Sustainable development or sustainable profit extraction?

Media statement by the Environment and Climate Crisis Bureau of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) in conjunction with Earth Day 2023.

Logo design by Nicole Ashley

The word “sustainable” is used commonly nowadays, the most prominent example being the Sustainable Development Goals, or better known as SDGs. It is a joint global plan that aims to eradicate extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030, brought forward by the United Nations (UN) and adopted by 193 countries in 2015.

However, we have been straying further away from the aforementioned goals since 2015. Our planet is on a trajectory that is heading in an alarming direction. The world is suffering from crises resulting from the inherent flaws of the global capitalist system itself, including the global economic recession, the inflationary crisis that led to rising living costs, the ongoing war in Ukraine as a result of geopolitical rivalry, the impact of the COVID-19 which has not yet been fully dealt with, the global climate crisis which worsens natural disasters, and so on.

Recently, the Malaysian Green Technology and Climate Change Corporation (MGTC) under the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change awarded the “Low Carbon City Design” to the Penang South Island (PSI) reclamation project, despite this project having a negative impact on local ecology, the livelihood of nearly 5,000 fishermen, and food supply. The sand needed for the reclamation project is sourced from Perak. Besides the southern part of Penang, sand mining activities are believed to also erode the coastal areas of Tanjung Piandang, Kuala Sepetang and Kuala Kurau.

Nevertheless, this project is still considered a “sustainable development project”. MGTC said the project is designed to reduce carbon emissions, especially in terms of energy consumption and mobility. Overall, it is expected to reduce emissions by 45.47%. 

However, the MGTC forgot to take into account the carbon emissions from food imports when local fish catches could not fulfill domestic needs. They forgot to take into account the cost of restoring the eroded coastline in Perak. They also forgot about carbon emissions from sand mining and building construction. Are these houses built to be affordable for the poor? To make people a slave to bank debt throughout their careers? Or to be a tool for the rich to show off their wealth at the expense of emitting more carbon?

Besides that, investment in electric vehicles (EV) has become the most important agenda in the 2023 Budget announced by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in February and during his visit to China in March. EVs are seen as a green technology that could solve environmental problems while creating job opportunities. 

Again, PM Anwar forgot about how extracting raw materials, manufacturing, construction of support facilities, and fossil fuel usage during charging for EV will also emit carbon. But what is most disappointing is that he and the elites have forgotten about the basic needs of the common people.

Probably, PM Anwar will defend this as the best option for now, but he needs to explain that this is not a solution to solve the climate crisis. At the same time, he needs to discuss with the people the sustainable transformation plan. Otherwise, whether he intends to or not, he is actually misleading the people.

Indigenous people living in forests are often victims of the extraction of raw materials for green technology. When the indigenous people were evicted from the land they had lived on for so long, they were forced to engage in various economic activities like the working class today and lost the sustainable way of life that their ancestors had passed down. Sadly, indigenous people are considered uncivilized simply because they adapt to a truly sustainable way of life and are mocked as lazy for not adapting to free market labor. 

PSM does not demand a return to the way of life of the Stone Age or consider that modern labor is a worse thing — we call for people to reimagine our economic system.

Japanese academic, Kohei Saito, once stated that the SDGs have become the new opium of the masses. The SDGs have masked systemic problems and reduced everything to individual responsibility, while obscuring the responsibility of corporations and politicians. Climate change is a crisis caused by the capitalist system: the richest 10% account for almost half of the total carbon emissions, while the bottom 50% only account for 12%, but have to bear the biggest negative impact.

Regardless from production to consumption, human economic activity emits carbon. However, the economy must be seen as a collective activity that fulfills the people’s basic needs and further enables the development of individual talents to become dignified individuals. Certainly, the economy should not be a tool to pursue private wealth by producing and consuming non-stop, leaving the pollution and trash to the people, just to maintain the unlimited splendor and wealth of the capitalist class and their spokesmen. We must reject such an economic system that is unequal, unjust, and unsustainable.

Finally, in conjunction with this year’s Earth Day and the theme “Invest in Our Planet”, PSM suggests that we “invest” in our planet through nine major socialist plans as the beginning of a transformation beyond the capitalist system. Of course, we understand that this plan still has many shortcomings and is incomplete, but this is just the beginning. We will continue to deepen the plan for sustainable socialism as time goes on. The plan for sustainable socialism is a grassroots movement, and we call on like-minded individuals or organizations to fight with us!

Here are the 9 major plans of sustainable socialism:

1. Declaring a climate emergency

Declare a climate emergency to raise public and government awareness, as we need an urgent switch to a more sustainable and fair economy. Allocate funds for transformation as soon as possible.

To raise the necessary funds, increase taxation on the wealthiest individuals and private companies, implement a carbon tax, and reduce financial wastage by government agencies.

2. Logging moratorium

Halt all logging and mining activities in the Permanent Forest Reserve. Collaborate with NGOs and local communities to launch a forest restoration program.

The diversity of species is one of the characteristics of forests. Monoculture plantations that are put in place to help the economy should not be classified as “forests”.

The government should work with local and international NGOs, academics, indigenous people, community leaders, and political parties to recalculate the forest cover area and reconnect fragmented forest areas to make restoration efforts more effective.

3. Transition to renewable energy

Set a target to end coal usage as a fuel for electricity generation by 2028.

Speed up renewable energy generation, including solar panels, palm oil mill waste, and sewage plants.

Transition to a democratically-managed new energy management model, making it a cooperative or public property owned by the user community.

4. Promote the public transport system

Introduce permit fees for luxury car buyers. Finance the operating costs of electric and hydrogen buses in public transport throughout Malaysia with the revenue collected.

Transfer the monthly petrol subsidy directly to B40 vehicle owners.

Provide efficient, comfortable and free public transport to encourage people to take public transport.

5. Reduce the threat of disaster

Allocations to increase facilities and build capacity among communities, especially marginalized communities, in order to prepare for the threat of climate crises such as the rise of sea level, floods, droughts, heat waves, and others.

Stop playing with religious and racial issues, strengthen the solidarity between ethnic groups, and prepare to face disasters together.

Bring back local government elections and give elected community representatives the power to monitor groups and manage allocations better instead of falling into the hands of cronies.

6. Assurance of basic needs and social security

Protect all workers, especially the vulnerable contract and informal workers.

Implement a decent wage and universal pension scheme immediately. Strengthen the social safety net to cover all groups.

Reduce the gap between urban and rural areas. Address urban poverty.

Make homes more affordable. Provide free quality medical, educational, leisure, child care, and nursing facilities.

7. Stop land grabbing

Stop land grabbing from small-scale farmers and Indigenous people.

Long-term lease of agricultural land to small-scale farmers to encourage organic farming and cultivation to guarantee food quality and security.

Protect the traditional lands of indigenous people to preserve their wisdom of sustainable lifestyles rather than force them into an unsustainable consumerist lifestyle.

The people will accept the adversity that comes with change if we solve their problems based on the principles of equality and justice.

8. Transition to an economic model that does not prioritize profit

GDP is an important indicator of economic growth. Sadly, it causes excessive use of natural resources. But for big company investors, this represents higher profits. Replace GDP with a better indicator, such as “national prosperity” that takes into account the use of natural resources.
Example: The extraction of RM100 million of petroleum means an increase of RM100 million in GDP. However, since extra expenses are required to clean up carbon emissions and pollution, so the national prosperity is much less than RM100 million and may even be negative!

9. International cooperation that benefits the earth

The accumulation of wealth by developed countries through colonialism and unequal economic relations causes a lot of carbon emissions and pollution.

Malaysia must commit to regional efforts to bring about positive global transformation:

a. uniting the developing nations and putting pressure on developed countries for financial aid and technology transfer.

b. promotes equal regional corporate and wealth tax rates to end harmful competition.

c. end free-trade clauses that harm the environment.

d. cancel some, if not all, developing nations debt, allowing fully invest in transformation.

e. actively be anti-war and for disarmament, shift the military budget into transformation.


Environment and Climate Crisis Bureau
Parti Sosialis Malaysia


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *