No easy answer to environmental sustainability

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FREAK WEATHER PATTERNS, environmental disasters and climate-modelling predictions – these are constant reminders of the global urgency to address climate change. Economically, considerations for environmental impact are necessary as there is increasing recognition that traditional carbon-based fuels are limited and essentially require nations to prepare for policies that incorporate carbon monitoring and trading systems.

For a long time, optimists in the climate change debate have leveraged on the promise of nuclear technology for “clean energy” to reduce dependency on carbon fuels and minimise carbon emissions. However, the recently extended list of famous nuclear disasters that now includes Th ree Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) once again highlights the major risks involved for any nation embracing nuclear technology. Whilst on the surface appearing “clean” from carbon emissions, nuclear technology is certainly not clean from radioactive emissions, and safety issues are certainly not solved as yet.

Even without the danger of structural damage due to earthquakes and assuming that safe operating conditions can be assured at all times, the current state of nuclear technology is still unable to address the fact that its waste products will remain radioactive and harmful for hundreds of thousands of years1, and will need to be stored in multiple layers of glass, steel, concrete and/or other protective material before being buried deep underground where there is hopefully minimal movement during the millennia required for its radioactivity to decrease to acceptable levels2. The ongoing Fukushima disaster is evidence that there is no easy answer to our growing environmental problems.

The Green Solutions Tradeshow and Conference held on March 24–26, 2011 at the Penang International Sports Arena (PISA) offered the opportunity to interact with local businesses off ering environmental sustainability solutions. Trade products on display included environmentally-friendly cleaning agents, pest control solutions and waste management systems, as well as various biodegradable plastics and food packaging. Consistent with the prevailing theme of the concurrently run Green Profits conference, the majority of trade displays comprised building materials, fittings and real-time building monitoring and control systems.

Appropriately, Malaysian entrepreneurs have identified that the easiest way to reduce carbon consumption is via improvements to the design of our buildings. Products such as light emitting diodes (LEDs), energy-saving light globes, daylight sensors, bett er roof and wall insulation, and highperformance window glazing will no doubt reduce energy consumption; therefore lessening the need for electricity generation from carbon-sources and reducing carbon emissions.

As further encouragement, companies that incur capital expenditure on activities that improve energy effi ciency are entitled to tax exemption equivalent to 100% of the qualifying expenditure incurred within a five-year period, with the allowance to be set off against 100% of the statutory income for each year of assessment. Other tax incentives include import duty and sales tax exemptions on equipment to improve energy efficiency that are not produced locally, and sales tax exemption on equipment to improve energy efficiency that are purchased from local manufacturers. These tax incentives are applicable for new buildings as well as upgrades on existing buildings, and for companies that supply energy conservation services or products as well as those spending on energy conservation for their own consumption.

This emphasis on energy conservation to reduce carbon dependency and carbon emissions is not surprising since the main body tasked with addressing Malaysia’s preparedness for climate change is the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTT HA). However, it begs to question whether the focus on energy conservation without concomitant public awareness programmes is simply allowing for complacency and the continuation of wasteful practices. Malaysians are famous for their excessive use of air-conditioning; they prefer to wear jackets and cardigans in the office than to simply turn up the air-conditioner. Th e acceptance of indiscriminate use of lighting and the common practice of leaving lights on throughout the night are most grandly epitomised in the newly installed screens that cover the surface of Menara Dato’ Onn, which hosts the Umno Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. Although tax incentives may encourage more environmentally-conscious building designs and the growth of businesses that provide environmental sustainability solutions, the sustainability of these ventures themselves come into question when programmes are not in place to concomitantly cultivate inherent concern for the environment amongst consumers.

Similarly, market growth for other products and services aimed at the environmentally-conscious consumer remains limited without vigorous educational programmes to grow public awareness for the environment and to address social factors limiting uptake of more environmentally-friendly products. Educational programmes should importantly also provide adequate information so that consumers are equipped to discern products that are genuinely better for the environment. The cultivation of a society with environmental awareness entails doing the hard yard, without relying simply on quick-fix methods like energy-saving light globes and nuclear energy that respectively only off er limited benefits in the long run and are plagued with more acute risks. The progress of our environmental conscience will dictate domestic demand for “Green Technology” and “Green Solutions”, and impinge on Malaysia’s place in the internationally growing “Green Economy”.

As Malaysia seeks to align itself with increasing international concern for climate change and rapidly depleting carbon fuels, there is an urgent need to widen our efforts towards more comprehensive public awareness programmes. In the state of Penang, the “Cleaner, Greener Penang” initiative reflects a government’s commitment in the right direction. From the banning of plastic bags to various environmental awards and events, the Penang government is demonstrating commitment towards cultivating public awareness for the environment. These efforts lend legitimacy to Penang’s preparedness as a host and player in the growing Green Economy. Nonetheless, the growth of Penang as a “Green City” is still in its infancy and requires more committed efforts, especially on the planning of its transportation system and the provision of green spaces, in order to fulfil its promise as the foremost liveable and Green state in Malaysia. As a nation, Malaysians have had a lot to grapple with and concern for the environment has not always been in the forefront.

Perhaps it is time for us to put in the hard yard and improve public knowledge of environmental concerns, so that our citizens and industries may be viewed as valuable components of a knowledge-based economy and not dismissed as an appropriate dumping ground for toxic wastes exported from other countries.
1 United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2007) “Backgrounder on Radioactive Waste”, Accessed on April 26, 2011, www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/ doc-collections/factsheets/ radwaste.html
2 World Nuclear Association (2011) “Waste Management”, Accessed on April 26, 2011, www.worldnuclear. org/education/ wast.htm

Yap Soo Huey thinks grey is best.



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