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Paradise lost? No time to lose in saving the planet

Deforestation in Malaysian Borneo - Photograph: Rhett Butler/mongabay.com.

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We do not have the luxury of time for we are up against powerful forces, says Dominic Damian.

In his latest film, David Attenborough, the renowned broadcaster and natural historian, showed us how we should ‘work’ with nature.

I beg to differ; humility dictates we should serve nature.

Until the coronavirus pandemic struck, we shuddered at the questionable pace of development – the motives and methods of which were often objectionable. When Penang Forum pointed this out, the criticism that the civil society coalition received was sometimes disproportionate. Civil rights groups, environmentalists and concerned individuals received a backlash, as “cyber troopers” took the offensive.

In the battle to save the environment, civil rights and environmental groups do not have inexhaustible resources. The playing field is hardly level.

We have to raise our voices, stand up and be counted. Bob Dylan sang: “There’s a battle outside, And it is ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows, and rattle your walls. For the times they are a-changin’.”

This battle is not something abstract. And it is a battle we cannot afford to lose.

There is abject failure in recognising the role ordinary people play in a democracy. There is often a dereliction of duty to serve the people, who are often sidelined.

It goes against democracy when corporations call the shots, when Parliament and state assemblies are complicit in their response and when ordinary people as usual end up the losers.

Often, legitimised massive corruption is nameless and faceless and unquantifiable – well over the usual “normal“ corruption.

Parliamentary systems seem helpless as vested interests can manipulate them to serve their own ends. It is dangerous when values are hijacked, repackaged and promoted as beneficial to us. We hear the familiar twisted argument: we know what is best for you – so you just shut up and take what we give!

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Some of our parliamentarians and state governments are not humble enough to accept that they are incompetent and inadequate in their understanding of the ecological threats confronting us. Or they might not have the moral rectitude and spine to confront these challenges. The willingness to bravely pick up the gauntlet and offer protection to the ecosystem is zilch.

And so, the natural resources of nations and their people are thrown open to the highest bidder. When a system and its leaders trample on the ecosystem and allow it to be used for so-called “progress“ and “development“, then we see pristine forests destroyed, hills levelled and trees callously uprooted.

The restless winds in the skies no longer sing any song. Islands sprout in the middle of the sea through massive land reclamation projects. Rivers lose their original path to the sea. The only wildlife our children see are chickens, cows, goats and sheep.  

The much-touted environmental impact assessment study is the bare minimum standard applied. But this too is embedded in the governance system, the study’s impartiality, independence and integrity often called into question. A case of the right hand trying to stop the left hand.

If we don’t act now, the destruction of the ecology will be irreversible.

Transparency in the decision-making process for controversial new projects is often lacking. Meaningful information is often inaccessible or access may be restricted. The way vested interests collaborate for mutual advantage and benefit – to the detriment of the people – is intentionally hidden.

So the people go away with an uneasy sense that there has been a cover-up; otherwise, why are the decision-makers so defensive? People get the impression the only information they are entitled to is what vested interests think the people ought to know. Or perhaps the people are only given information that the vested interests feel is safe for them to know, so that any public challenge is blunted.

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The ecological degradation of today will affect thousands of people in years to come – long after all the actors and vested interests in the process today have turned to dust. Many millions will weep for that which is no more.

It is not folly but bloated pride and ego that drives people to such greed, such madness. None can be so blind as to not see, so deaf as to not hear what civil rights and environmental groups are clamouring to save.

Yet, the quickening pace of destruction reflects an almost contemptuous haste, an unholy pace, that seems to have overtaken all reason and logic. The obituaries written for nature will reveal our lack of action.        

There are some who, with their intellectual powers, will pick and choose their battles based on the probability of victory. But we must realise that we do not have the luxury of time. We are up against powerful corporate interests who are in strategic alliances with political allies.  

There is no time to lose in the face of political arrogance: we must reclaim our rights and dignity. Otherwise, the gnawing emptiness and the desolation we will find ourselves in will be irreversible. The vested interests – the corporations and their political allies – will abandon us once they have reaped their profits from the degradation of the natural world.

Are we ready? 

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