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October 24, 2019

The Environment and I

By Professor Dr. Aung Tun Thet

Natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things
“Always on my mind” is a phrase to be attached to each and everyone with regards to the natural environment as it is related to all on this planet. Correlatively, man and environment are inter-related. Lot of enormous changes have had taken places in my locality during the span of my lifetime. In 1956, our family moved to an area called Windermere closely linked with Inya Road and Golden Valley.
Those were the days that the area was filled with very large tropical trees and giant banyan trees where ten adults could go merry-go-round at each tree.
Green grass around our home was supplemented with shady large trees with varieties of birds chirping and singing. A small water pool was there with wind blowing over a calm surface making a pleasant atmosphere.
Lay Kyun Sat Kyar Dat Paung Su Pagoda is the most famous stupa or pagoda with a spacious precinct in our locality. Thar Du Chan or enclosure was filled with large tall trees near the beautiful and cozy living quarters named (99) ward with at least half an acre of land in each enclosed space.
On our way to the nearest Myay Ni Gone Market in Sanchaung Township, we walked past the jammed packed tall trees and bamboo trees.
Totally changed is the landscape in our locality with the visible features of an area of land, its landforms, and how they integrate with natural or man-made features.
Residential buildings popped up like the mushrooms and mildews along with the luxurious hotels, inns and rest houses in the midst of tall condominiums.
Once spacious enclosures and compounds have been dissected into small pieces and sold out to new owners.
Gone were the small forest and tall trees along with the singing birds, just leaving only the large black birds with unpleasant cry locally called crow.
Dense population occupies the locality and the single and separate unit residences were substituted with tall apartment buildings.
Visible development of marvelous structures is all there but with the indefinable and intangible loss of natural environment is also there for sure.
Wind of change, an influence or tendency that cannot be resisted, is blowing in the whole country with regards to the natural environment.
Just by being on earth, at any given moment, and doing something or even nothing we are already changing the world.
First Assessment Report was issued in 1990 on natural environment risks. After 18 months work, the chairman of the IPCC (UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) working group looking at the impacts of climate change wrote the issue with the words “potentially the greatest global environmental challenge facing humankind”.
News from the United Nations on the likely impacts of climate change is dire, especially for the poorest people on the planet. There will likely be more floods, more droughts and more intense heat waves, says the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As human emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise, natural ecosystems come under extreme stress with “significant” knock-on effects for societies.
During my university years pursuing on economic, a good degree in economics or a related subject had taught such as statistics, mathematics, or business studies; but the theme on natural environment never came in the educational domain.
Development and growth are the main theme that we focus upon, and that the criterion was the income generation and the volume of cash.
Priority was given in the classes and lectures on how to get rich.
One episode is always on my mind that occurred during my PhD research job when I came across a foreign researcher working on Myanmar perception.
“Small is Beautiful” is the name of his famous book.
Small Is Beautiful brought critiques of Western economics to a wider audience during the 1973 energy crisis and emergence of globalization.
At that time, the idea and concept of “Bigger is better” was in the center stage. The meaning of this proverb is opposite to that of “Good things come in small packages.” They use this proverb to say that if something is bigger than others, it is better. If someone says, “The bigger, the better,” he/she means that something is good because it is big.
Advocating that appropriate size and standing is the best, the author opposed the concept of “Large is good”.

Natural Environment and Economic
“Buddhist Economic” is another book written by the same author in which he challenged the accepted norm of economic theory in the western hemisphere. Moreover, he linked up the economic and the natural environment, highlighting the conviction and credence of Buddhism over the economic development.
Lately, no news and debates are heard about the author under referral. However, my mind is packed with new image and visualization derived from the book of the said author, and has the feeling that the economic paradigm is not comprehensive.
Momentous political and economic events of the late 1990s have occurred on this planet. It created and showed correctly and exactly the linkage and inter-relationship between the natural environment and the economic development.
The Millennium Development Goals were eight international development goals for the year 2015 that had been established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000.
Member nations of the UN have accepted the MDGs, and that one of the goal is to ensure environmental sustainability.
It is critical that the natural resources base on ecosystems are managed sustainably to ensure that people’s food requirements and other social, economic, and environmental needs are sufficiently met.
Climate change, conflicts over access to resources, and increased water scarcity all pose a threat to not only environmental sustainability but also food security.
Everything changed during the Industrial Revolution, which began around 1750. People found an extra source of energy with an incredible capacity for work. That source was fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas, though coal led the way — formed underground from the remains of plants and animals from much earlier geologic times.
Human beings have overused the natural resources without the slightest idea of sustainability.
Just thinking of the present situation and circumstances for economic development, the people were in oblivion without contemplation for the future.
In our beloved country Myanmar, the world famous teak wood is extracted without plan and management. Exploitation of natural teak forest has not been controlled by yield fixation.
In fact, Myanmar Teak Wood is the trademark of Myanmar product.
The Third Anglo-Myanmar War, also known as the Third Burma War, was a conflict that took place during 7–29 November 1885. One of the root causes of the third Anglo-Myanmar War, in the context of political deadlock, was the prohibition of Myanmar King to the British Companies to stop extraction of Myanmar teak.
Spiraling fear is arising that the Myanmar teak would be extinct in the foreseeable future and that the sample teak might be literally has to be displayed in the respective museum.
Short term hallucination based on greed and corrupted mindset has created an ugly scenario in the country. Despite the efforts to curb the dilemma through the law and order, the mayhem overwhelms the situation along with the state of disorder due to disregard of the law.

Natural Environment and Internal Peace
Each component interrelates with all the others that covers the natural environment and the internal peace, creating arms conflicts in the areas where natural resources are abundant.
Ironically, the excessive extraction of natural resources is fanning and flaming the arms conflicts in many areas of the country.
The Monywa copper mining complex, comprised of the Letpadaung and the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) mines, is Myanmar’s largest copper mining project.
These copper mines have left a trail of land disputes and alleged environmental damage, and local farmers fear they may never receive redress.
It is much similar to the lunar landscape being characterized by impact craters and ugly surface.
In place of the current use of irreplaceable and extremely rare energy such as oil and gas, the most prevalent forms of renewable energy must be substituted such as solar, wind, biomass, hydro power, geothermal and bio-fuels. However, the complex political implication is tangled in such application; the actual implementation on alternative sources of energy is not feasible.
Coming to the round table discussions with cool and calm concept to find a solution is not possible as the narrow minded people are shouting at the top of their voices for their own agenda based on self-interest and greed.
There is a saying, “Think of tomorrow, the past can’t be mended”, and therefore, it is useless to be discontented and dejected.
With regards to the natural environment each and everyone is relevant and pertinent to all on this planet that needs to keep always on our mind.
We need to prevent environmental degradation as much as we could.

Natural Environment and Plastic Pollution
A few weeks back, I have had the opportunity in attending an event at Chatrium Hotel (Yangon) near Kandawgyi Lake, where I unexpectedly witnessed a sight with much amazement to be remembered.
Drinking water was served to the guests in elegant glassware instead of customary plastic bottles..
Drinking water is healthy, but disposable water bottles contain chemicals that have been linked to environmental pollution and degradation.
A few months back, I have witnessed mountain of discarded disposable water bottles at Mahar Sadan Cave in Hpa-an Township.
Beautiful Ngapali Beach in Myanmar is fairly popular from the mass tourism; and unfortunately, it is filled with plastic water bottles.
In an alarming degree of danger, the use of food containers made of foam is on the rise at all restaurants and food courts.
Once upon a time in the past, Myanmar people ordered and bought food from the eateries and carried in stainless steel containers or metal containers. Nowadays, people use plastic bags in carrying food.
Still lingering in my mind is the way that we bought Mokehinga Phat (rice noodles) wrapped in large green leaves, and the gravy in the stainless food carrier.
Plan and project in discarding and dumping plastic bags are to be considered seriously, right away.
Substitution of plastic bag with other method being managed at the City Mart is laudable ambition.
Use of personal water containers is advisable for all office staff members at offices and worksites. Plastic bottles never ever bring good results, but worst consequences.
Over 1 million marine animals (including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and birds) are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. Currently, it is estimated that there are 100 million tons of plastic in oceans around the world.
Recent heavy floods and landslides occurred because the natural environment has been sadly neglected. Decisions made on short term objectives have resulted with greater loss and damages.
Answer is the outcome of a solution while solution is a way of reaching answer.
Non-renewable energy comes from sources that will run out or will not be replenished in our lifetimes, and that they are to be maintained and preserved.
It is essential to use renewable sources of energy because they are biodegradable, and will never effect the environment.

Objectives with regards to natural environment
A couple of weeks back, I have had an opportunity in sharing a lecture at a company where I talked about three ( R ) such as that of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”; a motto highly deserve to be applied at every company and establishment.
The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to transform our world being accepted in 2015 have incorporated five objectives on conserving natural environment. Among them is “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”.
People are consuming more than necessary and producing unnecessary items creating havoc to the environment with high pressure. Some may say that people could pay less attention due to poverty which is merely unacceptable excuse. It is nothing to do with the status of poverty and prosperity.

Ordinary Things That Everyone Ought to Do
Ordinary things that everyone ought to do must be done with courage and guts.
There exists a misconceived idea and thought with regards to sustainable development. It is not advocating for sacrifice and use sparingly for the posterity.
Contemplation and concentration on the present situation and circumstances is needed to be convenient and to go without a hitch, and also to visualize the future possible scenario.
Looking into the gas industry of Norway, half of the income from gas has been set aside for investment for the security and well being of the posterity, and at the same time the government is managing for the comfort and convenient of the citizens. Norwegian public finances are boosted by significant revenues from the petroleum sector.
Motley assortments of issues with regards to natural environment consist of many different and connected matters in complexity in soft and sensitive nature.
Responsibilities lie with us to handle with care far away from extreme way of approach. It is not just in the domain of economic sphere, but to keep in mind that it is interwoven with politics, social and culture.
“Green Growth and Green Economy” is the paradigm that we must step ahead in balanced manner with the participation of all citizens.

In some cases, individual behavior and manners is needed to be in order, limit or rule to certain extent, and that irrelevant lifestyle in the society must be changed.
There is a Myanmar saying that one small grain of sesame could not produce oil; however, gathering the sesames is the answer for producing necessary amount of oil.
In conclusion, I would like to say that each individual, each decision, and each compilation must be aimed at the greater good of all mankind.
All our actions aim to have impact which improves the living conditions of humanity.
I would like to wrap up by urging to think hard and act fast.

Translated by UMT (Ahlon)

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