Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cries of foul rang out long and hard in Malaysia when petrol rates rose by 40 percent from an artificially suppressed RM1.92 on 5 June, and all over the country misgivings were voiced regarding the link between government corruption and decreased fuel subsidies. Yes, Petronas, and by extension the government, has much to answer for in terms of where its profits have been directed to—its summarized annual reports being next to useless for that purpose, despite what the CEO says—but that is only one side of the equation.

The other half has to do with our own profligate attitude towards energy consumption. Cars driven when a five-minute walk would do; building designs more reliant on batteries of air-conditioning units and arrays of artificial lights than natural ventilation and daylighting; dismal application of solar power in a country well-suited for it—all these practices reflect a wider pattern of excessive energy dependency fostered by cheap fuel, a pattern which merely contributes to the crunch every time local petrol prices rise (and they will rise again).

So instead of being content to point fingers at the government while wallowing in our inability to wean ourselves from a pampered mode of consumption, we should see this 'crisis' (Special Period, it is not) in a more positive light: that is, a timely impetus to push for energy efficiency. We should take this opportunity to vastly improve decrepit and inefficient public transportation networks, promote carpooling, popularize self-propelled forms of conveyance, endorse energy savings standards, foster research into alternative forms of energy, encourage locally or personally cultivated produce and discourage wastage.

If one believes in peak oil or global warming then all these measures can only be a boon in the long-run anyway, and even those who do not accept either theory will find it hard to disagree that we need increased resilience to changes in oil prices. At the very least, to walk a little farther and cycle a little more often will be good for the heart. Just as importantly, by reducing our dependency on that which we cannot predict and by bringing more factors under the aegis of local communities we stand to regain greater control of our individual lives regardless of the vagaries of economics or, indeed, politics. To say the government has screwed us over is one thing but to stand by and not do a single thing to change our wasteful habits is to fuck ourselves over doubly.

posted by Hong at 5:31 am | Permalink |