Clear skies, clear minds

With the air clearing up and the PSI returning to decent levels, it’s time to also clear our heads and think about what can be done going forward to resolve the on-going haze problem and take the necessary preventive measures to avoid another haze-intensive episode.

Of course, solving such a big problem isn’t a simple task. Indeed, it would require decisive action by leaders of the countries involved, politicians at the national level, and individuals like you and I.

Needless to say, every single person has a part to play!

At the international level, the Indonesian ministers should stop accusing Singapore and Malaysia of “complaining” to the world. When Singapore and Malaysia mounted pressure on Indonesia to step up efforts to resolve the haze issue, Indonesia’s Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Jero Wacik likened the situation to a “husband and wife (taking their) quarrel outside” and that “you go through good times together, (so you) don’t make noise to the world when things go bad.” Prior to that, Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono said that Singapore was “acting like a child”.

Before Indonesia got itself into a deeper hole that would further embarrass the nation in the international sphere, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took control, did an about turn and said “sorry”.

Well, better late than never, right? At least he was man enough to take responsibility for the problem instead of simply chiding his neighbours and trivialising the situation. President Susilo received flak at home for the perceived “excessive apology” but he demonstrated his resolve by standing by what he said.

Political egos aside, what we the people want to see is swift action to stop those responsible for the haze.

Firstly, it is important to get on with the naming and shaming campaign for companies who use the slash and burn land clearing technique or employ subcontractors who carry out such practices. For companies who outsource the work, it is their responsibility to ensure that the contractors they employ use sustainable, environmentally-friendly methods of clearing land for farming.

This is where Singapore and Malaysia also need to be mentally prepared to score somewhat of an “own goal” if it was found that agri-business firms from these countries were some of the culprits using illegal farming practices for commercial ends.

Along with clamping down on the companies responsible for the haze and sentencing them in court with jail terms for their top dogs and imposing fines to put them out of business, the three nations need to come together and get their act together. Indonesia has said that they are prepared to accept help from Singapore and Malaysia to fight the haze, so the leaders should come together and get this sorted out.

The door is now open, so Singapore and Malaysia should now come up with solutions. Further politicking is not going to yield results; REAL action will. Let us not be another NATO (‘No Action, Talk Only’)!

At the national level, there are so many things that could have been done better when our island was cloaked in smog, but let’s not dwell on the past. Let’s focus on what the government can NOW do at this point in time.

For one, there should be a clear stand by MOM on what would be considered a serious health threat for a stop-work order to be issued.

There should be a risk assessment checklist for businesses where much of their work is conducted outdoors such as the construction industry and the cleaning sector. The haze is not merely an inconvenience to people but a health and safety risk, and this must be clearly articulated to employers who are only interested in making money regardless of the poor environmental conditions.

As for workers who are mostly cooped up in office buildings, a work-from-home order could be instated. After all, hasn’t the government been for many years endorsing the use of IT and providing rebates and grants for companies to adopt new technology to increase productivity? Shouldn’t most companies already be well-equipped to enable their employees to work from home? Sure, bring in a million N95 masks and distribute them for free, but beyond just throwing money at the problem, the government needs to understand that the public wants to feel like they’re being cared for as human beings.

Regardless of whether the stop-work order or work-from-home order is issued at all, it’s about giving the people peace of mind that a process has been put in place should we experience another terrible spell of haze in the coming days or weeks.

Efforts should also be stepped up by companies which have not been up to scratch on their IT infrastructure to get that fixed, and the government should mount pressure on them to ensure that all office workers are sufficiently equipped to be able to work from home should the need arise.

At the individual level, taking real action goes beyond ranting on Facebook and Twitter and complaining about how terrible everything is without offering any solution to the issue at hand.

Internet trolling on the haze is counter-productive. You can use social media more constructively by being an environmental activist and spreading the message about stopping the purchase of unsustainable palm oil products. This Facebook group is one simple way of showing that you’re sincere about supporting that cause.

But posting on Facebook is one thing, and taking proper action is another.

There is a laundry list of everyday items that we consume that keep up the demand for unsustainable palm oil: chocolates; shampoos & soap; lotions & creams; margarine, spreads and peanut butter; instant noodles; biscuits/snacks; cereal; ice-cream; the list goes on.

While it may not be immediately possible to go from zero to hero or become a tree hugger overnight, if everyone makes the effort to use palm oil-free alternatives, we can surely make a difference and send a strong signal to unscrupulous manufacturers to stop their illicit farming practices.

Here is a brief list of products that you should support that are palm-oil free or use sustainable palm oil (see a more comprehensive list here and here):

PALM OIL-FREE PRODUCTS

Chocolates
Cadbury Dairy Milk
Lindt Excellence/Creation

Biscuits/snacks
Kettle chips
Red Rock Deli Sea Salt Chips

Cereals
Kelloggs All Bran, Coco pops, Frosties, Rice Bubbles, Special K, Nutri-Grain, Crispix
Be Natural whole grain flakes range

Ice Cream
Ben & Jerry’s

BRANDS / COMPANIES / PRODUCTS THAT USE SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL
Doritos
Dove soaps and body-products
Ferrero chocolates
Flora margarine
Garnier cosmetics
Johnson and Johnson
L’Oreal Paris cosmetics
Lux soaps and body-products
Maybelline cosmetics
McDonald’s
Nestle
Oral-B toothpaste
P&G
Sunsilk shampoos and conditioners
Twisties
Unilever
Vaseline skin care

Together, we can make a difference today!

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Najib A.

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