Thursday, December 28, 2006

101] Developing to Doom

Developing to doom
Azly Rahman
Dec 28, 06 1:12pm
‘Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.’ ~ Native American Indian saying.

' ... ataukah alam mula bosan
bersahabat dengan kita
cuba kita bertanya pada
rumput yang bergoyang
…’ ~ lyrics of a song by Indonesian poet Ebeit G Ade

‘The steady destruction of the environment is not primarily due to environmental disasters but to human activities. Human activities that bring destruction to the environment are designed by economic activities dictated by the nature and economic culture of the modern State.’ ~ former US Vice President Al Gore, in An Inconvenient Truth.

Had the Johor government be responsible enough in implementing environmentally-sustainable development projects over the decades, Johoreans would not have to suffer and die of floods. How much destruction of the rainforests has been going on since the Johor State Economic Development Corporation embarked upon massive and chaotic real estate projects? How much more must the hills be shaved bald and the land made arid with the next phase of breakneck high-speed development projects glorified under the name of the ‘Iskandar Development Region’?

How much of this will make Johor another Philippines or even Bangladesh where flood waters ravage lives and destroy homes on a regular basis? Will the government care about the lives of Johoreans? Or will it simply care about the megalomaniac profits it will make out
of this ‘Southern Super Corridor’, fantasised to be an Utopia better than Singapore? Have we perfected the ‘sampan’ (lifeboat) mentality wherein we save ourselves by madly plundering what is not ours in the name of economic progress, leaving the helpless ones to drown?

How will this Iskandar Development Region become ‘the greatest gift’ to Johoreans when, like the ancient Huang He (Yellow River of China,) it might become the greatest sorrow at the speed with which the trees and hills are being destroyed now. Who will benefit from these transformations when even the Multimedia Super Corridor project is a failure? Who will actually own this huge real estate project and what social, political and environmental impact will it have on the rakyat? This idea of this development is stinkier than Johor Baru's Sungei Segget.

Over the decades, Johor has become a state raped and left to suffer in the heat of hypermodernity in the name of wanting to become the most hyper-modern state in Malaysia. Not only has the process of urbanisation brought chaos to the traffic system, it has also messed up all aspects of urban life for Johoreans.. Schools have become a place where gangsters breed, the city has decayed and become a haven for drug addicts and prostitutes and housing areas sprout like poisonous mushrooms. The streets of Johor Jaya, Permas Jaya, Taman Pelangi, Skudai, and the new housing areas have become havens for gangs and robbers, and Johor politics since the time of Othman Saad has become corrupted with pathos and plagued with an increasingly strange
brew of race and ringgit.

Malay settlements in Johor Baru - Kampong Melayu Majidee, Kampong Ubi, Majidee Baru, Larkin, Kempas, Kangkar Tebrau, Bakar Batu, Wadi Hana, Kampong Mahmoodiah, and many others - have become urban slums with ‘setinggan’ (squatter) areas growing. The cost of living in the city - characterised by contradictions - has moved from prohibitive to ridiculous. Johor is now a state whose development projects have successfully alienated human beings besides perfectingthe idea that the rich is getting richer and the poor are not only getting poorer but growing in numbers.

Nature raped

My visit to my home state last August – from Johor Baru to Kota Tinggi to Gelang Patah and through the area of the Second Causeway Link – revealed just how much rapid changes have transformed the once lush forests into a wasteland perpetually under construction resulting in an overheating of the environment.

What has become of this land in which the legendary keris-wielding party Umno was born?

Why has Nature become angry with Johoreans? Have they abandoned the ethics of living closely together in the true spirit of human nature? Has corruption in all aspects of Johorean life become more unbearable than in Putrajaya and that this is a warning of worse things to come?

Are we environmentally doomed? Are we at the eleventh hour of total environmental destruction? How devastating has the impact of carbon dioxide emissions been? How serious is the depletion of the ozone layer? How much of the rainforests of the world have been destroyed? How fast are the polar ice caps melting, speeding up the looming disaster of Armageddon/ Qiamat of humankind? How many more frequent, major flash floods must we endure?

The Chinese philosopher and mystic Lao Tzu once said, ‘Man should not have carved the stone’ meaning man should not have invented things for, ‘... as Man began carving the stone, the process of destruction begins’. Light bulbs, automobiles, powerplants, factories, telephone lines, bombs and computers are inventions that have historically transformed nature. Human beings ‘carve the stone’ and build structures of power and wealth which transform or even rape Nature in the process.

Ancient philosophies and the teachings of 'revealed religion' (of the Judeo-Christian tradition) warned against the exploitation of the physical environment so that humanity would continue to be close to Nature and closer to the realisation of the Natural Self. Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and probably the most extreme of all Hindu sects, Jainism, teaches human beings to respect living things as part of the great chain of beings.

But Western scientific ideology has taught Man to be free from not only thinking about spirits and spirituality, nature and the natural self, religion and deep reflection, but has also ‘enlightened’ human beings into mastering Nature and using its resources for the ‘progress’ of mankind. Progress, measured linearly and scientifically, is then equated with ‘civilisation’.

Famine, poverty

Civilisation carries with it the necessity for technological progress and more inventions. But if Nature is destroyed in the process of creating 'civilisations', what does being 'civilised' mean? Would 'going back to Nature' and 'destroying civilisations' be a better way to conceive the meaning of human progress? Must human beings de-evolve, de-urbanise, de-technologise and de-construct themselves in order to save Humanity from its environmental doom?

Industrialisation is a process of transforming nature to culture by the state's appropriation of natural resources. The resources are transformed into technology and techniques and applications derived from the use of science help fuel inventions. Inventions are products/artifacts of the activities of the human mind; activities that are fuelled by the need to master man's destiny and the environment. But these inventions contain ‘inert capital" in them, transforming human labour into technologies.

Technologies are then used to further transform nature into culture. Culture in this sense means the culture that comes into being as a result of human beings’ economic activities.

Modern governments, such as that of Johor, are the necessary evil – they use the state apparatuses and transform the environment by collaborating with powerful multinational corporations in speeding up the use of natural resources, leaving the land barren and human beings in famine and poverty-stricken. Enlightened citizens must collectively revolt against governments that systematically destroy the environment in the name of ‘civilisation’ and ‘progress’.

Citizens must raise the consciousness on the power of these post-modern multinational corporation in that the power these primarily Western-industrialised corporations have are used to bring destruction to the peoples of this Earth as evident in the refusal of powerful nations to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and other global treaties that are enforced to save planet Earth.

Let us reflect upon what different nations are experiencing through the process of environmental destruction and what might be the possible ways to reverse or slow down this Armageddon.

A plea to all: Help the tens of thousands of displaced Johoreans in whichever way we can. Help them through this major disaster brought about by Man's activities orchestrated under the name of state development projects. Above all, help Johoreans elect more a responsible government – one that will respect Nature and not rape it. May God help us all recover from this disaster and prevent future ones.

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