Towards a New “Air” Ethic

Address by Anwar Fazal, Chairperson, Wetlands International Asia Pacific at the launch of Wetland Wonders 1997/98  at Bukit Gasing Education Centre, Petaling Jaya, in Selangor, Malasyia on 20 September 199.

The word “air” is of special significance. In the English language, it describes life's most necessary ingredient for survival. In Bahasa, it refers to water without which again no life is possible.

Today, we have an “air” crises -a double sided crises and both local and foreign. It is a reminder of some thing that history has taught us about civilizations. Every major civilisation in history has been eventually destroyed because it did not take the environment seriously. The First Law of Nature is – “If you do not deal constructively with the environment, the environment will deal destructively with you”.

Malaysia has added many “great” things to its name, tallest building (two of them in fact) in the world. We have climbed the highest mountain. We are also busily making the longest this and that and unfortunately some of the ideas are notoriously wasteful and utterly ridiculous. We should do great by doing socially and ecologically useful things instead.

We have a unique system of distance thinking called “Vision 2020” regarded the world over as an inspiring mobilising tool. There seems however to be a “blind spot” in our Vision 2020 - the caring of our environment. You can call it eco-caring. But there are some who do care and today is a demonstration of that. One of these great things in Malaysia but not that well known is what we are celebrating today – “Wetlands Wonders” - unique in the world, a first in the Universe….

Thank you New Straits Times and Datuk Kadir Jasin , for making this happen. Thank you, Hong Kong Bank Malaysia and Tim O'Brien, for making this possible. Our thanks also to Majlis Perbandaran Petaling Jaya (MPPJ) for their support of today's activities. Lastly, thanks is also due to the wonderful team in Wetlands International that has packaged information, joy and creativity, what is called “infotainment”, into four pages - bringing the wonderful world of Wetlands into the homes and thoughts of Malaysians through the country.

This “green” smart partnership between the media, Business and environment groups is a model for the world. Malaysia today is playing a leadership role in the wetlands area. We have the Asian headquarters of Wetlands International and its largest office here in Kuala Lumpur, located at the University of Malaya, who have been a wonderful host. Malaysia is also the current Asian representative on the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

And the Malaysian Government is working to build a world class Wetland Centre at the Putrajaya area in the near future.

The environment crisis both in air and water is a serious one. We need bold and long-term activities here in Malaysia and elsewhere. We know that we have to be deeply concerned with the fires associated with Peat forest which have been irresponsibly burnt by corporations and individuals. We also need to be worried that climate change as a result of the “E1 Nino” factor, will create serious drought. “Bad Air” and “No Water” are already the realities for many people in the region. It looks like its going to get dramatically worse. Let us work to develop a new ethic for water - don't take water for granted. Lets us work for a new ethic for air. Don't take Air for granted. We are already buying bottles of water. Soon we may be buying bottles of air for our survival. Its already happening, with “oxygen” saloons and bars operating in China and USA.

I read recently a poem by Chow Car Nee, a Form Five student from SM Damansara in Petaling Jaya. I like to share with all of you her moving words.


Lament of the Crying Earth


Can you hear her silent pitiful sobs?

Her once blue sky is now gray and dull.

she chokes in the thick haze and smoke;

The dust is burying her;

Where are all the grass, the trees,

and the plants which once protected her

with grave valiance?

She suffocates in the polluted air,

her tender body is bruised

and abused by endless development;

Her gentle hills are scraped and dug

till her wondrous curves are flattened,

Her children of flora and fauna are


one by one without much thought,

Her blood of pure water is infected

polluted by oil, toxic waste and rubbish,

Her glorious hat of fair sky is torn,

what with all the tall buildings ripping it,

We say, “The taller the buildings,the better!”

Better for what?

Better to get popularity and recognition?

What gibberish, I'd say!

With all the growing silence and technology,

and more money,

we still couldn’t give much help to the Earth,

we cannot stop her tears,

we cannot reclaim her tears,

Not until we realise our terrible mistakes

and reform ourselves to be her friend

and not her foe, .

She will one day, doubtlessly, retaliate,

Then she will cry no more, she will beg no more,

She will take a stand and fight for her rights

for Her battered body and her dead children,

The war will be the greatest ever in our History;

We, billions of us together,

Will be powerless, and the mercy of one

great being.

What good then, will all the coffers of gold do

to help us to merely survive?


Thank you, Chow Car Nee, wherever you are, for your friendship with and support of nature. Thank. you all for coming today for this celebration of nature

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