Malaysia is recognised as one of 12 megadiverse countries in the world, which harbour the majority of Earth’s species and high numbers of endemic species. This classification shows how a small number of countries holds a large portion of global diversity and so have a disproportionate responsibility in conserving and managing natural heritage sustainably.
Even though this country only has 0.2% of the world’s landmass, it contains around 20% of the world’s animal species. This makes Malaysia one of the richest countries in the world in terms of biodiversity per unit area, second only to Indonesia in South-East Asia.
Yet, in a 2010 study by Science magazine, Malaysia was named the eighth worst country in the world for plastic waste. Our South-East Asian neighbours fared no better, with Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam among the top five of the same list.
The new Environment Ministry, slated to be set up at the end of this month, will have a lot to do in terms of raising awareness and educating Malaysians on matters like climate change, plastic pollution, deforestation, and energy systems as well as systemic problems that exacerbate these environmental issues, like greed, corruption and short-sighted corporate goals that place profit over sustainability.
What can we, as ordinary citizens and families, do to help?
As parents of children who will grow up to become future policy makers, we need to expose our kids early to environmental conservation and sustainability issues. Don’t worry if you are enthusiastic but not an expert. There are lots of great books written for children on this subject matter that you can turn to, and even learn from yourself.
Author: Simon James
Publisher: Walker Books
With the Rainbow Warrior, the iconic ship of global environmental organisation Greenpeace docked in Port Klang earlier this year on a goodwill mission to raise awareness on environmental issues, it could be fun to look into this read.
In this “enchanting ecological fantasy”, a little girl is worried that a whale she finds living in her garden pond is unhappy. Emily writes to Greenpeace, who, though offering the best of advice, insists that it is impossible for a whale to live in a pond.
Ten Things I Can Do To Help My World
Author: Melanie Walsh
This book gives young children simple strategies they can incorporate into their daily lives to protect the planet, like turning off the lights when leaving a room, turning off the television properly, using both sides of their drawing paper, and turning off the tap when brushing their teeth.
It sends an important message to children that even small changes in our lifestyles can make a big difference.
Why Don’t I Look Like You?
Authors: Abyan Junus-Nishizawa & Farah Landemaine
Illustrator: Cecilia Hidayat
Publisher: Asiana Chic Enterprise
Our Malayan tapirs are not media darlings the way pandas and even zebras are, yet they are also endangered animals that deserve to be highlighted (and not just on World Tapir Day, April 27). Their declining numbers due to vehicular accidents, logging, commercial agriculture and expanding farms has largely gone unnoticed. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (better known by its Malay acronym, Perhilitan) shares that there are now only between 1,000 and 1,500 tapirs remaining in our forests.
This picture book by local authors about a little tapir called Timo who looks different from his mother is a fun way to seed a good first conversation on animal conservation.
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay And The Recycling Women Of The Gambia
Author: Miranda Paul
Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon
Publisher: Millbrook Press
One of Malaysia’s most pressing environmental problems is plastic pollution. While the recent ban on plastic in Federal territories like Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur is encouraging, we need to continue to proactively curb plastic waste.
The book asks a crucial question: Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use, but what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people would simply discard them, and the bags would collect on roads, holding stagnant water that breed mosquitoes and disease. When burned, they emit toxic fumes. When buried, they stifle plant growth. And they harm animals that try to eat them after mistaking them for food.
This true story of Isatou Ceesay, a Gambian woman who finds way to recycle these bags, shows how simple actions can make a big difference in transforming whole communities.
The Great Kapok Tree
Author & Illustrator: Lynne Cherry
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
In the rich, dense Amazon rainforest, a man has come to chop down a great kapok tree. When he lies down to rest, the creatures that live in the tree and the surrounding forest (a snake, monkeys, colourful birds, a small tree frog, a jaguar, tree porcupines, ant-eaters and even a three-toed sloth) gently whisper in his ear, each begging him in their own unique way to spare their home.
The author/illustrator created the lush pictures in her book that convey the magic and magnificence of the ecosystem as well as its innate fragility after visiting Brazil’s Amazon forest.
World Without Fish
Author: Mark Kurlansky
Publisher: Workman Publishing
“Can you imagine a world without fish? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Because if we keep doing things the way we’ve been doing things, fish could become extinct within fifty years.” The book provides compelling reasons why we need to change the way we do things by connecting all the important dots of biology, economics, evolution, politics, climate, history, culture, food, and nutrition – and doing it in a way that kids can appreciate.
For example, it makes you aware that the fish we commonly eat is not an endless resource and could disappear within 50 years, and the domino effect the disappearance would have.
Eyes Wide Open: What’s Behind The Environmental Headlines
Author: Paul Fleischman
Publisher: Candlewick Press
The author gives tweens and teens “an environmental wake-up call and a useful toolkit to decode the barrage of conflicting information confronting them”. The downside of our modern lifestyles are only now becoming more apparent – cars, fast food, cheap single-use products and the like that are not sustainable.
The book rationalises that “because money is as important as molecules in the environment”, science needs to be discussed in tandem with politics, history and psychology. This useful resource helps young adults dissect the issues behind the headlines to fully understand the problems of our times.
Children are never too young to begin learning about the planet they live on and the dangers threatening it. Provide them a start with good reads and they will become mindful citizens, caring activists, and educated stewards who could one day solve the environmental problems besieging the world.