When saving the planet with “green projects” but chopping the trees, mining the earth dry on the other hand makes no environmental sense

June 5th was the United Nations proclaimed World Environment Day. The day is annually celebrated with many public, private organisations and individuals all over the world with genuine pledges and actions towards protecting the environment, greening the lands and stopping the degradation of ecosystems.

This year was no different. Many governments reiterated their commitment to meet the UN sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement to fight global warming and keep temperature change below 2 degrees. More fundings for green projects and change towards green projects were promised. Non-governmental organisations particularly continued to raise their efforts in the sustainable development, be it planting more trees, conserving endangered species or educating the young on the need to protect and adopt a sustainable lifestyle.

Certainly, these were commendable and noble pledges. But looking deeper and beyond the proclamations, one cannot but help wonder if some of the “green efforts” are really to green the planet or just some green washing to cover the wider damages that are to be inflicted on Mother Earth. Take for instance a country that pledges to plant millions of trees, and then signs deals a few days before Environment Day to finance the development of dams that would bring some damnation to its ecosystems. The tree planting is to restore damages done earlier, but what about the new damages that are about to be inflicted? Scientists have clearly spelt out the irrevocable damages flooding of large areas will bring.

In Malaysia, NGOs continued to report on achievements made in the areas of educating the public and getting the younger ones involved in conservation, although the ongoing restrictions on crowd movement understandably saw reduced activities in the areas.

The Minister of Environment also announced that Malaysia had launched its Strategic Plan 2020-2030: Environmental Sustainability in Malaysia in conjunction with the Environment Day. Except that the plan was launched a year ago. This was of course cleared later by a more attentive ministry staff who said that the plan has been reviewed and can be viewed through a given link. The link that appears online takes nobody anywhere.

Perhaps COVID-19 got in the way and no tangible results could be put on table for all to see and take pride in. Or perhaps there were plans but they were yet to go into the action mode? Believable and almost forgivable, considering that the year 2020 went by so quickly in the wake of COVID-19, which is incidentally described as a zoonotic disease brought on by ecosystem destruction.

What is more troubling is the explaining away of events that are somewhat compromises in the care of land, rivers, and trees. For instance, the irony of seeing reports of damages done to the Kuala Krai waterfall area on Environment Day. Once a pristine, unspoilt area, it is now like a “tasty pie” that investors cannot resist biting their teeth into for a share. All for what? Sustainable development? 

Then there was a report around the same time on quarry activities in Perak and the damages being done environmentally. A Perak state councillor said the state had last year given a new company the license to carry out quarry activities. Were quarrying activities, which are also like mining, except that they are carried above the ground, approved throughout the MCO, CMCO and RMCO period the past 15 months? There is no way of confirming this independently due to the travel restrictions in many areas. We will have to trust the Department of Environment when it says it has been monitoring all activities.

Development can no longer be a haphazard route where a few people can make quick money from slashing forest areas, mining the lands till they come up empty, and without much accounting or greater transparency in the acquisition of an EIA (environment impact assessment) for the projects.

If serious attention is to be paid for the environment, there has to be more transparency in all matters related to the country’s green lungs, which are its forest lands and all its inhabitants, and even the empty spaces of greenery between the towers of the city.

No development – at least in the post COVID-19 era, should proceed if it cannot promise sustainability, a stamped and independently approved EIA, and the approval of locals living their lives in the area.

The United Nations Environment Programme, as commendable as it is for the many projects that it has initiated to restore the health of the planet, may not really have the kind of power needed to bite to dust the ambitions of large corporations with plenty of funds to do as they wish to in order to grow their wealth by taking more than they should from Mother Earth.

AS Mani

The views expressed here are that of the writer’s and does not necessarily reflect that of Weekly-Echo’s.