There is a great challenge facing us all: sustainability and food availability. These threats many not feel as immediate as China/US/Russia/Syria tensions and proxy wars, or as ominous as the continuing Middle East confrontations. However, the growing global population and diminishing planetary resources mean we really need to alter our behaviour.
In a TV interview at the beginning of this year, Global Chief Economist for UBS Global Wealth Management Paul Donovan warned of a looming disaster on the scale even greater than recent financial meltdowns.
He said we are currently producing 1.5 times more in terms of resources than the planet is capable of sustaining. He claimed we are living on “borrowed time” and that unless our habits change, our standard of living will drop by as much as 50% in the not too distant future.
This prediction is quite hard to imagine, especially if you are living in a thriving city like Kuala Lumpur, Penang or Melaka – but the reality is that this is already happening to many people in the world.
According to Donovan, pollution in China has a detrimental impact. A report in September 2017 showed that smog pollution in the north of China reduced life expectancy by 3.5 years, compared to the population in the south of China.
This has a knock on effect – climatic migration is now a reality. In the Middle East, water restrictions will limit the capacity for economic growth.
The good news is this is reversible if we act now. Paul Polman is the CEO of the global consumer goods giant Unilever. He is one of “global champions” of the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDG). His daily tweets focus on the importance of sustainability. He is adamant that business needs to embrace sustainable growth and understand the need to adapt to the planet’s changing conditions in order to remain competitive and profitable.
Many companies around the world are developing green energy options, as this undoubtedly will be the future. Malaysia can be a regional leader in sustainability, and benefit economically if it acts early.
I recently returned from a trip to Australia and New Zealand. We can learn a lot from international partners and smart innovations. In Australia, it was only recently that NGOs pushed for a law change to allow companies to be able to donate food. Here in Malaysia, the supermarket chain Giant was the first to sign a contract with The Lost Food Project (TLFP) almost two years ago.
Today in Malaysia many supermarkets and food companies are ensuring good quality food is going to feed the poorest members of society. However, there is still an enormous amount of good quality food entering landfills or going for incineration. This should not be happening when there are a great many people in need of food.
The cost to the country is enormous. Ultimately, taxpayers are paying the bill for this unnecessary disposal. Companies also make losses, but of course this will be included with an increase to the cost of food products which customers will pay.
The damage to the environment is both shocking and avoidable. The CO2 emissions in Malaysia over the last 12 years have increased by almost 30% and the number of threatened species has also increased by approximately 30%, according to UN figures.
Throwing degradable products into landfill reverses the ability to biodegrade. Sadly, even a fresh apple will turn into what is called a “leachate”. The lack of oxygen means dangerous greenhouse gases are produced that raise the temperature of the environment, and can also leak into our water systems.
Malaysia is a beautiful country we should all be proud of. Rich in resources, and blessed with a tropical climate and abundance of food. We do not want that to change. It doesn’t have to – if we take some pride and understand the need to change our habits in small ways.
I truly believe Malaysia can be a global leader in South-East Asia – collectively we only need to make a few small behavioural alterations to ensure we pass on the guardianship of this beautiful planet to our grandchildren.
I hope you enjoy the features in the coming months. We will have articles, competitions and prizes, recipes that will save you money while making you healthier, and most of all we ask for you to be involved. Tell us what you like, what you don’t like, activities happening in your communities. This is an arena to share ideas and allow us all to bring about lasting positive change for our generation and the generations to come.