James Logan was a visionary, back in the 19th century. Long before anyone had heard of climate change, he was already warning of the perils of a “war with nature” and its impact on the ecological balance.
This article from Himanshu Bhatt of theSun:
A warning from 1848
Posted on 11 July 2012 – 09:37pm
WHILE controversy boils over the devastation of some of Penang island’s precious green hills by development projects, few are aware that warnings about this issue were sounded more than 160 years back.
The respected British lawyer and ethnologist, James Richardson Logan, had raised the alarm about the denudation of the ecologically rich forests and slopes while the island was still a relatively virgin frontier that was being explored and cleared by the early settlers.
What Logan expressed then must ring true as a forewarning for generations to come, especially those of us who today watch our hills being cleared for profit.
Logan’s views, published in the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia in 1848, were highlighted by blogger Anil Netto in November 2009.
Here is what the journal, which Logan edited, said:
“It was remarked that the whole of the eastern front of the range [of a mountain in Pinang] has within a few years been denuded of its forest…. In Singapore the present zealous Governor has, in an enlightened spirit … absolutely prohibited the further destruction of forests on the summits of hills…. Climate concerns the whole community and its protection from injury is one of the duties of Government…
“Unless government will reserve at least the steeper mountain tracts, which are not adapted for permanent culture, there is nothing voluntary in the apprehension, for it has been realised in other localities, that in some prolonged drought after the naked sides of the hills have been exposed for a few weeks to the direct heat of the sun, every stream in the island will be dried up, and universal aridity ensue.”
“The great extent to which the plain of the mainland of Pinang has been shorn of its forest would of itself produce an urgent necessity for a stop being at once put to a war with nature, which must entail severe calamaties on the future.”
The journal further noted: “In those mountains of Greece which have been deprived of their forests, the springs have disappeared. In other parts of the globe, the same consequence has followed. The sultry atmosphere and dreadful droughts of the Cape de Verde Islands are owing to the destruction of forests….”
It added: “We are informed that the destruction of jungles on the mountains of Pinang has been allowed to proceed unchecked for the last 2 years. If any of the residents will bring it to the notice of the Governor we are sure from our knowledge of his opinions, with respect to the necessity of preserving hill jungle, that he will not only make an order on the subject, but what is essential, provide means for carrying it into effect.”
A memorial in his name – the Logan Memorial – today stands in front of the Penang court complex in Light Street.
As activists and the public today react with horror at the scale of hillslope clearing for new projects, the Penang Island Municipal Council recently declassified minutes of council meetings that involved approvals for hillslope projects above 250 ft.
The state administration has said that it was the previous government that approved 37 hillslope projects above the 250 ft limit from 1985 to 2008. Of these, 19 were classified as “special projects” under the Penang Structure Plan 2007.
The present government insists it cannot cancel the approved projects, without facing enormous compensation costs to the developers, and so has resorted to imposing highly stringent building guidelines.
Whatever may be the case, at the end of the day, we as a society may have to be blamed for allowing the warning from our predecessors a century ago to be forgotten. If it was not for the British colonial administration gazetting much of Penang’s hills as water catchments, our hills would have been cleared for construction projects, perhaps as in Hong Kong, a long time ago.
There may still be time to heed Logan’s warning of “a war with nature” and ensure that we never again allow any unscrupulous developer or authority to contribute to “severe calamaties on the future” that he foretold so many years ago.
Himanshu is theSun’s Penang bureau chief. Comments: [email protected]