April 30, 2007

A convenient deception

Watching the documentary film 'An Inconvenient Truth' recently was a good reminder of how terrible we are at how we choose to live out life when the result of our actions are not apparent in the immediate future. Just like the proverbial frog that slowly boils to death in lukewarm water, the human race may just not react fast enough to save its own skin.

Even when scientists all agree that human activity caused the unprecedented rise in global temperature, we have yet to change significantly the way we live in order to have a sustainable future.

What has changed, it seems, are how environmental concerns are being used as marketing or branding strategy. The CEO of YTL Corporation recently proclaimed himself to be a 'tree hugger' and a 'greenie'. There was something quite incongruent to the whole picture. Perhaps it is because his company makes a healthy profit out of producing greenhouse gases from power plants, and cuts trees to develope luxury apartment. No matter how healthy a cigarette company claims it makes its cigarettes to be, them funding cancer research and then calling themselves 'public health activists' would be highly perplexing.

In any case, a corporation that sponsors/funds green campaigns when they are contributors to global warming or of any environmental pollutants should be a case of attempting to 'pay back' to the ecological debt they created, rather than a self-sacrificing exercise that many seem to perceive it to be.

I stumbled upon a new development called 'Sepang Gold Coast' on Bagan Lalang beach one weekend and was told that it was a joint venture between the Selangor state investment arm and an Indonesian company. Huge signboards there claimed it to be eco-friendly. I asked a representative/staff there why this is so and he didn't seem to know why either. Unless this is a case of a badly informed staff, I shudder to think how eco-friendly a development of this size can be that will take up 22km of our shoreline. What seems likely is that there will be a few wealthy parties profiting from investing in the luxury resort. What is uncertain and unlikely, is how this mega development would result in that area being better off environmentally.

Environmental awareness has not reached a level where it is easy for the public to see through marketing ploys, and it is becoming more and more trendy and convenient for companies to be 'eco-friendly' without actually being so. Good intentions and bad executions in building and development also spell disaster. If a developer clears and build on one of the few remaining forested area in KL, no amount of environmental self-labeling or green advertisement should mean anything good. If a company claims to be environmental friendly and to protect million year old rainforest on an island surrounding their luxury development, ask instead why they chose to develop on that previously undisturbed island that would inevitably mean destruction and disturbance to its environment?

Aside from playing on the public's level of environmental awareness, the danger of mis-using words like 'conservation, greenie, or eco-friendly' is that it trivializes and dilutes its meaning and the cause in which many sincere and concerned people are working on. As such, we should be careful in using these words that is meant to represent values crucial for our future existence. We're in times where real human suffering is happening as a result of global warming greatly accelerated by uncontrolled human activity, and will likely be experiencing more unless a major change happens. Watch 'An Inconvenient Truth', find out what you can do, and watch out for those who mis-use and trivialize the cause.

The writer dedicates this article to the real 'greenies' out there for their inspiration and contributions; real 'greenies' who often work behind the scenes without fear or favour.

(Original draft. Edited article first published in The Sun 28 march 2007)