Guided by personal ethics of ‘do more good’, Yuet Mee Ho-Nambiar has a long involvement with sustainability and community building activities. Belief in the oneness of humanity and the nobility of man underpins her interest in matters relating to unity and social cohesion of communities, while her background in a finance-related profession focuses her interest to the area of inclusive economics and development.
This Decade will define the destiny of Humanity
By Yuet Mee Ho-Nambiar
Until recently, humanity’s relationship with nature was one of respect and harmonious co-existence. We took from nature only what we needed for our survival and left what we didn’t. Even the generation of our grandparents and parents reused and recycled resources judiciously. My grandmother used her knitted jute bag for all her shopping and she would harp on us to use water and electricity sparingly. Used newspapers were upcycled in numerous ways – vegetables sold wrapped in newspapers, groceries brought home in newspaper bags, vegetables stored in the fridge wrapped in newspapers.
During the latter half of the 20th century, due to a multitude of reasons, humanity lost our way. Our demands morphed and multiplied. We wanted more and we wanted them fast. Market forces of supply and demand fuelled the gratification processes, accelerating the consumption of resources. The increase in global population inevitably added further pressures. Our relationship with the habitat we live in became exploitative – we cut forests without hesitation, we fish mercilessly, we mine incessantly, and we produce unrelentingly (including unimaginable types of single use items) to meet our insatiable demands. Socially, inequities between segments of populations in Malaysia exacerbated. Recently, the Prime Minister commented that the income groups referred to as Bottom 40% (B40) might have expanded to B50. In short, the human enterprise has been exploiting the planet for short term financial returns for a small group of people. The science on this is clear – we have now cumulatively brought humanity to an extremely vulnerable state existentially.
While acknowledging covid’s huge cost in lives and jobs, perhaps the health pandemic is the wake-up call humanity needed. Covid humbled us and forced us to reckon with ourselves, and to face the consequences of our irresponsible actions. Covid provided us the pause we needed to allow us time to reflect about the unsustainable relationship we have with each other and with our habitat. We simply cannot go on as usual as we are on the trajectory to burn down our one and only habitat – very very soon.
While Covid is also showing us that, with collective will, humanity has the resilience to tackle this health challenge to humanity with masks and vaccination, science is telling us that the environmental crisis ahead of us is much larger in scope and scale, more complex in interdependencies, and much harder to deal with. As we rebuild from the fallout caused by Covid, we owe it to ourselves to use this unique opportunity to transform and restore our relationships with nature and with each other in the way it had always intended to be.
Fortunately, in recent months and weeks in Malaysia, we are hearing more elevated conversations around the climate crisis. Whether the topic is set out as themes of conferences or seminars, or pronouncements by bodies of ministries and regulators, or noble purpose statements by businesses, or nature positive activities of social enterprises, or campaigns by grassroot communities, or mentioned over the media, there appears to be a start of an eco-awakening in Malaysia. These conversations are becoming more mainstream among business and institutional communities and will inevitably lead to actions being institutionalised and operationalised for more sustainable goods and services. This awareness and change will cascade to the stakeholders along the value chains and have a multiplier effect to many, including bringing about sustainable lifestyle changes in grassroot communities.
As we re-form our policies, re-direct resource flows, and re-align practices, it is crucial that our efforts be guided by a vision of the type of relationships we wish to have with each other and with nature, and be animated by a set of universal values to support that vision.
The nature of relationships and connections, and the power dynamics between individuals and organisations need to change from what is prevailing today. We need to shift the power dynamics at play, identifying where people are connected or disconnected from others. We need to shift our mindset to one which is less of dominance and competition, to one which is more nurturing, inclusive, and collaborative if we wish to make real progress on the numerous critical and complex social and environmental problems humanity is facing now in our increasingly interdependent world of polarised interests and accelerating disparities.
We must also realise that we are trustees or stewards of the planet’s resources and biological diversity. This attitude of stewardship must compel humanity to temper our actions with moderation and humility, realising that the true value of nature cannot be expressed in economic terms. We need to quickly re-learn to make use of the earth’s scarce resources in a manner that ensures sustainability and equity into the distant reaches of time.
Such shifts of perspectives need to be deeply embedded in our thinking and habits to ensure we have the desired long-term results. As Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”
With such conversations reverberating in many spaces, we can expect to see soon, the establishment of a more enabling environment through policies, legislative frameworks, and financing and investment structures to establish the rights and assets of all stakeholders (individuals as well as public and private sector organisations and companies, women as well as men, the poor as well as the better off). This will provide a nurturing environment to encourage collaboration partnerships between private and public enterprises for the innovation of nature-positive and science-led sustainable pathways solutions. We can hope to begin to hear soon that more Malaysian companies are guided by social purpose to serve a broader range of interests beyond maximising shareholder returns. Some Malaysian business leaders are already beginning to manage for impact, not just for profits, and advocate that commercial success is aligned with broader societal concerns. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, we will measure our well-being and impact of humanity to planet as indicators of progress, replacing gross domestic consumption numbers.
At this critical point in history of humanity, much work needs to be done by the end of this decade, and we are but taking the 1st step of the journey of a thousand miles. Let us capitalise on the momentum that has been built. Our awareness of this crisis has never been greater and we have the technology and the resources. What we need is our collective will. There has never been a better time than now to begin to safeguard our future.
The views expressed here are that of the writer’s and not necessarily that of Weekly Echo’s.