Home TRENDS AND ISSUES Environment Is Clean Tech the Savior of Our Future?

Is Clean Tech the Savior of Our Future?

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Yasmin Rasyid, GCIP Steering Committee Member

“If clean technology is truly the way forward and will make a significant impact on our lives and the planet’s, then why aren’t we pouring all our focus and resources to make adoption of clean technology mandatory for all industries and governments; and allow clean technology to be easily affordable and accessible to all pockets of communities? “

Is clean technology really the savior of our future?

Please don’t get me wrong. I do believe that clean technology and all the innovations that have evolved with it are fantastic. Yet my heart tells me that something is still not quite right about it. How long will it take before we see more adoption and application of clean technologies, especially in nations that are facing severe environmental issues? How and when will clean technology be accessible to all segments of society at affordable prices? How can every individual on this planet be empowered to utilize such available technologies and make a global impact on an ailing planet?

I am a semi-believer of clean technology; semi because of a few reasons:

One, as much as clean technology helps reduce or minimize the industry’s impact on the environment, clean technology is also a double-edged sword in that the making or fabrication of clean technologies also produces occasional negative impact on the environment. An example would be industrial wastes from manufacturing components that are essential for the production and manufacturing of clean technology products.

Take the electric or hybrid car for instance. An amazing innovation aimed at helping mankind reduce their reliance on fossil fuels or natural gas for their transportation needs. Eventually this whole transformation of mobility is aimed at global reduction of carbon emissions which, when accomplished, will help address or reduce the threats of climate change and global warming. All very nicely planned and laid out.  However, the process of making electric or hybrid vehicles, its high reliance on lithium batteries and special hybrid car components (many parts of a hybrid or electric vehicle these days are made from rare earth minerals), the impact of manufacturing electric or hybrid vehicles does in turn, impart some negative impacts on the environment. The wastes generated from manufacturing for instance.

Two, if clean technology truly is the future and will make transformational and quantifiable changes on our impact on the planet, then why am I not able to afford it?

Purchasing an EV or hybrid car is not for everyone. Affordability is an issue. In addition, certain components of the EV, such as the battery, cost an arm and a leg (compared to conventional car batteries of course) when in need of replacement.

So where and how do we draw the line in evaluating the effectiveness and accessibility of today’s so-called clean technology revolution?

If clean technology is truly the way forward and will make a significant impact on our lives and the planet’s, then why aren’t we pouring all our focus and resources to make adoption of clean technology mandatory for all industries and governments, and in addition,  allow clean technology to be easily affordable and accessible to all pockets of communities?

Instead we see a proliferation of conferences and dialogues, often dominated by industry players who are more business-centric (market driven, and sales driven) than eco-centric in their approach on clean technology. And, apart from business matching and networking, the high level engagement seems to only involve and benefit a selected group of business persons and companies. The clean technology industry has also attracted the interests of investors who are cashing in to invest on clean technology like solar panel and biofuels. The returns, I believe, is often more on monetary gain rather than social impacts.

Take for example SEDA’s (Sustainable Energy Development Authority) Feed in Tariff (FiT) program. A good comparison would be to compare the differences in the application of FiT between companies and investors and communities (orphanages, places of workshop, non-profit organizations, etc).

The fact of the matter is that there are still many communities, especially those marginalized with no basic access to water or energy, that are deprived of the benefits of clean technology. As for someone like me, an urbanite, owning a piece of clean technology can be a costly affair. So while the rich and powerful are dominating the clean technology industry, the existing and potential users are still left in the lurch dealing with issues like affordability and accessibility.

Clearly there is a big dichotomy in the clean technology revolution, if we can call it a revolution. On one side, the big companies are rushing in to invest and own, while the actual users are often unable to taste the benefits.

I remember when I started having a discussion with my husband on the feasibility of installing a rainwater harvesting tank at our home, we noticed that the gutter system channels a lot of rainwater directly to our drains. We thought it was such a waste to let all that roof run-off go to waste so the idea of having a rainwater harvesting system (RWH) seemed  logical, necessary and simple. After all, we were trying to do our part to be more resilient in times of a water crisis. But, imagine the shock we had when we went scouting for contractors and so called rainwater harvesting system experts. Price ranges for such system vary between RM5,000 to RM20,000. In addition, customization was going to just add additional expenditure.

There must be a cheaper solution.

Eventually my husband and I decided that we were going to take matters into our own hands. Armed with a laptop and an Internet connection, we explored the World Wide Web and found so many open sourced videos and blue print to make our own RWH. And we did!

With a used an oil drum,  some power tools, some pipes, some nets and voila, we built our own RWH for under RM500. Of course we did not work on extensive piping because all we wanted to do was collect, store and use the water for outdoor purposes.  Proudly, my husband and I started recording the process of making our own RWH and shared it with friends and family on social media. We were trying to drive home the point that being planet-friendly at home does not necessarily need to cost an arm and a leg and, most importantly, it can be built and constructed with your own effort, minus the middle man, contractor and supplier.

On the flip side, the annual haze situation in Malaysia. It has raised not just eye brows, but anger and frustration on the country’s commitment and urgency in addressing solutions to the haze. For one, if all palm oil plantation owners and operators, be it the big boys or the small holders, are all required to abide to stricter guidelines and follow the philosophies of clean technology and plantation best practices, then the haze should technically be non-existent. Here is a clear and straight example of a clean technology dilemma.

The technology is present, the situation beckons the use of such technology, but a serious lack of political will and urgency among governments still remain the two main deterrents to the adoptions and effectiveness of clean technology.

In addition, technology and its ramifications are only effective under proper usage and management. The absence of altruistic ways in clean technology management will only prevent the needy communities from accessing it.

That explains my “semi”-believing status.

I feel that clean technology, with proper leadership and strong political will, and a robust management and application style, will be able to change the lives of people and the planet if, and if only, these two areas are seriously address.

  1. Clean tech should be free and open-sourced with flexible financing schemes for communities, and
  2. Clean tech needs to be made mandatory for all businesses across the globe.

The future of clean tech is very bright, and it is undeniable. The fate of a nation, or our planet for that matter, is still in the hands of man. It takes a strong leader to drive through a nation from one that is polluting the environment to one that heals the planet. It takes an entire Parliament to come to a consensus to pave the way for a cleaner country.

However, right now it is not happening fast enough to show that it can make a big difference in the health of our planet. Our leaders need to move fast to adopt such clean tech options and demonstrate the resilience of the country, of its people, and ultimately, of leadership.

We should also be weary of parties that are misusing the term “clean technology” for their own benefit. Last check, Malaysia is working towards constructing its first nuclear plant in the very near future and I have personally heard certain government sectors referring to nuclear technology as green and clean technology compared to, say, burning natural gas or fossil fuels. This is a serious and dangerous ground to be threading on when we are clouding the definition of “clean technology”.

Clean technology will be seen as the savior of our future but, really, the real savior is us.

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