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Rule of two and climate change

09 Sep 2020 / 02:41 H.

DO you remember the Double Six Crash on June 6, 1976 in Kota Kinabalu that killed then Sabah chief minister Tun Fuad Stephens, along with several state ministers and assemblymen? An official investigation revealed that the GAF Nomad aircraft was carrying goods above the maximum allowable load.

Since that day, Malaysian airport authorities have been stringently enforcing load compliance on every plane. However, there is one object in flight that is heavily overloaded with people. Its name is Earth. The planet will not crash but it may burn the human race to extinction.

The global human population is at 60% overload based on volume of consumption. Malaysia’s baggage weighs in at 77% overload, meaning that our consumption is hugely excessive. Greatly overpopulated at 32 million? Yes, it’s the rate at which our 32 million people consume the natural resources and ecological services available for human use.

An important concept in species survival is “carrying capacity”. How many individuals can the natural environment support? Every species has its own carrying capacity because it uses the environment in a way that may be different from other species.

However, all non-human species have an innate willingness to stay within their carrying capacities. They do this by following the rule of two. When each animal population gets near the limit of carrying capacity after a period of strong expansion, the rule of two kicks in with surviving newborns limited to two as replacement for parents. The population then stays the same at a level just below the limit of carrying capacity.

Humans are the only species to have broken the rule of two and the consequence is climate change that can be measured by several methods, one of which is the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In 1850, before climate change, the concentration was 290 parts per million (ppm) by volume. In 1950, it had risen to 320ppm. That was the year when scientists first detected climate change. We’ve had 70 years to stop it and we didn’t. Last year, the concentration reached 415ppm.

New Scientist weekly reported in May 2019 that climate change likely began in early 20th century as new studies have shown. Climate change is now well into its 100th year.

There are three choices open to Malaysians: Reduce consumption, reduce population, reduce forests. We have not reduced consumption or population growth. Instead we have chosen to reduce forests. Every state in Malaysia is cutting more trees than it plants, thereby exposing Malaysians to the possibility of a locally bred coronavirus hopping from jungle to town.

By chopping the forests, we are tragically reducing the biocapacity of Malaysia. Biocapacity is the sum total of all natural resources available to sustain human existence. Areas for calculation of biocapacity include cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, and forests that absorb carbon dioxide (CO2).

With more humans we produce more CO2, but with less forests the increasing volume of CO2 remaining in the air will trigger a climate catastrophe in the future.

We have to reduce consumption and stop population growth beyond the rule of two. We are doing neither. Instead, a renowned property consulting firm has suggested that Malaysians produce more babies to mop up the unsold properties scarring the urban horizon.

Contrast this suggestion with the campaign launched by the Egyptian government last year that “two is enough” aimed at curbing the tradition of having large families that is putting increasing pressure on scarce water resources and threatening Egypt’s survival.

Across the Straits, the Indonesian government has secured the cooperation of Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian religious leaders to help draft a set of modules on combating climate change. These modules will be incorporated into sermons in houses of worship to evoke mass participation in a national initiative to reduce CO2 emissions. Under this initiative, participating houses of worship will install solar panels to demonstrate interfaith cooperation to save humanity.

Back in Malaysia, as this column reported on Aug 25, we are more interested in seeing that the symbols of various religions are displayed one metre apart in conformance with physical distancing rules. Why are we so conservatively behind in the face of rapidly approaching climate devastation?

Last year, 11,258 scientists across 153 countries put their names behind a declaration that said: “Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

The declaration further stated: “Clearly and unequivocally planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.”

The scientists called on humanity to realign its priorities for alleviating climate change. Europe has teenager Greta Thunberg to rally a whole continent behind the scientists. Who do we have in Malaysia?

The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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