These powerful remarks were made by Katherine Egland, chairperson of the environmental and climate justice committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who was visiting Penang over the last few days. She was speaking at a Penang Forum talk for the tourism industry discussing SRS Consortium’s RM46bn mega transport proposal, in particular the six-lane Pan Island Link highway:
I am a retired business owner who supports economic development.
My husband and I are also survivors of Hurricane Katrina. We rebuilt our home; we couldn’t replace the loss of lives of two of our dearest friends.
Five years later, we had to contend with the horrific BP oil spill- just a few blocks from my home.
We also had a failing coal plant less than four miles from our home. But we banded together and they ceased the coal-burning function of the plant.
The NAACP is involved in environmental and climate issues from a social justice, human and civil rights perspective – everyone has a fundamental right to breathe clean air and drink clean water. I travel the globe on behalf of the NAACP’s policy agenda and participate in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
But I first want to talk to you from a tourism perspective. Penang is a rare priceless jewel. It was named the number two spot in CNN’s 2017 ‘must see’ places.
But I see this proposal as allowing yourselves to put a price on your identity. It appears that this natural treasure is going to be turned into a pile of concrete – littering and spoiling the natural beauty. This has no appeal to tourists; so there will certainly be a decline in this industry.
This project threatens to turn your city from being the treasured pearl of the Pacific into a shell of its former self – and for what? It is a trade off for unknown proprietors of unbuilt skyscrapers – more concrete, more riches for the already extremely wealthy.
And what is even more perplexing is, why would Penang want to become a cheap imitation of other less desirable cities? Why would anyone promote trading this uniqueness and rarity to imitate something far from the treasure that you have.
Environmental perspective – Unlike the BP oil spill, this is a deliberately planned environmental catastrophe.
This highway project s going to create a lethal cocktail by compounding existing climate change degradation, which is causing historical flooding and landslides, with this proposed environmental monstrosity.
Where is the climate smart planning? The government should be focused on strengthening, adapting and mitigating the effects of climate change on your fragile ecology, not compounding it. This is what most cities and countries are around the world are doing, preparing for climate change – not propagating it with unnecessary road developments.
As it relates to noise pollution, people do not realise the adverse impacts on the mental and physical health of individuals who are exposed to continuous high decibels of noise.
The biggest winners of this proposal are the wealthy developers, who will get wealthier. Residents think that they will save 15 minutes of time – and trust me, that will be only temporary.
I travelled for almost 24 hours to get here covering a distance of over 10,0000 miles just to experience the beauty of Penang – and people want to save 15 minutes and destroy it?
But what is the true cost? Possible loss of lives – not only during the construction phase, but long-term health and wellness impacts … and the inevitable decline in quality of life. This effectively means devaluing human lives through this project.
Toxic exposures, compromised air quality, contaminated water water supply, loss of fishing industry, disruption in the education of children – 10 schools, 10,000 students, destruction of family recreational parks, not to mention the sanctity of the places of worship?
It may be dramatic to say these are crimes against humanity or sins against humanity, but it certainly shows an utter disregard for humanity.
Don’t let name-calling stop you from pursuing justice. Being called “anti-government”, “anti- progress”, “a bunch of chronic complaining troublemakers who will never be satisfied” are all words to dissuade you.
You must not be discouraged by those claims. You must stay the course; you must continue to speak truth to power; you must protect your identity; you must protect your children; you must come together, organise.
Don’t be intimidated by political officials; don’t be intimidated by the media; don’t be discouraged by people who criticise you for staying true to who you are and what you stand for.
You deserve better from your government. You have entrusted them with your destiny and they must be held accountable. It doesn’t mean that you are opposed to them. It means that you want them to provide responsible and transparent governance for the people, of the people and by the people – not for the wealthy developers or non-existent, yet-to-be-identified people, who may or may not populate the three islands, which have yet to be built.
The government has a unique opportunity to demonstrate what true change looks like. They have an opportunity to set themselves apart from other politicians around the world and be responsive to the people who elected them.
I had been so depressed and confused about this development plan. But seeing you here raising your hands in support of a just solution and hearing the presentations have given me tremendous optimism that you are willing to stand up for your identity, stand up for you safety, stand up for your health, stand up for your property, stand up for your children, stay up for the preservation of your city, stand up for the future and stand up for what is right and just.
So please keep speaking out and keep standing up! Peace and power!