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Malaysia and Climate Change: How Should We Care?


In Malaysia’s hustle and bustle of daily life, there is a gap between recognizing the reality of climate change and taking meaningful action. We have all experienced those moments of inertia, the minor inconveniences like forgetting reusable bags when heading to the grocery store. Or maybe the fatigue that sets in when facing the pessimistic news. Climate apocalypse fatigue is a psychological response to the overwhelming nature of climate change that can lead to feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and fatigue (Stoknes, 2015). Yet, beneath these seemingly ordinary challenges lies a profound interplay of ethics, beliefs, and the urgent need for collective action.


A complex web of ethical considerations is at the heart of our climate-related inertia (Lau et al., 2021). Climate change is not just an environmental concern; it is an ethical one that demands engagement with the very roots of our morality and spirituality. Our beliefs, whether deeply embedded in religion, culture, or personal convictions, hold immense influences over our attitudes, behaviours, and political stances. In essence, our shared beliefs mould the world we envision for the future, influencing how we perceive and respond to existential threats like climate change.


Taking a pragmatic approach to climate change is crucial in the Malaysian context. People are more likely to engage when they perceive a personal advantage. Have you ever noticed how you can walk for hours in a European city, but when you return home to Malaysia, just 15 minutes can feel unbearable due to the rising temperatures? This discomfort on a personal level becomes a tangible concern, acting as a catalyst for heightened awareness and action. Similarly, the government has a stake in the climate change narrative. The escalating risks, from extreme weather events to economic repercussions, significantly threaten the government’s commitment to sustained economic growth. For instance, the substantial losses of RM600 million in floods in 2022 (Department of Statistics Malaysia [DOSM], 2022) underline the economic toll of climate-related events on the country, emphasising the need for improved natural disaster adaptation and mitigation in Malaysia.


In addition to these challenges, Malaysia grapples with the critical issue of illegal deforestation. Our forests are being poached at an alarming rate, not only contributing to environmental degradation but also posing economic challenges and exacerbating the overall impact of climate change. Addressing this issue becomes both an environmental imperative and an ethical responsibility to safeguard our nation’s natural resources and security for us and future generations.


In the delicious hot pot of Malaysia’s diverse cultural and religious landscape, each religion has its own way of talking about environmental conservation. Islam’s Khalifah of the Earth concept, Hinduism’s integration of protecting the environment into Dharma, Buddhism’s promotion of mindful consumption, and Christianity’s emphasis on the responsibility to care for the Eden of the Earth showcase the varied ways these faiths guide their followers toward sustainable practices.


Furthermore, from my observation, Malaysia’s cultural diversity is reflected in the unique traditions of the Malay, Chinese, and Indian communities, each contributing to sustainability efforts in their own ways. The Malay culture places a strong emphasis on community cooperation/gotong-royong. Meanwhile, for the Chinese, cultural values such as frugality, harmony, and balance underscore the importance of living in harmony with nature. Concepts like “yin and yang” guide them towards a balanced lifestyle. And lastly, of course, Indian culture emphasises reverence for the environment through concepts like “ahimsa” (non-violence) and “seva” (selfless service), encouraging compassion and respect for all living beings.


Well, we have more than that; if you ask your friend’s opinions from Sabah or Sarawak, which have various ethnicities, they would have many interesting practices for ecology conservation.


While these religious teachings and cultural practices provide a foundation for sustainable living, there is room for reevaluation. To foster a truly sustainable future, it’s crucial to assess and adjust aspects of cultures that may not align with contemporary sustainability efforts.


For those who prefer to look beyond cultural or religious frameworks, science stands as a universal language. It offers a comprehensive understanding of climate change and its urgency. Integrating scientific knowledge with cultural and religious perspectives creates a holistic approach to sustainability. This does not mean you have to study complex research. I would suggest checking channels like Youth United for Earth Malaysia or Greenpeace Malaysia for accessible, local climate messages that can provide valuable insights.


Moving forward responsibly requires understanding beliefs. On an individual level, aligning beliefs with actions, despite daily life constraints, can collectively make a significant difference. It’s important to always differentiate your need for survival or luxury properly.


Other than that, systemic responsibilities could also force people to move forward or backwards. That’s why holding individuals accountable is crucial. Systemic change involves holding leaders accountable for climate-friendly policies. Advocating for candidates committed to environmental responsibility during elections becomes essential.


Observing Malaysian culture’s deep respect for elders doesn’t mean endorsing harmful actions by celebrities or politicians. Even if you like these figures, always acknowledge what they should do.


Admittedly, transforming society and policies is complex and demands extensive research. Despite imperfections, progress matters. Every small positive step contributes to a healthier planet. It is about understanding beliefs, taking responsibility, and collectively moving toward a more sustainable future.


As Malaysians, our cultural, religious, and personal beliefs significantly influence our perspectives on sustainability. I understand that some of us may feel demotivated, especially considering the current state of our country concerning climate change and politics. However, by embracing the wisdom embedded in our traditions, integrating scientific knowledge, and holding our leaders accountable, we can cultivate a harmonious relationship with the Earth and our beloved “tanah tumpah darahku”. The path toward a sustainable future may be intricate, but one step forward is better than no steps.