Josephine Tan on sustainable practices and nature-friendly built environment

Josephine Tan is General Manager of the Penang Green Council. She has also served as a Special Officer in charge of environmental portfolio under the Penang State Government. Her track record in environmental activism also comes from her involvement in various NGOs such as United Nation Environmental Programme, International Solid Waste Association, and UN Habitat. She believes that achieving sustainability is only possible through an integrated approach involving policy makers, industry players, national/international networking platforms and society at large.

What started you into this journey to care about the environment?

It started many years ago when the first tsunami hit Penang in 2004. It was believed to be the deadliest tsunami in history, killing more than 230,000 people across 14 countries, including Malaysia. Triggered by a 9.3-magnitude undersea earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, the tsunami claimed 52 casualties from Penang itself, leaving us reeling. Malaysia has never been hit by natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions because our location is not on the Ring of Fire. However, we should still be wary since Malaysia could potentially suffer from the compression energy formed by the neighbouring countries that stand on the Ring of Fire. My question was how that could happen.

It is getting warmer day by day because greenhouse gas emissions have increased the greenhouse effect and caused Earth’s surface temperature to rise. Warmer temperatures lead to a chain reaction of other changes. It affects the oceans, weather patterns and ecology. We realised that climate change has directly affected us and it is not going to stop if we do not take action to address its destructive behaviour. During that massive tragedy, many people were vulnerable and did not know what was happening and what to do, including myself. I was still very young at that time. Over the years, I have gained exposure and experience, and I realised that the challenges our state is facing today is a lack of knowledge about climate change. It is a worldwide issue and no one is immune to it. Penang is already feeling the impact—massive flash floods hit us every year even though we have mitigation plans being laid out.

Seeing all these changes first-hand, I have decided to make climate change a top priority issue that we need to look into and address.

Some people choose to be climate silent, which means that they are aware of the situation but choose not to take any actions.

What are the biggest problems facing our environment?

Throughout the nine-year journey in creating awareness and educating the community, I have discovered that some people choose to be climate silent. Most people are aware and understand that the Earth is threatened, but they choose not to do anything. The sense of ownership to take part and protect the planet is still low. In Penang, flash floods, eroded shorelines and illegal dumping of plastic wastes from other countries are some of our biggest problems.

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