A third national car and new mega highways could have dire consequences

New research findings have revealed that global warming in the future may be twice what climate models have projected while sea levels could rise over six metres, even if we manage to contain temperature rises below the target.

Aug 09, 2018

By Anil Netto
New research findings have revealed that global warming in the future may be twice what climate models have projected while sea levels could rise over six metres, even if we manage to contain temperature rises below the target.

The findings were published recently in NatureGoscience based on evidence from three warming periods over the last 3.5 million years when the world was 1.5-2°C warmer than it was before the Industrial Age.

Past warming periods have indicated a number of amplifying effects that could lead to collapsing polar ice caps while fringes of tropical forests could catch fire. These amplifying mechanisms are not adequately dealt with in current climate change models.

“Climate models appear to be trustworthy for small changes, such as for low emission scenarios over short periods, say over the next few decades out to 2100,” said co-author Prof Katrin Meissner, director of the University of New South Wales’ Climate Change Research Centre.

But as the change gets larger or more persistent, these models appear to underestimate climate change, he said. Such change could occur in a business-as-usual-scenario, which could result in higher emissions. Or, they could be a long-term response to low emissions over the long term.

This is why we cannot continue along a business-as-usual scenario.

The findings were publicised at the same time that the Vatican held an international conference on ecology to mark the third anniversary of the Bishop of Rome’s encyclical Laudato Sì’ on Care for our Common Home. At the conference, delegates from various sectors discussed how they could raise public awareness of the critical crisis we are facing.

How is this relevant to us?

Last week, we heard how the government is set to launch a third national car project by 2020, an idea mooted by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was responsible for setting Proton into motion. His idea is to boost the local automotive industry, including the car component manufacturing sector.

Over in Penang, the state government plans to build a controversial RM8bn 19.5km six-lane highway including over 10km of tunnels that would burrow through the hills of Penang and disrupt the ecological balance. The highway will also pass above two much-loved parks, the Youth Park and the Sungai Ara Linear Park, besides contributing to air and noise pollution to nearby homes, businesses and schools and places of worship. Concerned Penangites in affected areas have already made known their unhappiness.

Both these plans are short-term ideas under a business-as-usual scenario without factoring climate change.
Making cars cheaper and easier for more people to acquire will encourage many more people to drive.

And building more highways creates what is known as ‘induced demand’ ie making it easier and faster for people to drive in the short-term will only encourage more people to drive. But soon the highways will get clogged and we will be back to square one.

It is time we think about the long term. After all, one of the good things that Mahathir has done is to create a ministry responsible for climate change. This should be taken seriously.

If, at all, we want to promote local engineering capacity, it would be much better for the government to think about building vehicles that would contribute to improved public transport and sustainable mobility.

Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of building a third national car, we focus on engineering and maintenance for passenger ferrries (to connect islands to the mainland), buses (for bus rapid transit), trams (for urban transport) and trains (for inter-city travel) all over the country. These are cheaper forms of transport that would be able to transport more people at a lower cost thus easing the burden on their pockets with much less impact on the environment.

After all, for many people, especially the lower-income group, transport to work consumes a large part of their monthly incomes. And buying their own vehicles often with five-year or nine-year loans usually lands them in debt.
Imagine how the quality of life would be improved with fewer cars on the road: cleaner air, more greenery instead of highways, less money spent in commuting to work.

For the nation: the savings on a third car project and fewer new highways could be invested in introducing more rapid bus transit, investing in trams and improving inter-city rail services. The money saved could also be used in building more parks, improving pedestrian pavements and introducing safe cycling tracks.

One thing is for sure. We just cannot continue along the business-as-usual model if we care for our children and grandchildren, who will bear the full brunt of climate change if we don’t do anything to stem the tide.

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