I have been travelling to Putrajaya from Shah Alam on a daily basis for the past 15 years of my career as a Malaysian civil servant serving at the iconic Federal Government Administrative Centre, Putrajaya. And I used to enjoy the 45-minute drive to and from Putrajaya, but not anymore.
The trip to Putrajaya in the morning is no longer a pleasant and calming drive as the concrete and cement jungle has transformed the organic trees along the Elite highway into an apogee of ugliness.
The lushes of tree and flora which used to grace the entire stretch of the Elite highway from the Ebor Toll to the Putrajaya Toll are now disappearing at an alarming rate. They are being replaced with industrial plants and elite residential hubs. This once beautiful sight to behold has now turned into an asphalt jungle. And I believe land clearing activities are becoming more active all over the country once the strict version of the Movement Control Order (MCO) was lifted on May 4, 2020.
Land clearing impacts the environment
Whether it is a small-scale or large-scale clearance, land clearing impacts the environment immensely. When the land clearing is minimal the effects can be inversed but when it is far-flung the effects can be irreparable.
The peril to the environment lies with the permanent clearance and can extinguish an entire ecosystem, causing environmental threats such as greenhouse gas emissions, a rise in soil salinity, the destruction of natural habitats for animals, the decrease and even extinction in indigenous flora and fauna, as well as erosion and excessive flooding.
In such situations, biodiversity vanishes if no initiative is taken to preserve or nurture it. For example, on May 23, 2020, Putrajaya experienced one of the ugliest flash floods due to a two-hour heavy downpour. The flash flood caused unprecedented traffic congestion for several kilometres where members of the Civil Defence Force (APM) had to push some of the trapped cars out of the flooded area.
Extensive land clearing is a problem in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania and I can also say it is horribly affecting Malaysia too.
For the most part, land clearing has been utilised to make way for agricultural and urban development. In the past, governments and people thought that if land was left on its own that it was being "wasted" when it could be put to good use to be developed for agricultural purposes.
By taking scrub land, clearing it, and turning it into fields for crop production not only was the increase in land value raised, but so was economic gain for the community. While at one time land clearing was seen as beneficial and even progressive, it is now generally viewed as destructive.
Since more environmental awareness has taken hold, countries which use land clearing keep legislative regulation on its use. Despite the known negative environmental impact, farmers and land developers worldwide object to the restriction of land clearance because it affects their crop production and urbanisation work and how much land they have available to them.
Forests help people thrive and survive
Forests cover 31 per cent of the land area on our planet. They help people thrive and survive by, for example, purifying water and air and providing people with jobs; some 13.2 million people across the world have a job in the forest sector and another 41 million have a job that is related to the sector.
Many animals also rely on forests. Eighty per cent of the world's land-based species, such as elephants, tigers and rhinos, live in forests.
Forests also play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink – soaking up carbon dioxide that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in climate patterns.
But forests around the world are under threat, jeopardising these benefits. The threats manifest themselves in the form of deforestation and forest degradation. The main cause of deforestation is agriculture (poorly planned infrastructure is emerging as a big threat too) and urban development (urbanisation is the biggest enemy of forests as many forests are being demolished to make infrastructure for the expanding population and for generating resources to manage other urban areas); and the main cause of forest degradation is illegal logging.
We are losing 18.7 million acres of forests annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every minute.
Ergo, I would like to end this letter with a quote by John Barter who is a Buddhist Psychologist and Mindfulness Meditation teacher, “Imagine that trees give us free Wi-Fi, we would be planting trees like crazy and would end deforestation. It’s a pity that they only produce the oxygen we breathe to live”.
Dr Suzianah Nhazzla Ismail has a PhD in Politics from the University of Sheffield in the area of Animal Politics and Environmental Ethics. She is currently the one and only expert in that field in Southeast Asia.
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