necessarily mean that we have to go back to live in caves. It would mean that we need to take the environment as our main concern in whatever we do. We keep the trees because we appreciate that it gives oxygen to us, shade and life to all other creatures that live on it. It does not mean that we have to go back to the old practice of bowing to the big trees, but probably hugging it instead.

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng in a June 21st press statement said that DAP will be proposing an amendment to the Environmental Quality Act via an urgent motion in parliament next week.

He sees the urgent need for Malaysia to take action against any Malaysian companies and foreign companies operating in Malaysia that contributed directly or indirectly in the transboundary fires in Indonesia.

Enacting stringent environmental laws is a way to go to stamp out the current problem. Unfortunately the solutions put forth are only temporary band aid solutions. Cloud seeding is one of those technological fixes that can give us temporary relief. These are old paradigm solutions suggested to a new problem that need a new way of thinking. In fact the two solutions suggested gave the public the illusion that some companies somewhere and some politicians will come out with the solution to the problem, all we need to do is to go on as usual on highway “Wawasan 2020”.

Let’s go along with the “hazy” technological fixes and enactment of new stringent environmental laws at the moment as I know that if I suggest something more radical, someone might accuse me of being a communist. Mind you there are many other non communistic ideologies around like Ghandian’s “Village Republic”, “Deep and Social” ecology, Schumarcher’s “small is beautiful”, or our local Kampung version of “Kais Pagi Makan Pagi”.

Most would argue that we can’t possibly turn back the clock. Let’s look at possible solutions to the current crises. Think with the big picture in mind. Knowing that the haze is here to stay annually and even if the problem is solved it will re-emerge as we expand our city’s boundaries in the near future. Many metropolises in Asia do have a different level of haze/pollution problem. Its just that the haze from Indonesia is hazing over the haze from our locally produced one at the moment.

What about adopting the idea of sustainable development seriously from now on? Factoring the “quality of life” and environmental impact into the equation in all of our new development projects. The economic factor is the only factor considered globally at the moment for many decades and it led us to a dead end. That’s why the climate change crisis and global warming is the priority on the global agenda. 

Adopting immediate measures to combat air quality issues like moratorium of all logging activities on our remaining rainforest land in the country, no more big scale development project on hills, reclaiming unused land and convert it into parklands especially in the city areas, increase use of public transport in all the capital cities, create a bicycle friendly city and a host of other sustainable development measures that are started to be adopted globally. Enact laws to include putting trees in between the parking bays of all big shopping mall car parks. A serious re greening the city project is required.

Redesigning new housing estates with “quality of life”, environmental and national reconciliation concerns in mind.

Here is another cutting-three-carrots-with-one-knife type solution. Since we need to tackle the quality of life and environmental issues anyway, we might as well look at other problems that need urgent address and factor that in as well. 

State governments can enact laws to make it compulsory for new estate developers to allocate green spaces for residents in the area to have leisure activities. Draw a line on let’s say in every 40 acres of a housing or industrial development project we need, to have a 10 acres of park reserve. In other words, no more clear felling of the 40 acres of proposed housing development projects as before. The previous clear felling practice has been attributed to flash flooding, land slides and soil erosion.

The gazetted 10 acres public land has got some influence on the micro climate of that housing estate. There are solid science data to proof this point. If you believe in micro and macro economics, then try to extend that to micro and macro climate and environment.

The fact that by expanding the city boundaries through industrial and housing estate developments, we are creating more micro climate hot spots in the surrounding areas. The micro climate hot spots created from clear tree felling, the pollution from transportation and industries and the haze gave us a “triple whammy” impact at the moment on our health and well being.

In redesigning our housing and industrial estates with an ecological and social conscientiousness, we are adopting a more sustainable model of development. In other words, it’s ok if we do not have economic growth year in year out. Can you see how difficult it is for any government in this planet to survive in an election if there is an economic stagnation?

We might as well add in the first home buyer’s race quota into the equation so that we are tackling the race relation issues as well. Create community centers in the gazetted “green zones” where community can organise their group activities including allocation of small plots of land for organic farming activities for the residents. The living in an eco friendly housing estate and sharing of a common community activity space will help facilitate the national reconciliation project. This is to counter the colonial period “new village” structure that shafted in a single race in an area.

The health and well being of our children can improve if there are green zones available for them to hang out and play especially in the city areas. At the moment, the younger generation are all trapped in their homes doing un healthy activities like playing computer games and watch TV. They have to be driven somewhere else for activities and that can contribute to more pollution.

Children are also suffering a whole heap of health issues like diabetes and obesity due to lack of activities. This “green zone” is an ideal antidote to alleviate the potential epidemic health and well being issue of our young.

We can’t afford to follow the Singapore’s structural development model as it is a mental health trap. Statistical fact has shown us that Singapore is one of the suicide capitals of the world. We have the space where Singapore do not have. Why do KL have to follow Singapore’s style of development plans?

Since we have extra time indoors due to the haze and the planet’s library in on our fingertips, start googling and look at the big picture. Look into topics like increase ocean’s acidity and expanding ocean desert, expanding land desert, rainforest are lungs of the earth, coral bleaching, drift net fishing, Al Gore’s inconvenience truth, development to death, chemicals in our food chain, haze in Beijing and other cities, loss of biodiversity, and it will give you a bigger picture to the haze problem.

A paradigm shift is overdue as we are in a new century. If we tackle the problem with our old paradigm, the problem will still be there. The solutions mentioned above is just a temporary stop gap solution. We are just delaying our planet’s catastrophe of climate change where many scientists predicted will be in this century. In other words, the party is over, the question is are we willing to stop and change direction on highway “Wawasan 2020”?