A lesson in sustainability

15 Oct 2018 / 08:55 H.

    THE announcement made by the Housing and Local Government Ministry recently is something to celebrate. Zuraida Kamaruddin said the government will embrace waste to energy (WTE) technology nationwide, aiming for a plant in every state within two years.
    The details of such an undertaking are still being discussed, but Zuraida said contractors were aplenty in offering their services.
    With the announcement, I do hope we are looking at more projects to create a sustainable country in terms of energy generation. However, not everyone shares the same thought process. Case in point, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal still insists on powering the state with coal due to its low cost of generating energy.
    He's not wrong – green energy in Malaysia in all forms has still not matured to the point of costs decreasing exponentially in order for it to be a viable alternative. It is a fact that our country is powered by coal energy to the tune of 53% of our total supply.
    Gone are the days when those of us born in the 1980s had to memorise hydroelectric dam names in our primary school's 'Alam Dan Manusia' subject to show that it was the highest supplier of our needs – it now supplies a mere 5%.
    Moving forward though, we do need to monitor the performance of WTEs, and also consider other developments in sustainable technology and development throughout the country. A case in point, implementing solar panels and rainwater collectors on government housing projects.
    Selangor state had already done this right before the general election, teaming up with the Sustainable Energy Development Authority to place solar panels on state-sponsored affordable housing.
    It should be a set standard for all affordable and low cost housing projects in the future because a feed-in-tariff returned to the poor would also lower their expenditure on energy while also allowing the government to continue developing sustainable energy infrastructure in urban and suburban settings.
    It's a situation where a little counts for a lot, especially if we can move Malaysia to reduce solid waste and recycle or upcycle it to become other products.
    For example, if we could open up allotment plots and encourage low cost housing projects to even provide compost, which can be used for their own planting, it encourages a level of self-sustainability.
    However, we do need to address the elephant in the room – transport. Regardless of any level of society, there is a need to encourage people to take public transport. For those encouraging the 'Look East' model, Japan reduces the use of cars by making it mandatory for driving schools to have two months of classes, costing roughly US$4,000 (RM16,000 roughly) a month. Thus, most just decide to take to the train.
    Of course, I am not suggesting we do the same. Instead, what Malaysia should do is to improve the public transport network, make it affordable (unlike Japan), and move towards making it reliable and trustworthy enough for people to make it an option. We are nowhere near this scenario.
    In a recent forum, economist Joseph Stiglitz said that Malaysia needed to introduce new taxes.
    I would fully support it, especially with the insanity we have of someone wanting to launch yet another national car company when we cannot have clear skies during rush hour, even without our annual haze.
    We need to reduce vehicle emissions and to do that it would mean enforcing stricter rules on cars and even heavy vehicles. Let us be frank, we dropped the ball when it came to enforcing vehicle maintenance standards on trucks and buses.
    That needs to change, perhaps even be automated in the same vein as the Automated Enforcement System, which will soon be enforced nationwide.
    On top of all this, we do need to mention the dinosaur in the room – we are a nation of litterbugs. Let us face the obvious truth that even if we get peeved off over the smoker throwing a cigarette butt on the floor, we are also guilty of the logical fallacy of printing an ATM receipt only to throw it out minutes later after reading information that was already printed on the screen moments ago.
    We are equally guilty of being the forgetful nancy who forgot their reusable cup when going to a Starbucks, to the point it has become a piece of décor on a shelf. We are also the ones who decide leaving garbage on a table after eating is acceptable in IKEA because they have cleaners now, rather than keep to the old style of cleaning our own tables.
    But most of all, we need a cultural shift to move people to think about conserving, recycling and sustainability, even about how their little efforts in doing so lead to a big win.
    In short, the biggest challenge in Malaysia's quest for sustainability is to make people care about it.
    Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com


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