‘The Vagina Monologues’: Untold stories of womanhood


February 19,2019

‘The Vagina Monologues’: Untold stories of womanhood

by Som Kanika / Khmer Times

Each of the monologues deals with an aspect of the feminine experience. KT/Som Kanika

It was in 1996 when Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” premiered in New York City. More than two decades on, the episodic play continues to draw women together and inspire them to embrace their bodies and womanhood. During last week’s Phnom Fem Fest, “The Vagina Monologues” was brought again to Phnom Penh to empower Khmer women, writes Som Kanika.

Drawing inspiration from the an episodic play “The Vagina Monologues” written by Eve Ensler and was first performed in 1996, a group of local and expat women worked hard to bring the motivational play to Cambodia in time for the Phnom Fem Fest which began on February 15.

“The Vagina Monologues” explores consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences, body image, genital mutilation, direct and indirect encounters with reproduction, sex work, and several other topics through the eyes of women with various ages, races, sexualities, and other differences.

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The monologues use the female reproductive organ as a tool for empowerment. KT/Som Kanika

Shauna O’Mahony, Men Sonita, Emily Marques, Phoebe Ray and Alex Kennett – the directors of the Phnom Fem Fest – said that playing the thought-provoking “The Vagina Monologues” story in Phnom Penh was meant to inspire and empower Cambodian women to embrace their womanhood and fight for their rights. With its three-night run from February 15 to 17, the play drew a large crowd at the Chinese House on Preah Sisowath Quay.

The Vagina Monologues is made up of various personal monologues read by a diverse group of women. Originally, Eve Ensler performed every monologue herself, with subsequent performances featuring three actresses, and more recent versions featuring a different actress for every role. Each of the monologues deals with an aspect of the feminine experience, touching on matters such as sex, sex work, body image, love, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm, the various common names for the vagina or simply as a physical aspect of the body. A recurring theme throughout the piece is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment, and the ultimate embodiment of individuality.

The play – first performed Off-Broadway and in locations around the world by Ms Ensler – delves into the mystery, humor, pain, power, wisdom, outrage and excitement in women’s experiences. V-Day grew out of the play which exploded onto the scene in 1998, breaking taboos about women’s sexuality and shattering silence around violence done to women and girls. Strong language and sexual content. Recommended for ages 16 and older.

Having committed in the play writing and rehearsal for more than three months, Ms Sonita, emphasised that, “In this country, the word ‘vagina’ is one of the most sensitive topic and not too many women have the courage to talk about it. However, we can see that there are many issues that we need to know and discuss about vagina, such as health issues, its beauty and function. But talking about these seemed to cause condemnation before because it contradicts the code of conduct set for women in Cambodia. By creating this festival and performance, we want to change how women and the society in general see this sensitive topic. We want to break taboos in term of discussing a woman’s body in publich. We want to encourage more women to talk about the importance of their body because there’s really nothing to be ashamed of.”

Ms Sonita further note, “The inspiration leading me to take part in this festival and performance is my family. I grew up in an environment where my family gave me freedom to follow what I believe is right, and they listen to my opinion. And taking part in this festival and creating it up is part of my core desire to see Cambodian women in the next generation to have this kind of freedom, too.”

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“The Vagina Monologues” producer and director Alex Kennett, who has been living in Cambodia for 21 months now, noted that the play had been performed in Cambodia a few times before and people enjoyed it very much. “But this year, we would like to change some things including the Khmer translation and the participation of Khmer women performers, which is really important to us because what the monologue has to say is something that is for women everywhere. And I find that the ideas are really powerful so we wanted to bring it here.”

One of the interesting facts about the three-day Phnom Fem Festival and “The Vagina Monologues” performances was the producers and directors’ choice of highlighting specific issues that are relevant in Cambodia’s present situation.

Some of the actors of the thought-provoking play. KT/Som Kanika

“Each year they make a new issue that they want to focus on and for this year one of among the three spotlights is ‘incarceration of women’ which was in line with the 40th anniversary of the end of Khmer Rouge. It talked about the story of imprisonment of women at that time,” Ms Kennett said.

A theater performer and enthusiast, 22-year-old Ham Sovanpidor, was glad to be part of the play and deliver a strong message to her fellow women.

“This event is created for women and having women to participate in is really important in a way that shows Cambodia women should have a courage to talk more about her sex matters because the performance will feature many aspects of feminine experiences related sex beauty, menstruation, organism and more which are all related to women in general and it is vital for them to know too,” said Ms Sovanpidor, a student at the Department of Media and Communication.

Phnom Fem Fest is a registered international V-Day event, and this year’s V-Day spotlight was focused on ending gender-based violence and supporting previously incarcerated women. All profits from Phnom Fem Fest would go directly to Early Years Behind Bars, an initiative from a local human rights NGO that supports women, mothers and children in Cambodian prisons.

 

In defense of the elites


February 5, 2019

In defense of the elites

 

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/1/31/in-defense-of-the-elites

This year’s World Economic Forum, more than usual, prompted a spirited round of elite-bashing, which has now become the trendy political posture on both the right and left. On one side, President Trump and Fox News hosts slam the out-of-touch establishment that, according to them, has run things into the ground. On the other side, left-wingers decry the millionaires and billionaires who, in one author’s phrase, “broke the modern world.”

Underlying these twin critiques is a bleak view of modern life — seen as a dysfunctional global order, producing stagnant incomes, rising insecurity and environmental degradation. But is this depiction, in fact, true? Are we doing so very badly that we need to bring back the guillotines?

On the simplest and most important measure, income, the story is actually one of astonishing progress. Since 1990, more than 1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty. The share of the global population living in these dire conditions has gone from 36 percent to 10 percent, the lowest in recorded history. This is, as the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, notes, “one of the greatest achievements of our time.” Inequality, from a global perspective, has declined dramatically.

And all this has happened chiefly because countries — from China to India to Ethiopia — have adopted more market-friendly policies, and Western countries have helped them with access to markets, humanitarian assistance and loan forgiveness. In other words, policies supported by these very elites.

Look at any measure from a global perspective and the numbers are staggering. The child mortality rate is down 58 percent since 1990. Undernourishment has fallen 41 percent, and maternal deaths (women dying because of childbirth) have dropped by 43 percent over roughly the same period.

I know the response that some will have to these statistics. The figures pertain to the world in general, not the United States. Things might have improved for the Chinese, but not for the denizens of rich countries. That sense of “unfairness” is what is surely fueling Trump’s “America First” agenda and much of the anger on the right at the international system. (More bewilderingly, the left, traditionally concerned about the poorest of the poor, has become critical of a process that has improved the lives of at least 1 billion of the world’s most impoverished people.)

When criticizing the current state of affairs, it’s easy to hark back to some nostalgic old order, the modern world before the current elites “broke” it. But when was that golden age? In the 1950s, when Jim Crow reigned in the United States and women could barely work as anything more than seamstresses and secretaries? The 1980s, when two-thirds of the globe stagnated under state socialism, repression and isolation? What group of elites — kings, commissars, mandarins — ran the world better than our current hodgepodge of politicians and business executives?

Even in the West, it is easy to take for granted the astounding progress. We live longer, the air and water are cleaner, crime has plunged, and information and communication are virtually free. Economically, there have been gains, though crucially, they have not been distributed equally.

But there have been monumental improvements in access and opportunity for large segments of the population that were locked out and pushed down. In the United States, the gap between black and white high school completion has almost disappeared. The poverty gap between blacks and whites has shrunk (but remains distressingly large). Hispanic college enrollment has soared. The gender gap between wages for men and women has narrowed. The number of female chief executives at Fortune 500 companies has gone from one to 24 over the past 20 years. Female membership in national legislatures of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries has almost doubled in the same period. No countries allowed same-sex marriage two decades ago, but more than 20 countries do today. In all these areas, much remains to be done. But in each of them, there has been striking progress.

I understand that important segments of the Western working class are under great pressure, and that they often feel ignored and left behind by this progress. We must find ways to give them greater economic support and moral dignity. But extensive research shows that some of their discomfort comes from watching a society in which these other groups are rising, changing the nature of the world in which they’d enjoyed a comfortable status.

After 400 years of slavery, segregation and discrimination in the United States, blacks have been moving up. After thousands of years of being treated as structurally subordinate, women are now gaining genuine equality. Once considered criminals or deviants, gays can finally live and love freely in many countries. The fact that these changes might cause discomfort to some is not a reason to pause, nor to forget that it represents deep and lasting human progress that we should celebrate.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Warning!Everything is going Deep: The Age Of ‘ Surveillance Capitalism’


February 3, 2019

Around the end of each year major dictionaries declare their “word of the year.” Last year, for instance, the most looked-up word at Merriam-Webster.com was “justice.” Well, even though it’s early, I’m ready to declare the word of the year for 2019.

The word is “deep.”

Why? Because recent advances in the speed and scope of digitization, connectivity, big data and artificial intelligence are now taking us “deep” into places and into powers that we’ve never experienced before — and that governments have never had to regulate before. I’m talking about deep learning, deep insights, deep surveillance, deep facial recognition, deep voice recognition, deep automation and deep artificial minds.

Image result for thomas friedman

Some of these technologies offer unprecedented promise and some unprecedented peril — but they’re all now part of our lives. Everything is going deep.

We sure are. But the lifeguard is still on the beach and — here’s what’s really scary — he doesn’t know how to swim! More about that later. For now, how did we get so deep down where the sharks live?

The short answer: Technology moves up in steps, and each step, each new platform, is usually biased toward a new set of capabilities. Around the year 2000 we took a huge step up that was biased toward connectivity, because of the explosion of fiber-optic cable, wireless and satellites.

Suddenly connectivity became so fast, cheap, easy for you and ubiquitous that it felt like you could touch someone whom you could never touch before and that you could be touched by someone who could never touch you before.

Around 2007, we took another big step up. The iPhone, sensors, digitization, big data, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and cloud computing melded together and created a new platform that was biased toward abstracting complexity at a speed, scope and scale we’d never experienced before.

So many complex things became simplified. Complexity became so fast, free, easy to use and invisible that soon with one touch on Uber’s app you could page a taxi, direct a taxi, pay a taxi, rate a taxi driver and be rated by a taxi driver.

That’s why the adjective that so many people are affixing to all of these new capabilities to convey their awesome power is “deep.”

On Jan. 20, The London Observer looked at Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff’s new book, the title of which perfectly describes the deep dark waters we’ve entered: “The Age of Surveillance Capital.”

“Surveillance capitalism,” Zuboff wrote, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioral surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence,’ and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioral futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behavior.”

Unfortunately, we have not developed the regulations or governance, or scaled the ethics, to manage a world of such deep powers, deep interactions and deep potential abuses.

 

Two quotes tell that story: Last April, Senator Orrin Hatch was questioning Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg during a joint hearing of the commerce and judiciary committees. At one point Hatch asked Zuckerberg, “So, how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

Zuckerberg, clearly trying to stifle a laugh, replied, “Senator, we run ads.” Hatch did not seem to understand that Facebook’s business model is to mine users’ data and then run targeted ads — and Hatch was one of Facebook’s regulators.

But then Zuckerberg was also clueless about how deep the powers of the Facebook platform had gone — deep enough that a few smart Russian hackers could manipulate it to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

Image result for Zuckerberg

When faced with evidence that fake news spread on Facebook influenced the outcome of the 2016 election, Zuckerberg dismissed that notion as a “pretty crazy idea.” It turns out that it was happening at an industrial scale and he later had to apologize.

Regulations often lag behind new technologies, but when they move this fast and cut this deep, that lag can be really dangerous. I wish I thought that catch-up was around the corner. I don’t. Our national discussion has never been more shallow — reduced to 280 characters.

This has created an opening and burgeoning demand for political, social and religious leaders, government institutions and businesses that can go deep — that can validate what is real and offer the public deep truths, deep privacy protections and deep trust.

But deep trust and deep loyalty cannot be forged overnight. They take time. That’s one reason this old newspaper I work for — the Gray Lady — is doing so well today. Not all, but many people, are desperate for trusted navigators.

Many will also look for that attribute in our next President, because they sense that deep changes are afoot. It is unsettling, and yet, there’s no swimming back. We are, indeed, far from the shallow now.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist. He joined the paper in 1981, and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award.

 

@tomfriedman Facebook

 

 

 

interactions and deep potential abuses.

https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-31/html/container.htmlImage result for thomas friedman

 

Two quotes tell that story: Last April, Senator Orrin Hatch was questioning Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg during a joint hearing of the commerce and judiciary committees. At one point Hatch asked Zuckerberg, “So, how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

 

Zuckerberg, clearly trying to stifle a laugh, replied, “Senator, we run ads.” Hatch did not seem to understand that Facebook’s business model is to mine users’ data and then run targeted ads — and Hatch was one of Facebook’s regulators.

But then Zuckerberg was also clueless about how deep the powers of the Facebook platform had gone — deep enough that a few smart Russian hackers could manipulate it to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

When faced with evidence that fake news spread on Facebook influenced the outcome of the 2016 election, Zuckerberg dismissed that notion as a “pretty crazy idea.” It turns out that it was happening at an industrial scale and he later had to apologize.

Regulations often lag behind new technologies, but when they move this fast and cut this deep, that lag can be really dangerous. I wish I thought that catch-up was around the corner. I don’t. Our national discussion has never been more shallow — reduced to 280 characters.

This has created an opening and burgeoning demand for political, social and religious leaders, government institutions and businesses that can go deep — that can validate what is real and offer the public deep truths, deep privacy protections and deep trust.

But deep trust and deep loyalty cannot be forged overnight. They take time. That’s one reason this old newspaper I work for — the Gray Lady — is doing so well today. Not all, but many people, are desperate for trusted navigators.

Many will also look for that attribute in our next president, because they sense that deep changes are afoot. It is unsettling, and yet, there’s no swimming back. We are, indeed, far from the shallow now.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist. He joined the paper in 1981, and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award. @tomfriedman Facebook

 

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Warning! Everything Is Going Deep. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

 

Everything You Know About Global Order Is Wrong


January 31, 2019

Everything You Know About Global Order Is Wrong

If Western elites understood how the postwar liberal system was created, they’d think twice about asking for its renewal.

 
 
 
Image result for the imf and world bank

Klaus Schwab, impresario of the World Economic Forum, released a manifesto in the run-up to this year’s annual meeting at Davos, Switzerland, in which he called for a contemporary equivalent to the postwar conferences that established the liberal international order.

“After the Second World War, leaders from across the globe came together to design a new set of institutional structures to enable the post-war world to collaborate towards building a shared future,” he wrote. “The world has changed, and as a matter of urgency, we must undertake this process again.” Schwab went on to call for a new moment of collective design for globalization’s alleged fourth iteration (creatively labeled Globalization 4.0).

Image result for the wef DAVOS

 

Schwab is not the first to make this kind of appeal. Since the financial crisis, there have been repeated calls for a “new Bretton Woods”—the conference in 1944 at which, in Schwab’s words, “leaders from across the globe came together to design” a financial system for the postwar era, establishing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in the process. It was the moment at which U.S. hegemony proved its most comprehensive and enlightened by empowering economist-statesmen, foremost among them John Maynard Keynes, to lead the world out of the postwar ruins and the preceding decades of crisis. Under Washington’s wise leadership, even rancorous Europe moved toward peaceful and prosperous integration.

This is a story with wide support in places like Davos. It’s also one that deserves far more scrutiny. Its history of the founding of the postwar order is wrong; more important, its implicit theory about how international order emerges—through a collective design effort by world leaders coming together to reconcile their interests—is fundamentally mistaken. What history actually suggests is that order tends to emerge not from cooperation and deliberation but from a cruder calculus of power and material constraints.

 

Bretton Woods may have been a conference of experts and officials, but it was first and foremost a gathering of a wartime alliance engaged in the massive mobilization effort of total war. The conference met in July 1944 in the weeks following D-Day and the final Soviet breakthrough on the Eastern Front. As a wartime rather than a postwar meeting, disagreements were minimized. Though the conference was about the future order of the international economy and though the aim of the talks was to link national economies back together, the building blocks were centralized, state-controlled war economies. The Bretton Woods negotiators were government officials, not businessmen or bankers. As they had done since the collapse of the global financial system in the early 1930s, central bankers played second fiddle to treasury officials. The Americans who were bankrolling the Allied war effort called the shots.

Image result for Keynes and friends at Bretton Woods

The basic monetary vision of Bretton Woods was to create order by establishing fully convertible currencies at fixed exchange rates, with the dollar pegged to gold. But the tough conditions of the Bretton Woods monetary architecture set by the United States proved far too demanding for war-weakened European economies. When Britain, the least damaged economy in Europe, tried to implement free convertibility of pounds into dollars, its attempt collapsed at the first hurdle in 1947; the social democratic Labour Party government in London quickly moved to stop the subsequent drain of precious dollars by reimposing exchange controls and tightening import quotas. Meanwhile, the grand design for a free trade order embodied by the Havana Charter and the International Trade Organization fell afoul of the U.S. Congress and was thus stopped in its tracks. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was its cumbersome and slow-moving replacement.

The talk of a connection between the present and the Bretton Woods moment is legitimated perhaps above all by the claimed continuity of the IMF and the World Bank, which were duly set up in December 1945. But beyond institutional titles, this supposed continuity is largely false. Within a year of the founding of its key institutions, almost the entire global agenda of Bretton Woods was put on ice. Already in 1946 the Soviet Union absented itself from the formation of the IMF and the World Bank.

Image result for Milton FRIED

Milton Friedman

With the Cold War paralyzing the U.N. institutions that had originally been intended to frame Bretton Woods, what emerged under U.S. hegemony was a far narrower postwar order centered on the North Atlantic. The Marshall Plan of 1948 was not so much a complement to Bretton Woods as an acknowledgement of its failure. For true liberals in both the United States and Europe, who hankered after the golden age of globalization in the late 19th century, the resulting Cold War economic order was a profound disappointment. The U.S. Treasury and the first generation of neo-liberals in Europe fretted against the U.S. State Department and its interventionist economic tendencies. Mavericks such as the young Milton Friedman—true advocates of free markets in the way we take for granted today—demanded a bonfire of all regulations. They insisted that rather than exchange rates being fixed, currencies should be allowed to float with their value defined by competitive markets. In the 1950s, Friedman could be dismissed as eccentric.

The reality of the liberal order that supposedly came into existence in the postwar moment was the more or less haphazard continuation of wartime controls. It would take until 1958 before the Bretton Woods vision was finally implemented. Even then it was not a “liberal” order by the standard of the gilded age of the 19th century or in the sense that Davos understands it today. International mobility of capital for anything other than long-term investment was strictly limited. Liberalization of trade also made slow progress. The gradual abolition of exchange controls went hand in hand with the lifting of trade quotas. Only when these more elementary limitations on foreign trade were removed did tariff negotiations become relevant. GATT’s lumbering deliberations did not begin making major inroads until the Kennedy round of the 1960s, 20 years after the end of the war. And rising global trade was a mixed blessing. Huge German and Japanese trade surpluses put pressure on the Bretton Woods exchange rate system. This was compounded in the 1960s by the connivance of U.S. Treasury and U.K. authorities in enabling Wall Street to sidestep financial repression and launch the unregulated euro-dollar market, based in bank accounts in London.

By the late 1960s, barely more than 10 years old, Bretton Woods was already in terminal trouble. And when confronted with demands for deflation, U.S. President Richard Nixon reverted to economic nationalism. Between 1971 and 1973, he unhitched the dollar from gold and abandoned any effort to defend the exchange rate, sending the dollar plunging and helping to restore something closer to trade balance. If our own world has a historic birthplace, it was not in 1945 but in the early 1970s with the advent of fiat money and floating exchange rates. The unpalatable truth is that our world was born not out of wise collective agreement but out of chaos, unleashed by America’s unilateral refusal any longer to underwrite the global monetary order.

As the tensions built up in the 1960s exploded, foreign exchange instability contributed to a historically unprecedented surge in inflation across the Western world. We now know that this era of inflationary instability would be concluded by the market revolution and what Ben Bernanke dubbed the “great moderation.” But once again hindsight should not blind us to the depth of the crisis and uncertainty prevailing at the time. The first attempts to restore order were not by way of the market revolution but by the means of corporatism—direct negotiations among governments, trade unions, and employers with a view of limiting the vicious spiral of prices and wages. This promised a direct control of inflation by way of price setting. But its effect was to stoke an ever-greater politicization of the economy. With left-wing social theorists diagnosing a crisis of capitalist democracy, the trilateral commission warned of democratic ungovernability.

What broke the deadlock was not some inclusive conference of stakeholders. The stakeholders in the 1970s were obstreperous trade unions, and that kind of consultation was precisely the bad habit that the neoliberal revolutionaries set out to break. The solution, as U.S. Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker’s recent memoirs make embarrassingly clear, was blunt force wielded by the Fed. Volcker’s unilateral interest rate hike, the sharp revaluation of the dollar, de- industrialization, and the crash of surging unemployment dealt a death blow to organized labor and tamed inflationary pressure. The Volcker shock established so-called independent central bankers as the true arbiters of the new dispensation.

They put paid to what Margaret Thatcher referred to as the “enemy within.” But the global victory of the liberal order required a more far-reaching struggle. The world of the market revolution of the 1980s was still divided between communism and capitalism, between first, second, and third worlds. The overcoming of those divisions was a matter of power politics first and foremost, negotiation second. The United States and its allies in Europe raised the pressure on the Soviet Union, and after a period of spectacularly heightened tension, Mikhail Gorbachev chose to de-escalate, unwittingly precipitating the union’s collapse.

The truth is that the postwar moment that the Davos crowd truly hankers after is not that of 1945 but the aftermath of the Cold War, the moment of Western triumph. It was finally in 1995 that the Bretton Woods vision of a comprehensive world trade organization was realized. A sanitized version of this moment would describe it as a third triumph of enlightened technocracy. After Bretton Woods and the defeat of inflation, this was the age of the Washington Consensus. But as in those previous moments, its underpinnings were power politics: at home the humbling of organized labor, abroad the collapse of Soviet challenge and the decision by the Beijing regime to embark on the incorporation of China into the world economy.

Since 2008, that new order has come under threat from its own internal dysfunction, oppositional domestic politics, and the geopolitical power shift engendered by truly widespread convergent growth. The crisis goes deep. It is not surprising that there should be calls for a new institutional design. But we should be careful what we wish for. If history is anything to go by, that new order will not emerge from an enlightened act of collective leadership. Ideas and leadership matter. But to think that they by themselves found international order is to put the cart before the horse. What will resolve the current tension is a power grab by a new stakeholder determined to have its way. And the central question of the current moment is whether the West is ready for that. If not, we should get comfortable with the new disorder.

Adam Tooze teaches history at Columbia University. His latest book is Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World. @adam_tooze

Everything You Know About Global Order Is Wrong

 

Could a Green New Deal help Malaysia invest in clean energy?–Getting our Priorities Right.


January 20, 2019

Could a Green New Deal help Malaysia invest in clean energy?–Getting our Priorities  Right.

Opinion  |  Kenneth Cheng, Penang Institute

   Image result for antonio guterres

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, António Guterres

COMMENT | The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, António Guterres, did not mince words when he proclaimed in March last year that climate change is “the most systemic threat to humankind”.

The report subsequently issued in October 2018 by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was equally damning when it stated that the Earth is projected to reach a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in average global surface temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052.

Once that happens, sea levels will rise and this translates to increasing instances of floods and heatwaves. Some parts of the world would experience either intense droughts or rainfall.Malaysia will not be absolved of the sobering reality the world is currently grappling with. It is saddening that the devastating impact wrought upon Malaysia through floods, droughts and extreme wildfires are becoming an accepted truth to most Malaysians. According to the findings of the International Disaster Database, major floods are the most frequent natural disaster in Malaysia, while their impacts are also getting more severe. Floods, especially in the east coast region, in 2014 and 2017 were arguably the worst climate disasters in Malaysian history.

Ironically, the attitude of Malaysians towards our planet’s greatest threat remains lukewarm at best.

Pertinent environmental issues are not usually on the minds of most Malaysians.

The survey by Merdeka Centre in December 2016 found that under a third of Malaysians showed great concern about climate change.

However, 42.5 percent of Malaysians do concede that they have been not contributing enough in terms of protecting the environment, and more than half of Malaysians, in the same survey, also admitted the average temperature has been higher in the last three years.

Malaysians are generally perceived to be indifferent to the environmental challenges the world is facing now, but at the same time, they do acknowledge that the responsibility of protecting the environment lies with each individual and that the climate is indeed changing abruptly.

Existing measures

Thus, the onus remains on the government to take an active role in educating the public about the importance of preserving the environment.

Initiatives such as introducing environmental subjects, as was mooted by the previous government, should be debated once again within the cabinet. Early exposure to various environmental issues during adolescence would inculcate within young Malaysians the sense of civic responsibility that is much needed in preserving the environment.The government – having rightly recognised the threats posed by climate change – has tried to focus on ensuring continued economic growth through environmental sustainability, while building Malaysia’s resilience against natural disasters.

For example, the government has a Government Green Procurement (GGP) policy, whereby the procurement of products or services by any ministry or government agency is required to meet strict environmental criteria and standards set by the government.

According to the government, the implementation of GGP resulted in a reduction of 100.431 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2016 alone. The government also believes that the implementation of GGP would encourage the growth of a more environmental-friendly market.

Malaysia should also be applauded for introducing alternative green financing schemes such as green sukuk (bonds) and the Green Technology Financing Scheme (GTFS), to finance and stimulate sustainable projects. Both of these schemes are touted to be instrumental in growing Malaysia’s clean technology industry.

Green technology is loosely defined as technological processes which would keep environmental damage to the minimum.

Green sukuk is hailed as an innovative manner through which to raise funds to support environmentally sustainable infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, the GTFS was introduced with the aim of inducing the private sector into supporting the development of the green technology industry.

Areas for improvement

While the government’s numerous policies to combat climate change are commendable, they do not go far enough in terms of climate change mitigation.

Firstly, Malaysia’s research and development (R&D) in the fields of the environment and climate change is still lacking.

While the aforementioned financing schemes may bring inventive new technologies to the mainstream, its effects are limited as long as Malaysia’s green technology industry is stagnated as a whole.

This would further disincentivise the private sector from dipping their hands into the green economy, since the availability of green technology in Malaysia is limited and would result in a high capital cost should the private sector utilise such technology.

Moreover, government-backed financing schemes are limited in terms of being able to provide fundamental R&D for green technology. For instance, R&D projects are not included in GTFS, as it can only finance projects which are ready for commercialisation.Arguably, the biggest barrier towards successfully tackling climate change in Malaysia, and changing the preconception of climate change in Malaysia, is the dichotomy between economic development and environmental protection.

As a nascent developing nation, Malaysia – perhaps being desperate to rise through the economic ranks internationally – is more likely to forego environmental sustainability in pursuit of present-day development.

Malaysia’s climate change dilemma is also exacerbated by how its economy is predicated upon coal, natural gas or palm oil – natural resources which bring about enormous and irreversible impacts on the environment.

Green New Deal

Having said that, what if there was a way to propel the economy forward and yet, at the same time, preserve our environment?

Lately, the United States has been contemplating a ‘Green New Deal’ in an attempt to kick start the country’s slowing economy, while ensuring reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.The essence of a green new deal is simple enough: a government economic stimulus aimed specifically at clean technology designed to modernise the American economy while achieving the effect of mitigating climate change.A green new deal aims to energize the economy through huge public investment with the focus of constructing a more extensive renewable energy infrastructure.

The spillover effects of these public green investments would also lead to the creation of a swathe of green jobs and, crucially, expand the job market in renewable energy technology.

The Malaysian context

I believe it is worth contemplating the possibility of replicating a stimulus policy akin to the green new deal in America within the context of Malaysia. As I mentioned earlier, there is currently a dearth of investment in green technology in Malaysia, since the private sector is reluctant to invest in green technology as of now. Therefore, we are left with only the government as our only viable source to kickstart investment in green technology.

Significant but wisely targeted investments in clean, low-carbon technology would have the multiplier effect of boosting our economy and leading to the creation of modern and sustainable green energy jobs.The merits of such a move cannot be overstated enough. Aside from protecting the environment, the introduction of green energy jobs in Malaysia would also have the knock-on effect of transitioning Malaysia’s economy from one relying on non-renewable resources to a strong but self-sufficient economy powered mostly through renewable energy.

Green energy jobs also have the advantage of being mostly high-skilled jobs. The creation of such jobs would give the employment markets in Malaysia a much-needed lift, since we are currently suffering a mismatch of having too many low-skilled jobs but a large quantity of skilled labour.

It is no surprise that China, despite being the world’s largest coal consumer, is equally committed toward investing in green energy because of the economic potential it entails. By investing heavily in green energy, China is actually outpacing the US in terms of creating clean energy jobs.

Major public green investment does not appear to be popular enough, since it usually suffers from the time-lag effect and requires consistent funding.However, this wouldn’t be the case if the Malaysian public was aware of the huge monetary costs of natural disasters in Malaysia, and the projected future costs of climate change.

The floods in Kelantan between 2014 and 2015 caused an estimated RM200 million in losses, with buildings and government infrastructure most affected.

Additionally, the Penang state government has allocated a total of RM22.7 million for rebuilding infrastructure damaged by floods in 2017.

Heavier investment in clean energy will likely give us the opportunity to avoid such economic damage moving forward.Nevertheless, it would be difficult to obtain the approval of Malaysians to increase public investment in green technology at this current juncture, let alone have it debated in Parliament. But I argue that this is the only possible way to steer our country towards a modernised economy that truly puts the term ‘sustainable development’ into actual practice.Most importantly, it also ensures that our children possess the same privileges as us to take pleasure in what this planet offers us. Therefore, it is about time Malaysians started talking and acting strongly on the issue of climate change.


KENNETH CHENG is an analyst at Penang Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and graduate diploma in politics. Hailing from the Silver State (Perak), he believes the challenge of a researcher is to temper his/her ‘pessimism of the intelligence’ with ‘optimism of the will’.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.