The world has come a long way since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
Over one billion people in 192 countries celebrate it annually in events aimed at raising awareness on climate change, global warming and the need for conservation.
In conjunction with Earth Day today, Twentytwo13 speaks to two Malaysian environmentalists -Treat Every Environment Special director Leela Panikkar and Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor branch chair Pasupathy Jayaraj – to learn what our nation of 32 million people can do to protect nature and be advocates of conservation.
How do we make every day Earth Day?
Leela: Better education. Although there is environmental education in schools, we must adopt a more holistic approach. The young need to know their actions can impact the environment. We also need to educate adults, especially parents. They must set an example for their children.
Are Malaysians more environmentally conscious now?
Leela: Our youths are exposed to a lot more now compared to 25 years ago. They have shown great interest in the preservation of wildlife. We have been able to reach out to kids in urban areas, but more needs to be done to reach children in rural areas so they become agents of change.”
What are simple things people can do to make a difference?
Leela: We must look at our daily actions and see how we can cut down our ecological and carbon footprint. It can be something as simple as bringing your own container when buying food. We must also be more vocal in protecting green lungs within cities, including housing areas.
Why is there a greater need to push for conservation now?
Leela: Green lungs help clean the air and cool down the temperature. They also serve as recreation areas and sanctuaries for wildlife. We seem to be a part of nature, but not part of it. Whatever we do will impact nature and vice-versa.
Is the private sector doing enough?
Leela: A lot of the things today are packed in plastic. Corporations need to address this as it shouldn’t be the role of consumers to discard waste. It’s time big companies take responsibility. They must set timelines on how they plan to address the matter.
How can the government help protect nature?
Leela: There must be more stringent procedures, including the setting up of committees to look into the impact of a development project before it is approved. Gazetting forests must continue but in 10 years, there may no longer be many forests left to gazette.
How do we nurture environmental awareness?
Pasupathy: The public, the government and the private sector must play a bigger role. It goes back to education, conservation and protection of nature. We must make it an everyday practice.
Are people more environmentally conscious today?
Pasupathy: The ongoing battle in the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve shows there’s still a lot to worry about. However, more people are getting involved and we have set up a coalition known as North Kuala Langat Forest Reserve Coalition comprising 15 NGOs (non-government organisations). We highlighted the importance of peat swamps in the area as parties are pushing for the forest to be de-gazetted for a mixed development project.
But history has demonstrated such battles are not always easy.
Pasupathy: This is a challenge we face. Whenever the community steps up to raise awareness that green spaces are important, large corporations will claim agreements to develop those areas that were made years ago. But we must not give up.
Are large scale tree planting projects the best way to address climate change?
Pasupathy: Planting trees is good but there is no point if they are not cared for. There are many official functions where trees are planted but later abandoned.
What’s the best way to nurture a love for nature?
Pasupathy: Little children need to visit trails to learn through experience. As a trained nature guide, I love taking children to trails where they are able to walk free, pick up little ants or even mushrooms. Green spaces are vital for our mental and social wellbeing and more efforts must be taken to preserve these areas.