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SUSTAINABLE MALAYSIA Words by Gan Pet Ling WHEN 1 WAS YOUNG, my dad would tell my sis. ter and me stories about his carefree childhood in Malacea during the *60s: how he climbed rambu- tan trees crawling with red ants; stole watermel- ‘ons and was chased by farm dogs; eaughe spide from bushes and fish from clean river streams. It ‘was a childhood I wished I had, but never di, Growing up in the Klang Valley, the closest 1 could get to nature in my daily life was when our parents took us to parks. P've alvays been fasci- nated with nature, and love observing animals and plants. As achild, I always felt troubled listening to stories about Malaysia's disappearing rainforests, tigers, orang-utans and corals, While I was in uni versity, I began volunteering with the Malaysian Nature Society and the now defunct Malaysisn Youth Climate Justice Network But U've always felt uncomfortable with some greenies who think of humans as a virus that's destroying our ecosystems. Is it true that humans car't live in harmony with nature? Doesn't ever cone depend on the environment for ar, food, water and shelter? Afterall, even our attire, smartphones and cars are made from materials extracted from nature, So isn't it in our best interests to make sure we live sustainably? It's precisely this realisation that our society must operate within ecological limits that prompt ed governments worldwide to come together to promote “sustainable development” at the Earth Summit in 1992, Fast-forward to 2014, and ernments and corporations worldwide are now clamouring to promote “green growth”. That's just “green-washing”, some of the more cynical enyironmentalists will say. Nothing has changed. We're still logging our rainforests for timber and to plant oil palm (Fig. 1. We're building more and ‘more highways, buying more cars, and generating ever higher carbon emissions. Nobody really cares about minding his or her ecological footprint. “Malaysia has industrialised and urbanised rap- idly since 1963. We're now an upper-middle-in- come economy. But is development all about indus trialisation, urbanisation and economic growth? What about growth in our moral, spiritual, political and cultural spheres? What about becoming. kind- er, more egalitarian society? How are we treating foreign workers, refugees, low-income groups and indigenous people? Can we become “developed” while being oblivious to the plight of the downtrod- den in society? These are the hard questions that we need to ask ourselves as a nation. What are the things about Malaysia that we want our children te be proud of? A nation obsessed with material wealth, divided across ethnic and religious lines, of endless traffic jams and annual haze? ‘We admire great ancient civilisations not just for their economic wealth, but also for their en- lightening philosophies, timeless literature and art, and fascinating cultures and histories. As an ethnically diverse society and one of 12 biodiver- sity “hot spots” in the world, our collective histo ries, cultures and natural heritages are the envy of other nations. Yet, we've neglected our rich cul tural, historical and natural legacies in our blind ursit for material wealth, It’s about time we pause and take stock of the state of our country’s development more holisti~ cally, The government remains trapped in an out- dated development model that's obsessed with economic growth and the GDP, even though it's a poor measure of citizens’ well-being, social equal- ity and environmental sustainability Sustainable development isn't just about car- ing for nature; it’s also about caring for our fellow human beings, regardless of socio-economic sta tus, gender, rice, ethnicity, nationality, and so on, That's why we should care about the fate of the low-income families erammed into ill-maintained flats in our cities, and the Orang Asli and Orang Asal living in remote villages without access to clean water (Fig. 21 electricity and telecommuni- cations. Many of them have become poor because they've been exploited, We need to give them their say in our country’s development. Every Malaysian citizen has the right to have a say in our country’s development because we all Ihave a stake in this nation, Politicians and civil se fants shouldn't be surprised when local residents become enraged when they approve large-scale development projects without public consultation, stich as the Lynas rare earth refinery in Pahang or the Kidex highway in Selangor. Dismissing grouses by simply labelling them as demonstrative of “wor 1N sty OWN mackvann” syndrome is akin to accus- ing chem of being selfish without having to address. their concerns. Governments ean no longer assume they know what's "good! for the people. The top-down devel: ‘opment model is outdated. They need to listen to the people. The road to sustainable development isn’t going to be easy. We'll fight over how much forest should be conserved: how best to preserve ‘our rivers and our oceans; how to make our cities and our towns more eco-friendly; when we should stop burning fossil fuel; whether we should adopt nuclear power, and more, But that's okay, because democracy is messy. We need to get these important conversations ‘going in the media, schools, universities and pub> lie forums. Our country’s fate is too important to be left in the hands of an elite few—politicians, civil servants, economists, lawyers, businessmen— ‘many of whom have lost touch with ordinary peo ple and their struggles. ‘What's your vision of a sustainable Malaysia? Can children roam freely in the streets, the parks and the forests in that world? Are people kinder and happier? We need to dig deep and ask ou selves what are the things that make our lives meaningful and worth living: is it love, truth, hon- ‘our and justice? Everything else that we've created for that pursuit—money, technology, science, laws, ‘economies, politiesare just tools. Our society should never become enslaved to them. ‘The 2008 political tsunami brought renewed hope to Malaysians. More people are talking about politics, joining political parties or NGOs, forming their own movements like Himpunan Hijau, or starting eco-friendly social enterprises to champion causes close to their heart. The road to building a sustainable and just Malaysia will be along and bumpy one, but I believe i'll be worth- while in the end. ‘Are you in? 2Afomiy of rong al tka Cotes ao he ake