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Surviving climate change

banners about environmental activism
Exhibition by regional coalition People’s Actions on Climate Change during the Asian Youth Climate Workshop
(© Gan Pei Ling)

“WE should do it for our children and future generations!”

This is one of the most common rallying cries used by some individuals and organisations to convince the public to take action to combat climate change. It’s an appealing sound bite, but does it feel urgent?

Mohamed Nasheed
Mohamed Nasheed, president
of the Maldives (© Mauroof
Khaleel / Wiki Commons)

We tend to talk about climate change as if it is some distant and long-term issue, yet the impacts of climate change are in fact already threatening people’s survival around the world. The president of the Maldives is looking for new land to migrate his population of 350,000 to because his nation faces  the real threat of sinking due to rising sea levels. At the same time, increased and more intense floods in Bangladesh are already disrupting food production and displacing millions of its coastal people.

Moreover, poor people, women, indigenous people as well as youths are disproportionately affected by the impacts of a changing climate. Women and girls in the Global South have to walk further to obtain water and risk being raped and abducted in conflict-ridden territory. Indigenous people worldwide are facing reduced crop production and increased risk of contracting diseases due to a changing climate. Climate change exacerbates poverty and gender inequality, and threatens the health of communities particularly children and the elderly.

Stopping climate change is not just about future generations. It is about today’s generation who are already suffering from the impacts of this global crisis.

Time running out

Time is running out for us to act, which is why nearly 80 youths from ten Asian countries gathered in Bangkok from 2 to 6 Oct 2009 to attend the Asia Youth Climate Workshop. I was one of the Malaysian participants sponsored by to attend the workshop.

At the workshop, youths learnt basic campaigning skills to become more effective climate change organisers and activists. The workshop also aimed to build the groundwork for a lasting Asian youth climate movement that would continue beyond 24 Oct — the international day of climate action.

On that day, last Saturday, over 4,000 events were planned in more than 170 countries around the world, including in Malaysia, to tell world leaders and the public about the importance of the number 350 — it is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere measured in parts per million (ppm).

The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is currently 387ppm, clearly exceeding this safe figure of 350ppm. This explains why we are already experiencing the effects of climate change worldwide. If we are to prevent runaway climate change, we need to get back to 350ppm as soon as possible. That actually means right now.

Governments ignoring science

participants of workshop painitng a huge Indonesia 350 banner
Indonesian participants at Asia Youth Climate workshop.
The banners were also used during the Asian Peoples
Climate Justice March on 5 Oct 2009 in Bangkok
(© Gan Pei Ling)


In stark contrast to scientific demand, world governments, particularly developed countries, are currently negotiating to allow for the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to further increase to 450ppm, 550ppm, and even 600ppm before they will attempt to bring it down.

Therefore, attempts to set the agenda ahead of the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP15) in December where governments will decide on a new climate deal. We need to tell world leaders that our survival is non-negotiable and 350ppm must be the target we should settle on in COP15.

Sometimes, I’m unsure whether it is amusing or disturbing that Malaysians are barely concerned and talk so little about these climate negotiations that will ultimately impact our survival and immediate future.

Malaysians have reasons to be concerned about climate change. Really. Food prices will rise due to reduced crop productions locally and globally. Oil palm and rubber plantations will suffer a decline in yields.

car on flooded road
Studies predict increased floods in Malaysia’s coastal cities (© shootthedevgru / Wiki Commons)

Additionally, according to studies by Malaysian scientists, there will be increased floods in coastal cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Kota Baru, Kuala Terengganu, Alor Star and Muar. The study also says urbanised states such as Selangor and Johor will have water shortages.

Yes, the UN negotiations can be complex and difficult to follow, yet there are also various sources that simplify the information for public consumption. But why is this vital information not reaching the masses? And why aren’t people interested in arming themselves with knowledge? Could it be because the alarm bells have not started ringing yet?

Ignorance is no bliss. Climate change is indeed a complicated issue intertwined as it is with economics, politics, security, development issues, human rights, and so on. However, this should not stop us from being informed about climate change issues and taking the appropriate actions to address it. Our survival is at stake, and the clock is ticking.

If we delay action any longer, I think it would be apt to describe our age as The Age of Stupid, and the current generation the generation of stupid. favicon

Gan Pei Ling is part of the Malaysian Youth Climate Justice Network. She thinks most Malaysians know what they could do to help reduce climate change and their own carbon footprint (travel less, consume less!). But because they do not feel the urgency of climate change nor see it as a survival issue, they continue to live life as usual.

See also:
The age of stupid?

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One Response to “Surviving climate change”

  1. Karcy says:

    Thank you for this write-up, and thanks TNG for opening up a space for environmental discussion. I know that this kind of stuff doesn’t have the tendency to be a ‘traffic magnet’….but that’s why it’s all the more important for them to be published!

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