Now and then, we hear people talking about climate change. It looks like it is getting more serious since we have been hearing about it more often in the past few years. Indeed it is – not only that it is something that others have experienced outside Malaysia, it is becoming more apparent now in Malaysia too.
You have probably heard about the recent drought in India or one a few years back in South Africa. These occurrences may perhaps remind you of the worst flood episode that attacked the East Coast region of Peninsular Malaysia in 2014. These natural disasters may be attributed to climate change. Reports have shown that the extreme weather, e.g. prolonged droughts, strong winds and heavy downpours in different parts of the world, is closely linked to climate change.
What leads to climate change? Scientists believe that it has to do with the high level of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere. Scientific reports show that CO2 level is now at the highest level than it has ever been in the past 400,000 years. During the Ice Age, CO2 levels were around 200 parts per million (ppm). Before the 1950s, the CO2 levels were around 280 ppm. Since then, CO2 levels have risen exponentially and surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in history in the year 2013. The latest statistics show that we reached 407 ppm of CO2 as of 2018. This issue was addressed during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) held in Paris in 2015, and most countries have signed the Paris Agreement. The agreement proposed a long-term goal to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C. It is hoped that doing this would substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change.
You may ask, "For a regular person, what can I do to tackle climate change?" Well, there is a list of simple things that we can do in our daily life:
Turn off the lights when they are not in use. Reducing electricity consumption translates to less burning of fossil fuel, which is the primary source for CO2 emission. Reducing consumption would help because electricity generation in Malaysia is mainly with the use of coal and natural gas, each contributing approximately 43 per cent of the total electricity production as of 2016. At the same time, hydropower and other renewables, e.g. solar power, constitute about 13 per cent of electricity production). These fossil fuels generate a substantial amount of CO2.
Take public transport more often. If you live in Kuala Lumpur or the Klang Valley, there is no reason not to use the ever-improving train system. If you have yet to try our Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), please be sure to take a ride soon. We have seen more people using the MRT since its launch on July 2017. This spike in MRT usage is indeed a good sign. Not only that it helps to reduce CO2 emissions (less cars mean less petrol is burned, and hence less CO2 released to the air), it also saves you from the hustle of traffic jams, in addition to saving money for toll and parking.
Segregate your trash accordingly (glass, plastics, paper, aluminium) and put them in dedicated recycling bins. Recycling translates to more efficient use of resources and directly leads to less extraction of natural resources, such as fossil fuels. If you do read newspapers regularly, please collect old newspapers and pass them to the lorries that come to collect them (and get a small saving in return).
Reduce usage of single-use plastics. If you have not done so, then start bringing your containers or bags whenever you go shopping or buy food for takeaway. If you have to use plastic bags, please be sure to reuse them as much as you can. Know that you can politely decline the plastic bags when offered. The same logic applies – less plastic used means less consumption of natural resources (plastic is made from crude oil too), and hence less CO2 emission.
I am sure you are keen to help make the world a better place; that is why you are reading this article. Well done if you have started practising the above suggestions, and it is never too late to start if you have not. Please also encourage your family and friends to do the same. We have only one Earth, so everyone should do their part in reducing the effects of climate change.
Prof Ir Dr Dominic C. Y. Foo is a research scholar who works on waste minimisation and CO2 reduction for the process industry.