SEPTEMBER 19 — There is no doubt that the haze is terrible, and exacts a deadly toll on our health, well-being, economy and education. But the haze is merely a small symptom of the much bigger problem: the climate emergency.
Prompted by the multiple failures of the status quo over 25 years, we have previously proposed that Malaysia take legal action against Indonesia in the International Court of Justice for a declaratory judgment of a legally binding commitment to prevent any future fires in Indonesia, as well as the symbolic figure of RM1. Such action comes packaged with continual fire-fighting aid to Indonesia, legal action in Malaysian courts against Malaysian companies guilty of any pollution anywhere in the world, and partnerships between civil societies of both countries to find cross-boundary solutions to cross-boundary problems. In this letter, we expand on our proposal in three ways.
Needed: Imaginative and bold legal solutions
Firstly, constructive solutions. We are grateful for and acknowledge the responses of various lawyers that our proposal is legally unworkable. We believe our lawyer friends are sincere, not anti-solutionist or obstructionist. In response, we ask for a joint and constructive effort with our lawyer friends from all countries to find legal solutions for what’s possible to fight the haze, especially in light of the repeated failures of the status quo. To paraphrase Kennedy, don’t tell us what the law won’t let us do, but tell us what the law will let us do.
The proposed lawsuit is our stand as Malaysia asking for new, bold and imaginative legal solutions for the haze. It is crucial to deploy the law in our fight against haze, alongside political, economic, scientific and behavioural measures. We need as wide a set of options as possible. If our current decades-old laws don’t or won’t permit us to act effectively, then let’s propose new and better laws instead of merely stating that our hands are tied. Humans created the legal system after all, and we’ll need one of humanity’s greatest inventions on our side to fight the haze.
A never-ending series of problems
Secondly, the bigger picture. Southeast Asia’s Annual Haze Crisis goes deeper than just open fires and can’t be fixed by any new laws. There’s an economics angle (cheaper to burn fields than to fertilise), a “tragedy of the capitalist commons” angle (plantation owners can escape the haze while holidaying in Europe, while ordinary workers and citizens suffer at home), and a “failure of nation states” angle (where the problems in one country affect another and neither can solve it alone). Therefore, we can’t only focus on the lawsuit as a magic solution; it’s only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle. We must have the uncomfortable discussions and implement the difficult solutions for these three other angles.
However, when we compare the Annual Haze Crisis to the climate emergency, it’s really only child’s play: a few fires are burning in a neighbouring country. The climate emergency is infinitely more complex, with infinitely more variables, actors and vested interests. Frankly, if we fix haze, we only graduate to the next-level problem of the climate emergency, where all three aforementioned angles still intersect and where we’ll need even bolder legal infrastructure. Let’s not imagine that haze is the be-all and end-all.
The haze only provides introductory lessons in international partnership, a new legal infrastructure and an all-of-the-above set of solutions needed to fight the biggest enemy in the history of the human race: our own extinction.
The enemy is extinction, not each other
Finally, geopolitics. Today’s world has few truly important problems that exist narrowly within the borders of any one single country, and problems of this nature cannot be solved by any single country either. Whether we understand, acknowledge, like or even accept it, our world today is one big planetary commons. It’s well-known that humanity has many problems, like poverty, hunger, disease, inequality and discrimination, and we can bracket them under the banner of human rights.
The other major challenge is the climate emergency, and with it, a severe threat of extinction for our species. Human rights and the climate emergency are therefore the two grand problems to which the solutions are worthy of all of and the very best of humanity’s talents, ambitions, energies and sense of mission.
If two Bangsa Serumpun neighbours with otherwise good relations cannot come together to fix a “small” problem like haze, what hope is there for a humanity of eight billion people in 195 countries to fix the gigantic issues of climate change, refugees or global inequality? These are not zero-sum games where one country can win only if another one loses.
In the current haze indeed, we have never felt closer to our Indonesian brothers and sisters, breathing the same air as we are. So you see, there are no enemies in our species-wide struggle for our own survival. The only zero-sum game is where all of humanity dies if we don’t all play to win together. The real enemy is our extinction.
All solutions needed to beat the enemy
To beat the enemy, we first have to beat selfishness, greed and apathy everywhere. A successful fight against Asean’s Annual Haze Crisis must employ new and innovative legal solutions alongside political, economic, technological, scientific and behavioural solutions. That fight is only a precursor, a provider of the early lessons necessary to solve the grand problem of our age: the climate emergency. Let’s get started, Malaysia and Indonesia, Malaysians and Indonesians. If we can successfully come together to tackle this issue, we will have plenty to teach the rest of the world.
On 20-27 September, we get our first chance to do something. The world will see an unprecedented “strike” by children, youths and others to bring attention to the climate emergency that threatens to engulf all of humanity. It shouldn’t take children to ask adults to fix the problems that adults created in the first place. Find out more, dear Malaysians, come on board, get informed, and make a difference. This is the right fight.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.