As the climate crisis worsens, its root cause remains hidden from view

As the climate crisis worsens, its root cause remains hidden from view

Feb 15, 2019

By Anil Netto
Extreme weather has engulfed the United States and Australia in recent weeks.

Australia has been hit by scorching weather; bush fires have destroyed forests. Meanwhile, heavy rain in north east Australia has swamped much of the region with floods.

In the United States, cold weather has blanketed much of the country. But that is not the only problem the US faces. In terms of the cost of damage caused by extreme weather, these are the most damaging (in descending order): hurricanes and cyclones, heat waves and droughts, extreme rainfall and floods, convective storms which cause tornadoes, hail and strong winds, and the polar vortex and extreme cold weather.

Ironically, such extreme weather is happening in countries that officially don’t take climate change seriously. Australia is led by a government that reportedly blocks action against climate change while US President Donald Trump denies climate change.

Meanwhile, a scientific review has found that we are losing 40 per cent of insect species while a third are now endangered. This rate of loss is eight times faster than that of mammals, reptiles and birds.

Intensive agriculture (which uses lots of pesticides), urbanisation and climate change is heavy a crushing effect on insects. This has much wider implications as insects are at the centre of the food web.

The problem is much of the world is not taking such extreme weather seriously. Or if at all such calls highlighting a climate emergency are heard, it is seen as something which only individuals can respond to by changing their personal lifestyle choices.

For example, we are encouraged to eat less meat, use public transport, walk or cycle instead of driving cars, avoid air travel, recycle and reuse. Buzz words like “sustainable development” are bandied about.
Although each of these initiatives are commendable, it also diverts our attention away from the core issue and related problems facing the world — the exploitative nature of economic development and the ravenous appetite of the system for scarce natural resources.

So forests are disappearing; the sensitive ecosystem along coastlines are being degraded; more highways are in the pipeline, including along sensitive hill slopes. Expensive apartment blocks are being put up – even though few locals can afford them. Highways are being built even though our dizzying array of roads are already congested. There is talk of a “third national car” too.

The thing is much of this “development” may not even be necessary. It comes at a time when the total fertility rate for the Malaysian population has been steadily declining well below the population replacement level (which is 2.1 children per woman). In Penang, for instance, the total fertility rate is already 1.5 children per woman – well below the population replacement level.

So who are we building all these highways and apartment blocks for? The same goes for other parts of the country where the rate has fallen below replacement level.
Sadly, one of the major problems is that the benchmark for our economic performance is based on GDP growth. Because we are obsessed with this figure, we often forget the cost of mindless economic growth – and so we ignore the depletion of our natural resources, the loss of our forests and vanishing biodiversity, the death of our rivers, the flattening of our forests, the balding of our hills…
We also overlook how the economic wealth that is being generated is concentrated in fewer hands, including financial institutions, while the majority struggle to cope with the rising cost of living in the face of largely flat real wages. We fail to look at how billions of ringgit of this wealth is illicitly ferreted out of the country into off-shore havens. We fail to see how income inequality has led to a myriad of social problems.

Our corporate-led “development” model has also undermined community solidarity. At one time, we focused on building genuinely affordable housing and enhancing our system of universal public healthcare. Now, many cannot afford to buy homes or even to fall seriously ill.

So it is not individual greed and personal choices alone that are responsible for the worsening weather patterns. Rather, it is the systemic impact of corporate-led globalisation that is hurtling the world towards the point of no return.
Only God can save the planet from climate chaos. But he requires us to act - not just by looking at our own lifestyles, but by taking a long, critical look at our economic model – and then coming up with a more ecologically friendly model that puts People and the Planet ahead of Profits.

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