A funny thing happened on the way to the Paris Climate of Conformity hearings. Politicians from over 190 counties applauded the historical accord, touting the cooperation among world leaders as the very thing that will save this planet. Unfortunately, the Southeast Asian contingency forgot to tell its citizens. Living on the 9th floor of a scenic condo overlooking the water in touristy Batu Ferrenghi affords us the perfect height for inhaling the never ending poisonous mixtures of toxic smoke they emit every day of the year. Those readers raised in the western world (like us), probably have no idea what I’m talking about since they outlawed indiscriminate burning of leaves, garbage and almost everything about 40 years ago. Having lived through the worst “haze season” in 20 years this fall, I was looking forward to clear beautiful skies for a while. Sadly, there’s no such thing as clean air in “developing nations“. And until somebody educates the general population, passes real legislation and forces companies (and local farmers) to practice sustainable methods of agricultural land clearing, no climate agreement will ever be effective on this side of the world.
Elaborating the point a bit, let me explain further. Every single day they burn things in Southeast Asia, polluting the already questionable air that’s finally haze free (for now) and subjecting everyone in the region to an unhealthy forest-fire like stench. As we speak, we’re sitting here trying to enjoy the cool morning air and watch some live hockey with all our windows open and the whiff of something burning is overwhelming both of us. They burn stuff every day for reasons I can’t even fathom. The construction site a few hundred feet from our window starts a huge bonfire every evening when they complete their daily work. Obviously nobody understands what garbage trucks are and it seems like the mega conglomerate company called Waste Management would have a field day here. Across the street is a small military installation that starts several bonfires and periodically burns them all day from 8 AM thru 5 PM, often sending plumes of thick sooty smoke into the air, obscuring the otherwise clear blue sky. WHY ???
A mile or two away, the Holiday Inn Resort was trimming some trees the other day using the hilarious methods commonly practiced here (no power tools; just a bunch of Malays holding a long rope while some others hack away with a small pickax). Guess what they did to get rid of the fallen trees? It took three hours for that one to dissipate (after it traveled right to my windows). Probably number one on my list of unnecessarily ridiculous things that bother me in Southeast Asia, I’m absolutely baffled how anyone doesn’t comprehend the environmental and human damage that comes from indiscriminate burning. Governments claim they want to become “developed nations” but allow their citizens to pollute the environment every day, apparently completely oblivious of the consequences for future generations.
Then there’s my favorite one. Called “fogging“, on the 14th of every month at 6:30 PM we flee our condo because you don’t want to be anywhere near our house at that time unless you enjoy a disturbingly loud noise followed by 30 minutes of foggy chemical bombardment. Deemed necessary to control the mosquito population, we have no clue what they’re spraying but we’re willing to bet no G20 nation would ever allow this in a public areas. Making it worse, the landscaping contractor routinely sprays liquid gases like exterminators use right in the pool area where young children are playing despite the obvious danger. Of course people in Southeast Asia don’t understand why you shouldn’t spray poison where little kids play. I suppose nobody ever told them. In the building management’s defense, they do conspicuously post the day and time of the fogging although I’m guessing someone from the condo board asked them to do this. Depending on the time of year the wood in the pool area stinks for days on end like water-logged rubber, thereby negating one of the best reasons to live here.
Understanding developing countries don’t have the financial resources of western nations only makes the climate conference seem even more useless. Bragging to the world how the developed nations pledged billions of dollars to help poorer nations conform, nobody living in Germany, America or Canada remotely understands that real climate change involves more than meetings and political rhetoric. You need to experience the daily smells that we do. China’s air is becoming so unlivable they’re forced into pretending they care and agreeing to take part in the climate agreement fiasco. How can countries possibly reduce carbon emissions to acceptable levels when everyone simply burns garbage, trees, leaves, used cropland land and anything else in sight?
Realizing expats are visitors with no say in governmental affairs, I’m not trying to tell people how to run their country and Southeast Asian nations would probably not be affordable if they inundated the population with unenforceable laws that nobody would listen to anyway. But in a time when island nations are literally threatened thanks to climate change, it’s time for the entire world to stand up and take notice if anyone is serious about keeping the planet habitable for our grandkids. Supposedly democratic societies with free and influential media, how about suggesting that Southeast Asian leaders using social media to educate a young generation of smart-phone obsessed kids how to be better global citizens? Seeking “fully developed status” seems like a huge oxymoron if it only applies to institutional investors, hedge fund managers and wealthy politicians interested in Malaysia’s government bond rating. Oh, and they leave town every time “haze season” comes around.
Not usually one to rant on the blog and understanding there’s more reasons to love Southeast Asia than hate it, this post is just my way of questioning things that seem ludicrous to me. There’s plenty of irritations that western expats need to accept if you want to live in Southeast Asia. Pedestrians literally take their lives in their hands every time they walk the streets, motorbike drivers in Malaysia are hopelessly obnoxious and completely unskilled drivers and restaurants don’t understand that patrons want all their food to come out at the same time. But compared to the $4 piece of beautiful Norwegian salmon we ate for dinner tonight, access to endless fresh veggies and fruit and the opportunity to live in a condo overlooking the sea that’s usually $5,000 a month in San Francisco for a few hundred bucks, all the inconveniences are simply just inconvenient. But I really wish somebody would wake up and smell the smoke. Nobody disputes climate change was probably caused by wealthy western nations but allowing endless pollution to continue as things in Southeast Asia for another century certainly can’t help the cause.
In case anyone thinks I’m just rambling, this excellent article explains why burning trash is bad for humans and global warming. Maybe they should have shown it to the delegates.
Disclaimer: I was really, really sick of inhaling toxic soup today. It disturbed my enjoyment of the Edmonton Oilers once in a decade six game winning streak. So I took it out on the computer keys. And you guys. Sorry. But it is an important topic so feel free to comment, share or ramble.