It seems that Penangites these days feel jittery every time it threatens to rain. Will there be floods and landslides this time, they wonder – as they did just yesterday.
People here are so worried that they are circulating regional weather forecasts, times for high tides and satellite images via their phone messaging apps.
The state government has conceded that no amount of flood mitigation work can deal with extreme weather such as “one month’s rain in one day”.
It looks as if “one month’s rain in one day” is now the ‘new normal’. This is climate change.
No one should be surprised. We had been warned. Those who think we will be spared from the impact of climate change are kidding themselves.
So be prepared for more intense and frequent rainfalls – like “three months’ rain in one day” or “five months’ rain in one month”.
Does that mean there is nothing we can do?
No. It means it is all the more crucial that we acknowledge and mitigate and adapt against climate change in all areas of our planning and development and act as if our lives depend on it.
It means we think a hundred times before we chop down any trees for road-widening. It means we think a hundred times before we strip our hillsides of vegetation or cut our hills. It means we stop pouring concrete and tar on our green spaces – if anything, we should be removing concrete and tar and creating more green spaces.
It means we stop approving higher density development projects on sensitive hill slopes or if we don’t have the supporting infrastructure (like proper drainage) in place.
It means we protect our hills and make sure no development takes place on our hills above the threshold of 250 feet above sea level.
It means we shelve plans to build highways on hills such as the paired road and the RM8bn six-lane Pan Island Link. This would mean opting for more sustainable transport opetions, and drop the heavily flawed RM46bn transport infrastructure shopping list. We need to go back to the drawing board (the original Halcrow transport masterplan – before the consultants were asked to include the highways and the tunnel).
It means we have to think about food security instead of relying on agricultural imports from other countries, whose output may also be affected by climate change in the medium term.
It means we have to think about rising sea levels. Otherwise, while we are busy reclaiming land all over the place, rising sea levels could hit closer to home when we least expect.
Finally and most important, climate change has to be the considered in all aspects of the Penang Structure Plan (which is now being reviewed) – and the structure plans of all other states in Malaysia as well. They should not be ‘stand alone’ plans. If the National Physical Plan takes into account climate change, so should the structure plans – and they should then integrate into the local plans. Otherwise, all this would be a big FAIL.
If we don’t factor in climate change into our structure plans and local plans, we are only kidding ourselves that all is well. Rest assured, the chickens will come home to roost again – we had a taste of that only recently and it wasn’t fun.