World Cities Day: Creating sustainable cities without harmful technologies

World Cities Day: Creating sustainable cities without harmful technologies

Due to rapid globalisation and our disrespect to the planet , climate change is bringing down upon us a wide variety of disruptions to our existence, such as wildfires, floods, haze, perpetual droughts and erratic weather patterns.

The biggest concern for now is the rising sea levels. With global populations and wealth heavily concentrated in low-lying coastal cities, humanity is on the verge of a catastrophe, with our oceans threatening to swallow our cities and nations.

Recent studies suggest that 37 million people currently live in places that will be below high tide by 2050 — in an optimistic low-carbon-emissions scenario.

That is on the global scale.

Coming to Malaysia, the government has received funds worth US$267,000 (RM1.1 million) from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to conduct a study on Taiping, which was declared a senior citizen-friendly town recently.

However, not much information has yet to be revealed on the status of the study.

Being a Taiping girl all my life, my life was filled with adventures in the town; getting involved in hiking activities and having picnics at the waterfall every weekend. That was Taiping back then. A cool and serene town suitable for any family outing.

Moving forward to the present, I can hardly recognise my hometown anymore. Rapid development, balding hills and glaring amount of shopping is making Taiping to lose its lustre.

Despite being marked as the wettest area in Malaysia, even Taiping’s weather patterns have changed. Hot weather and humidity are now forcing people to stay indoors.

With all these taking place, I was surprised that Taiping was declared as the 3rd most sustainable city in the world. Maybe, Taiping is not that bad after all compared to other places on Gaia.

Coming back to sustainability and being eco-friendly, local governments always point out to solar panels on public buildings and other so-called green practises to carry the badge of being environmentally friendly.

But is that enough?

Speaking of living in a sustainable city, I would like everyone to turn their attention to a town located in India, called Auroville.

Auroville, a town located near Puducherry, is an amazing place and Malaysia should emulate the town’s green practises.

Concerned over rapid depletion of natural resources and climate change, the town’s local leaders switched to basic green practises in order to keep the place sustainable in the long run.

Private and public research institutions are continuously researching and working on innovative technologies, which are environmentally viable for today’s society, and Auroville is a part of this pursuit for a sustainable future.

I spent two years in Auroville. To move from one place to another, I used to drive electric vehicles or a bicycle, just like everyone else in the town. And it worked out well for me and the people living there.

To reduce their carbon footprint and create a healthier natural environment, power supply charging points are fixed at convenient locations throughout the area for us to recharge our electric vehicles.

This is something Malaysians can look into.

On another matter, I would like to also talk about our government’s ambitious project to introduce 5G in Malaysia.

Well, it is not a bad thing if you look at it on the surface. 5G is said to be 100 times faster than 4G and would allow new technologies such as connected cars and augmented reality to flourish.

Despite all the big promises, there are also potential health risks attached to it.

In Sept 2017, doctors and scientists launched a petition called the 5G Appeal, urging the European Union to impose a moratorium on the 5G rollout, citing imminent health dangers such as increased cancer risks, cellular stress and damage the genetic code.

To date, the petition has garnered 172,062 signatories from 202 nations as of Nov 1.

In March, then Brussels Environment Minister Céline Fremault blocked the 5G rollout in her country, saying she would not allow her citizens to be turned into ‘laboratory mice’.

In Bern, Switzerland, a protest in May led to a temporary ban of the construction of 5G antennas.

So, how different is 5G and could it impact our health? The reality, experts say, is complex.

‘We have been involved in hundreds of studies about electromagnetic radiation and human health,’ said Professor Niels Kuster, founder, and director of the Swiss IT’IS Foundation. He was the project coordinator for ARIMMORA, a study into the relation between the electromagnetic radiation emitted by power lines and childhood leukemia.

Both mobile phones and telecom antennas emit electromagnetic radiation, regardless of what network generation they are used for. They send out non-ionising radiation, which is located at the lower end of the frequency spectrum. Most electrical gear emits this type of radiation, from microwave ovens to power lines.

So with all these health concerns, our government is proudly trying to rollout 5G without addressing these issues.

Whatever said and done, all I hope for all of us is a better tomorrow. And I urge government to study the health and environmental impact of any new technology or development before embarking on it.

At the end of the day, people must remember that we only have the Earth to live in, no other planets.

In celebration of World Cities Day today, our chief editor Hema Subramaniam shares her thoughts on how a city of the future should be, beyond flashy technology.