Can Malaysia support relentless consumption?

Jun 11, 2011

By Tam Yeng Siang, Petaling Jaya. This article appeared in The Star


I REFER to the column by Chandran Nair titled “Can the Planet Support More Americas?”. It should have been more appropriately titled “Can the Planet Support Relentless Consumption?” It is a very sobering article which should grab the attention of Asian political leaders on that while it's politically desirable to push their respective countries to high income status, and middle class abundance, Mother Earth has been stretched over its regenerative capacity, and simply cannot cope.

Chandran cites the example “Estimates suggest that if China, India and other developing countries reach Western levels of car ownership, there could be three billion cars in the world, four times the current total, within four decades. Where will the fuel come from for these vehicles, and what about their environmental impact?” I would like to add how much carbon pollution will they produce?

Again, if China and India consume the same amount of energy per capita as the United States, can the planet survive the effects of carbon pollution, and environmental degradation? Will there be any glaciers left to provide the world of drinking water, or for that matter, will there be anything left of the Arctic Circle?

In the Malaysian context, there are many areas that the Federal and State Governments could look into. Are we serious about protecting what is remaining of our forest reserves and catchment areas, if the state governments continue to allow new and additional pristine forests to be harvested for their valuable hardwood? Do we allow core timber companies to continue to project increasing production of virgin forest logs year after year, without even considering a moratorium for such activity? Please note virgin forest reserves is a finite NON renewable resource.

Take for example the ban of the use of plastic bags in malls on a Saturday. Walk among the hyper-malls, the night markets and the food courts, etc and you will still find plastic bags being used like there's no tomorrow. At the rate they are being used, there WILL be no tomorrow.

The Government does not seem to be doing much to move away from inefficient industries, which largely survive on cheap labour. For immediate and short term political expediency, foreign workers arebrought in, from South and South-East Asian countries.

We may flourish economically in the short term, but we may also be importing' social and environmental problems not to mention the pressure the foreign workers will exert on our housing, energy, food and transport resources.

Assuming that a nation can survive based on the economics of infinite consumption growth in a world of finite resources is assuming that you have the goose that lays golden eggs. That's a fairy tale.

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