SISTEM ekonomi konvensional hari ini, bersifat linear atau searah, biasanya mengamalkan kaedah ‘ambil, buat dan buang’ (take-make-waste). Ia telah menyebabkan penyusutan sumber alam semulajadi dengan cepat dan mnhggnemburukkan lagi pencemaran alam sekitar. Anjakan sistem ekonomi yang lebih mesra alam perlu dilaksanakan segera bagi mengimbangi keperluan penjanaan pendapatan negara dan penjagaan alam untuk jangka masa panjang. Justeru, idea amalan perindustrian mampan melalui ‘ekonomi kitaran’ boleh diguna pakai untuk menjadi satu dari penyelesaian dalam menangani isu alam sekitar selepas pandemik.
‘Ekonomi kitaran’ dapat mengurangkan eksploitasi sumber alam dengan memaksimumkan kegunaan sesuatu bahan atau produk. Ia dapat mengurangkan sisa buangan daripada tapak pelupusan, dan sekaligus berupaya mengurangkan pencemaran alam sekitar. Sistem ekonomi ini bertujuan untuk mengurangkan pembaziran sumber melalui proses reka bentuk semula, pengurangan bahan mentah, pembaikan prestasi, penggunaan semula, pengubahsuaian, kitar semula dan pemulihan yang akhirnya akan membenarkan penjanaan semula ekosistem alam semulajadi.
Bagaimanapun, dalam tempoh pasca pandemik, terdapat beberapa cabaran dalam melaksanakan ‘ekonomi kitaran’. Cabaran pertama adalah kerajaan perlu mengutamakan perbelanjaan ke arah memulihkan kesihatan awam supaya ia boleh berdaya tahan terhadap pandemik semasa mahupun yang akan datang. Pihak kerajaan juga perlu memperkasakan sistem sokongan untuk membantu individu dan perniagaan yang terjejas dan yang paling penting adalah memulihkan ekonomi negara untuk jangka masa panjang. Oleh itu, bagi memastikan agenda pemulihan alam sekitar tidak ketinggalan dalam ‘cabaran keutamaan’ ini, elemen kemampanan jangka panjang mesti diambil kira sebagai sebahagian daripada keputusan dasar dalam merangka polisi baharu.
Pemikiran strategik dan penilaian sistemik adalah amat penting bagi mengenal pasti pilihan dasar yang dapat memanfaatkan tindakan jangka masa pendek demi kebaikan jangka masa panjang. Ini bermakna, setiap tindakan jangka masa pendek bukan sahaja dapat menyokong pertumbuhan ekonomi, malah ia dapat memberi manfaat kepada kesejahteraan hidup masyarakat setempat dan alam sekitar. Sebagai contoh, mengembangkan dan menambah lagi kemudahan tenaga hijau dapat memberi manfaat bukan sahaja untuk memenuhi permintaan tenaga semasa, tetapi juga dapat mewujudkan peluang pekerjaan kepada kumpulan yang terjejas dan mengurangkan pencemaran alam.
Di Eropah, ‘ekonomi kitaran’ telah menjadi satu pendekatan yang diterima baik dalam mengurus sumber dan mengendalikan bahan buangan. Ia turut melibatkan transformasi ‘sisa buangan kepada tenaga’ atau ‘waste-to-energy’ (WTE) melalui loji pembakaran sampah dalam membersihkan tapak pelupusan serta dapat memulihkan sisa terkumpul dengan menukarkannya kepada tenaga elektrik yang boleh diguna kembali oleh industri dan pengguna. Pemulihan tenaga daripada sisa buangan pada asasnya ialah penukaran bahan buangan yang tidak boleh dikitar semula melalui pelbagai proses, termasuklah pembakaran, pirolisis, pengegasan, pencernaan anaerobik dan pemulihan gas dari tapak pelupusan kepada haba, elektrik atau bahan bakar. WTE memainkan peranan penting dalam pengurusan sisa mampan dan mengurangkan pergantungan kepada sumber fosil yang menyumbang kepada pelepasan karbon yang tinggi.
Cabaran kedua adalah bilangan loji WTE di Malaysia amat sedikit. Malaysia mempunyai loji WTE terletak di Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan yang mula beroperasi pada Jun 2019. Ia mampu memproses 100 tan sisa setiap hari bagi menjana 25 MW tenaga elektrik. Beberapa lagi loji WTE dengan tujuan sama dijangka akan dibina di Sungai Udang, Melaka; Bukit Payung, Terengganu; Seelong, Johor; Samling, Selangor dan Jabor, Pahang. Memandangkan populasi rakyat Malaysia semakin meningkat, lebih banyak bahan buangan akan dihasilkan dan dengan itu, lebih banyak loji WTE diperlukan untuk menangani isu tapak pelupusan sampah.
Walau bagaimanapun, sesetengah negara seperti Sweden dan Belanda, telah menunjukkan lebihan kapasiti pembakaran yang bukan sahaja menggunakan semua sisa tapak pelupusan mereka sendiri tetapi kini mengimport lebih banyak sisa dari negara jiran bagi tujuan penjanaan tenaga. Kesannya, ia memberi impak besar kepada pasaran kitar semula dan ini sekaligus menjadi cabaran ketiga bagi ‘ekonomi kitaran’. Dengan kata lain, walaupun WTE dapat mengawal pencemaran dan mengurangkan sisa di tapak pelupusan sampah, pembakaran sisa buangan yang berlebihan telah mengenepikan peranan penting kitar semula bahan yang masih boleh digunakan lagi seperti plastik, tin dan kertas.
Akibatnya, kebergantungan kepada lebih banyak sumber mentah baharu tidak dapat dikurangkan kerana sektor kitar semula kian diabaikan dan tidak berupaya untuk memberi sumbangan yang mencukupi. Ini terjadi apabila jumlah sisa buangan yang disalurkan ke sektor kitar semula dan WTE adalah sangat tidak seimbang. Salah satu faktor ia terjadi adalah kerana proses WTE yang kurang rumit dalam mengubah sisa kepada tenaga melalui pembakaran berbanding prosedur kitar semula yang merangkumi pengumpulan, pengangkutan, pengasingan, pembersihan dan pemprosesan semula yang kompleks sebelum produk baharu dapat dihasilkan dan dijual.
Walaupun terdapat cabaran yang besar dalam sektor kitar semula di kebanyakan negara, sektor ini mesti dipertingkatkan dan diperkasakan kerana kitar semula merupakan subset penting dalam ‘ekonomi kitaran’ yang sebenar. Oleh itu, WTE tidak seharusnya menjadi alternatif untuk memintas kegiatan kitar semula dan tidak boleh dianggap sebagai satu-satunya pilihan yang lebih mudah untuk melenyapkan sisa buangan.
Cabaran keempat adalah sistem pengasingan sisa sedia ada mestilah dibuat lebih cekap dan menyeluruh. Proses pembakaran WTE berfungsi sebagai penyelesaian jangka pendek bagi menguruskan krisis sisa buangan, manakala sistem pengasingan sisa yang baik akan dapat memberi manfaat kepada kedua-dua sektor kitar semula dan WTE untuk jangka masa panjang. Peranan pengasingan sisa buangan menjadi semakin penting ketika penularan pandemik COVID-19 apabila ia menyebabkan peningkatan besar sisa perubatan dan plastik. Kesemua cabaran ini perlu diatasi dengan baik ketika negara sedang berusaha memulihkan ekonomi selepas pandemik tanpa mengabaikan pemeliharaan alam sekitar.
Kesimpulannya, ‘ekonomi kitaran’ ini mampu membawa perubahan positif bukan sahaja untuk ekonomi, malah kepada kesejahteraan alam dan kehidupan rakyat Malaysia dengan potensi peningkatan peluang pekerjaan yang lebih bersih dan selamat sekiranya ia dilaksanakan dengan betul, bersepadu dan sistemik.
The idea of sustainable industrial practices through circular economy can be one of the many solutions to address environmental issues post-pandemic as it will reduce the exploitation of resources, maximise their utility, and reduce waste from landfills while minimising pollution.
A circular economy is aimed at reducing waste of resources through redesigning, reducing, repairing, reusing, refurbishing, recycling and recovering processes that will eventually allow regeneration of natural ecosystem.
Ideally, it will prevent the collection of waste in landfills and, to a certain extent, be capable of discarding existing wastes. In the post-pandemic period, there are several challenges in implementing a circular economy.
First, the government has to prioritise expenditure towards recovering public health to be resilient in current and future pandemic events; empower the support system to help affected individuals and businesses; and most importantly, revive the economy in the long run.
Therefore, to ensure the environmental recovery agenda is not left behind, the integration of long-term sustainability must be part and parcel of policy decisions.
For example, building more coal power plants is not the best long-term measure for the people, economy and the environment. Instead, adding and expanding reliable greener energy facilities is beneficial to meet current energy demand while also creating jobs and reducing pollution.
The circular economy involves, among others, the transformation of waste to energy (WTE) through incineration plants to clear landfills and recover collected wastes in the form of electricity back to industries and consumers.
Energy recovery from waste is basically the conversion of non-recyclable waste materials through a variety of processes, including combustion, pyrolisation, gasification, anaerobic digestion and landfill gas recovery, into usable heat, electricity or fuel. WTE plays an important role in sustainable waste management and reduces the reliance on fossil sources with high carbon emissions.
However, countries like Sweden and Holland exhibit incineration overcapacity, which not only used up all their landfills' wastes but now they have to import more wastes from neighbouring countries for energy generation.
From one perspective, the waste-to-energy policy and its implementation there have been successful and indicate their capability to be circular economy nations.
However, this ambitious waste-free economy will potentially impact the recycling market. Excessive incineration of waste to energy will discourage the recycling of reusable materials such as plastics, cans and papers.
Consequently, the need for more raw resources cannot be reduced due to the inability of the recycling sector to make a significant contribution. This is because the amount of waste channelled to the recycling sector and waste-to-energy incinerator is hugely disproportionate.
The reason behind this might be due to a less-complicated process in transforming waste to energy through incineration compared with recycling procedures that include the collection, transportation, sorting, cleaning and complex reprocess before new products can be produced and sold.
Despite the challenges faced by the recycling sector in most countries, it must be improved and empowered since recycling is an essential subset of a circular economy.
Therefore, waste-to-energy should not be an alternative to bypass recycling and shall not be considered as the only and easier option to eliminate waste.
The recycling sector can actually be an opportunity for industries to make a profitable business.
The producer can change the packaging and product design to create market demand for recycled materials and reduce price volatility.
Lastly, the waste sorting system must be made efficient for the long term. WTE incineration process will serve as a short-term solution to manage the waste crisis, while a good waste sorting system will favour the recycling and WTE sectors.
The increasing importance of waste sorting is further underlined since the Covid-19 pandemic saw a large increase in medical and plastic wastes.
In the future, the government must also consider adopting new technology that improves waste-sorting to protect the environment.
The circular economy strategy, which includes integrated and systemic solutions involving waste management, recycling, and WTE initiatives, will further support environmental recovery post-pandemic. Additionally, it will increase job creation and the long-term resilience of the country.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, Friday 10 Dec 2021
One can find discarded face masks and gloves in cities, streets, drains, rivers and sea due to people taking environmental cleanliness for granted.
We should not rely solely on the government and non-governmental organisations to reduce waste.
Manufacturers have to "rethink" before producing products that eventually put the environment as the receiving end. Similar to consumers' 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) practices, manufacturers should have environment friendly practices in their production process.
Expanding the 3R to 7R (rethink, refuse, reduce, repurpose, reuse, recycle and rot) will further support ecological sustainability. Another form of 7R (rethink, reduce, reuse, repair, refurbish, recover and recycle) adopts the circular economy model.
The conventional economic system practises "take-make-waste" that drains natural resources due to the manufacturing of unsustainable products, which increase the burden of landfills. A circular economy avoids the non-sustainable use of resources and allows the regeneration of the natural system.
In the 7R principle, the "rethink" is for manufacturers to be mindful of the use of resources, including waste production, since the business model should address the issue of depleting resources and waste reduction.
An alternative is adopting a shared economy, which operates with fewer resources compared with the conventional business model with singular ownership.
The "reduce" of resources encourages manufacturers to apply lean design principles and extend product life spans, which curb wastage. The "reduce" in this case can also mean making a product that can last longer.
It will allow manufacturers to keep existing equipment much longer or transfer it to other users. It is also applicable for consumers who own the product and maintain it for their use. These measures not only save money but also the environment in the long run.
"Reuse" means transferring used products that are in good condition to other users, for example, through a second-hand marketplace. It can benefit manufacturers that maintain the quality of their equipment and products, allowing consumers to get affordable, well-maintained used items.
"Refurbish" will allow the transformation of used products into new ones with new designs or performances. It can mean upcycling old products by giving them new life.
"Refurbish" is applicable when the product is beyond repair and refurbish. The product has to be dissembled before being recycled. Electrical components may contain precious materials such as gold.
By adopting the "circular economy" 7R principles, nothing ends as wastage. There will be no more build-up of waste in landfills. The existing waste in landfills can be discarded through the above principle via energy conversion.
A circular economy can be the right strategy for manufacturers to save the environment and money, as well as return jobs lost during the pandemic.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, Monday 23 Aug 2021
PANDEMIK Covid-19 bukan sahaja mengancam kesihatan awam dan memberi impak buruk kepada ekonomi negara, ia juga telah menjejaskan alam sekitar di serata dunia tanpa disedari. Pencemaran plastik dilaporkan meningkat akibat pembuangan pelitup muka dan sarung tangan pakai buang terutamanya di kawasan bandar.
Pelitup muka yang telah digunakan seharusnya dibuang dengan betul. Kita dinasihatkan supaya sekurang-kurangnya membuang pelitup muka dengan melipatkannya sebelum dibungkus dengan beg plastik jika tong sampah tidak berada berhampiran agar ia tidak dibuang merata.
Malangnya, pelitup muka terpakai telah dijumpai di dalam sungai, lautan mahupun di perairan pantai. Ini akan mengakibatkan hidupan laut mengalami kecederaan serius dan boleh mengakibatkan kematian sekiranya termakan sisa buangan tersebut. Tambahan pula, kebanyakannya dibuat dari bahan polipropilena yang mudah hancur menjadi mikroplastik di dalam air dan membuatkannya hampir mustahil untuk dikeluarkan.
Selain itu, penurunan pencemaran udara sumbangan dari perintah kawalan pergerakan (PKP) dan penutupan sektor ekonomi disebabkan pandemik masih tidak berupaya menangani krisis perubahan iklim. Berdasarkan laporan Agensi Tenaga Antarabangsa (International Energy Agency), unjuran pelepasan karbon dioksida (CO2) global pada 2020 dianggarkan berjumlah sekitar 47 bilion tan karbon, hampir lapan peratus kurang dari jumlahnya pada tahun 2019.
Jumlah pengurangan pelepasan ini dibayar dengan lebih dari satu juta kematian, sementara puluhan juta tidak dapat bekerja, menunjukkan betapa tinggi kosnya untuk mengurangkan pelepasan CO2 dengan penutupan sektor terjejas disebab pandemik.
Pada masa sama, ‘kesan kebangkitan semula’ (rebound effect) yang menyaksikan kenaikan paras pelepasan CO2 dijangka berlaku seawal beberapa bulan setelah PKP dihentikan dan sektor ekonomi dibenarkan beroperasi semula.
Ini disokong dengan penelitian yang dibuat berdasarkan ‘Krisis Kewangan Global 2008-2009’ yang lalu, dimana pelepasan CO2 global meningkat dengan cepat pada tahun 2010 berikutan suntikan pelaburan yang besar oleh banyak negara untuk mendorong pemulihan ekonomi yang pesat.
Tempoh pasca penutupan (post-lockdown) akan menyaksikan banyak kilang bergiat aktif untuk menebus masa dan wang ringgit yang hilang. Ia juga disertai dengan peningkatan kelulusan pembinaan loji tenaga arang batu yang baru, seperti yang berlaku di negara tembok besar, dimana ia akan bertahan selama bertahun-tahun dan sekaligus menyaksikan peningkatan ketara pelepasan CO2.
Malah, negara pemimpin ekonomi utama dunia (G20) pula telah merancang menjadikan bahan bakar fosil berjumlah $207 bilion dalam langkah rangsangan pasca-pandemik mereka, berbanding hanya $137 bilion peruntukan untuk tenaga bersih.
Malang sekali, kebanyakan aktiviti ekonomi konvensional sebelum pandemik mahupun semasa proses pemulihan, dicapai dengan mengorbankan alam sekitar. Oleh itu, strategi pemulihan ekonomi hijau diperlukan untuk memulihara alam sekitar ketika negara sedang berusaha membina semula ekonomi dan menangani pengangguran pasca pandemik.
Kita tidak seharusnya mengambil ringan dan mengabaikan alam semulajadi begitu sahaja. Dalam hal ini, kita harus kembali dan meneliti semula peringatan Tuhan seperti yang disebutkan di dalam Al-Quran: “Berbuat baiklah (kepada hamba-hamba Allah) sebagaimana Allah berbuat baik kepadamu (dengan pemberian nikmatNya yang melimpah-limpah); dan janganlah engkau melakukan kerosakan di muka bumi; sesungguhnya Allah tidak suka kepada orang-orang yang berbuat kerosakan” (Quran 28:77).
Antara langkah pemulihan hijau yang boleh diambil bagi setiap individu adalah dengan mengendalikan sisa buangan dengan betul serta mengamalkan penggunaan tenaga dengan bijak. Strategi pengendalian sisa buangan perlulah juga mengambil kira pembelian dan penggunaan produk harian yang lebih mesra alam sejak dari mula lagi.
Kita digalakkan untuk memilih produk yang boleh diguna semula (reusable), tahan lama dan selamat, berbanding produk sekali guna (single use) kerana ia bukan sahaja mampu mengurangkan sisa buangan, malah ia dapat mengurangkan dan menjimatkan sumber bahan yang sedia ada untuk kelangsungan jangka masa panjang.
Di samping itu, transisi atau peralihan dari produk berasaskan bahan plastik kepada yang lebih mesra alam adalah amat digalakkan. Ini dapat memastikan sisa atau barangan yang terpakai dapat terurai dengan mudah sekiranya ia terus terbuang ke alam sekitar.
Bagi memastikan langkah di atas dapat dilaksanakan dengan baik, pihak pembekal dan industri pembuatan perlulah mampu untuk menghasilkan dan membekalkan barangan yang lebih mesra alam dengan lebih banyak seiring dengan permintaan pengguna.
Barangan mesra alam berkenaan perlulah juga mudah didapati serta mampu milik supaya tidak merencatkan usaha peralihan kepada pembelian barangan yang lebih mesra alam ini. Penggunaan tenaga hijau dalam industri amatlah digalakkan dalam penghasilan barangan yang mesra alam dan boleh diguna semula ini.
Ia boleh dilakukan dengan strategi campuran tenaga bersih ke dalam sumber tenaga yang sedia ada bagi mengurangkan kebergantungan kepada sumber bahan api fosil. Ini sekaligus dapat mengurangkan pencemaran alam sekitar ekoran pelepasan CO2 yang mendadak dalam tempoh pasca pandemik akibat ‘kesan kebangkitan semula’ (rebound effect) dari aktiviti perindustrian seperti yang telah disebutkan di atas.
Pihak industri juga tidak seharusnya melepaskan sisa kotoran mahupun bahan kimia berbahaya ke dalam sungai seperti yang berulang kali terjadi dibeberapa buah negeri sejak sebelum pandemik ini berlaku.
Bagi memastikan perkara sedemikian tidak berulang, pengawasan berterusan dan penguatkuasaan undang-undang yang ketat oleh pihak berwajib perlulah dilaksanakan dengan lebih berkesan lebih-lebih lagi sewaktu pasca pandemik yang akan menyaksikan lebih banyak lagi kilang yang akan dibuka untuk beroperasi.
Pihak kerajaan juga perlu menggalakkan semua industri untuk mengambil langkah campuran tenaga bersih bagi mengurangkan pelepasan CO2 ke alam sekitar. Ia juga boleh dimulakan di peringkat kerajaan dengan menekankan ‘kepentingan tenaga hijau’ ke dalam Pelan Pemulihan Negara di fasa-fasa pemulihan yang berikutnya.
Pemulihan hijau adalah amat penting kepada negara bukan sahaja untuk memelihara alam sekitar, tetapi ia juga dapat memberi pemulihan ekonomi yang lestari, sekaligus membuka lebih banyak lagi peluang kerjaya kepada rakyat yang terjejas disebabkan pandemik ini. – BebasNews
Recent developments in artificial intelligence-generated artwork have caught worldwide attention. A number of artists are using AI algorithms to produce valuable art to be displayed in museums as well as for sale.
For instance, Christie's auction house in New York auctioned an AI-created artwork called "Portrait of Edmond Belamy" for US$432,000 against its initial estimate of US$10,000.
The AI algorithm, created by a Paris-based art collective called Obvious, was fed with a dataset of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries to produce the artwork. This means the AI algorithm is trained by the artwork of previous artists before it composes a new one.
The complex abilities of a computer programme-based painter are broad and impressive since it started with series of training and grew further to produce quality artwork equivalent to those produced by humans.
Clearly, it is not a tool with limited functionality like a camera. It can produce artwork on its own based on what it has learnt.
Aside from art, AI programmes can also be developed to write scientific works.
Beta writer, for example, is a machine-learning algorithm developed under the direction of Professor Christian Chiarcos from Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, that wrote an entire book, titled Lithium-Ion Batteries: A Machine-Generated Summary of Current Research, published by Springer Nature.
This is the first machine-generated research book that was produced by scanning, compiling, sorting and summarising thousands of pages of research on lithium-ion batteries and those related to rechargeable power sources from Springer Nature's online database.
Currently, there is no clear protection or copyright for non-human artwork. Even though AI can author artwork as it can generate new work independently, it does not mean it is the owner of the work's copyright. The United Kingdom's Copyright, Design and Patents Act of 1988 under Section 178 contemplates a natural human being as the owner of computer-generated or AI artwork.
At the moment, humans will be the holder of the copyright. Without the skill of a human programmer who poured their heart and soul into developing the AI programme, it would not exist in the first place. In this case, the programmer is considered to be the first owner or the rightful copyright holder of the AI artwork.
There is an exception to the programmer having copyright, which is when the programme is sold or made available to the public, especially when end users employ it innovatively to produce artwork.
In this situation, the users have more ownership rights. But if
the artwork was produced by end users using an AI programme as part of their work in a company, the copyright of the AI artwork goes to the employer under the "work for hire" agreement.
The ownership of creative artwork or intellectual property is protected not only by state law, but also recognised and respected under Islamic legal principles. In fact, in Islam, intellectual property is considered a type of property and its preservation becomes one of the main objectives of Islamic law (maqasid syariah), namely the protection of wealth (hifz al-mal).
Although, the Quran acknowledges the concept of personal rights (haqq) or private property (milk), the absolute owner of all properties is Allah as everything in this world belongs to Him. The term "ownership" in this context is more akin to trusteeship or stewardship for Allah. This concept of ownership, however, includes the right of the human owner to generate and accumulate wealth as well as the right of possession.
According to the Ottoman Civil Code (Al-Mejelle), one can also acquire real property by developing vacant or undeveloped land (mawat), turning unproductive land to productive land that will, in turn, contribute to the creation of ownership. Similarly, if a person creates or extracts ownerless items (i.e. metals or minerals from the ground), that person can own them.
This also means that any creative act of turning something useless to useful is recognised as a process of acquiring ownership. Intellectual property is inherently creative, creating value where it would not otherwise exist. It can also extend to the creation of value in something useless and turning it into something useful and, therefore, a marketable commodity that can be owned.
In this case, the artwork produced by an AI programme can be owned either by the programmer, user or employer.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, Monday 17 May 2021
Aside from threatening public health, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the economic and transportation sectors due to stringent containment measures to flatten the infection curve.
This has led to the reduction of water and air pollution, which benefit the environment. Because transportation and industrial activities have been dramatically reduced, levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide and methane have seen significant reductions and are at its lowest rates since World War 2.
In just a few weeks of lockdown, the air quality in many main cities showed significant improvement, and many natural environmental zones were seen slowly recovering.
For some, it seems that the climate crisis is hitting a pause. At a glance, nature, including wildlife, is enjoying a recovery period.
However, this phase might not last very long. While there are reductions in air and water pollution, plastic pollution is reportedly increasing due to the littering of disposable masks and gloves, especially in cities.
It seems that the awareness to wear masks is not accompanied with the awareness to dispose them properly. Experts have advised that masks should be folded and sealed in a plastic bag if a trash bin is not around.
Used masks are also found in rivers, the ocean and on beaches. Marine animals are at risk of severe injuries or death from these items. Since most disposable protective gears are made from polypropylene, it will disintegrate quickly into microplastics in water and make it almost impossible to remove.
These tiny microplastics will be an indirect diet of marine life and eventually enter the human body through seafood consumption.
Microplastics disrupt iron absorption, stresses the liver and are harmful to the human digestion system in the long term.
Overall, the global lockdowns have a negligible effect on the climate crisis according to studies.
Based on the International Energy Agency report, the projection of 2020 global CO2 emissions is estimated to be around 47 billion tonnes of carbon, almost eight per cent less than the amount last year.
This amount of reduction in emissions cost more than a million deaths, while tens of millions are out of work, showing how difficult and costly it is to reduce emissions despite major changes in human behaviour.
At the same time, a rebound effect is expected to occur as early as several months after lockdown orders are lifted.
This prediction was made based on the previous Global Financial Crisis in 2008-2009 where the global CO2 emissions quickly rebounded in 2010 following large investments by many countries to promote rapid economic recovery.
The post-lockdown period will witness many factories pushing to make up for the lost time, accompanied by an increase of approved permits to construct new coal-fired power plants that last for years and therefore, see the increase of GHG emission. The public will also contribute by using their private vehicles.
Unfortunately, most conventional economic activities are achieved at the expense of the environment. Therefore, a green economic recovery strategy is necessary to conserve the environment while rebuilding the economy post-pandemic.
We must not take the environment for granted. In this sense, it is apt that we pay heed to a reminder from the Quran: "And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love the corrupters" (Quran 28:77).
Published in: The New Straits Times, Friday 6 November 2020
The human body is considered to begin fasting when it has completed the digestion and absorption of a meal, which takes place three to five hours after a person stops taking food or water.
Some might think that fasting is unnecessary starvation and has negative health implications.
But research shows that mild nutrient starvation causes no harm, but instead provides health benefits as long as it is under control. Autophagy is a recycling process that can be initiated only from mild starvation, where the cell "repairs" itself by reusing dysfunctional components to sustain a new healthy cell. But overstarvation could lead to cognitive deficiency.
There are several ways to avoid starvation, such as breaking fast at a proper time when needed; providing the body with sufficient nutrients before stopping food intake for prolonged fasting or regulating physical activities to endure longer fasting time.
These will require a person to gain the right knowledge regarding fasting; familiarise with his body's capabilities and limits and adapt to different situations if needed. There are also guidelines for those who are interested in practising intermittent fasting for health benefits.
Research has proven that intermittent fasting could alter the body's endurance and individual behaviour patterns up to the neural level that controls brain functionality. The increase in focus and self-control ultimately leads to better learning and stronger memory.
Scientifically, there is a correlation between the increased memory and cell (chemical) changes in the body and brain. Research has found that intermittent fasting can reduce oxidative stress, a known factor contributing to brain ageing, and can induce cell injury and impairment of learning and memory.
It improves brain structures by the increase in dendritic protein expression and CA1 pyramidal cell layer thickness. Intermittent fasting has proven to improve performance in hippocampus-dependent learning and memory in the fear conditioning test.
Besides, it could reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. More people are interested in practising intermittent fasting for better body durability, life longevity, improved immune system and maintaining brain functionality.
In Islam, the primary reason for fasting is to adhere to Allah's command, while the health benefits gained are a reward granted at Allah's pleasure. The role of intention (niat) is, therefore, key to fasting in Islam. In this sense, all Muslims inculcate sincerity (ikhlas) and trust (tawakkul) in this form of worship (ibadah).
The main purpose of fasting in Islam is to attain taqwa (piety), as in the Quran (al-Baqarah 2:183): "O you, who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous." Fasting also inculcates moral values.
Muslims start fasting from an early age. Children and those who have not reached puberty often start training by fasting half a day. They normally begin by having the recommended pre-dawn meal (sahur) together with their adult (mukallaf) parents or guardians. After around six to eight hours, they break their fast and are free to consume food.
Such practice reduces effects of starvation for children while they train and familiarise with fasting.
Some children might continue fasting for the second cycle after the mid-day meal until dusk, together with adults who fast for a full day.
Muslims are to break their fast (iftar) as soon as the sun sets (maghrib) with no further delay.
In the context of self-control, fasting is meant to be a protective shield for every Muslim.
Fasting dampens rebellious tendencies of the carnal self through physical effort and submission, which involves abstention from lust, as in the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
"O youth! Whosoever amongst you can afford to get married, let them get married. And, whoever cannot afford to do so, then they should fast because it will help him control his desires." (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
In a nutshell, fasting is not limited to improve health and brain intelligence in learning and memory, but it also strengthens spiritual intelligence in the journey to be a pious believer (mukmin) with a strong belief and commitment in seeking Allah's blessing.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 5 May 2020
Notwithstanding the current cooler spell, Malaysia is hotter than ever before, and the trend shows no signs of reversing to the temperatures enjoyed by Malaysians over the last few decades.
This fact was also acknowledged by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his speech at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York last month.
He had urged the global community to pay serious attention to combating extreme climate change. He also highlighted the importance of survival initiatives, such as alternative shelter and food production, in case of a calamity.
Indeed, a majority of countries are experiencing the drastic effects of climate change, as evident from UNGA where almost all leaders brought up the issue.
Most climate scientists agree that human activity is the leading cause of global warming, which in turn triggers climate change. Previously, the natural emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) was the most significant factor in global warming as it formed the largest concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere compared with other greenhouse gases (GHG).
However, human activity stemming from industry, energy production, transportation using carbon-based fuels, and the sum of agricultural activities, food production, land-use and forestry now contribute up to 29 per cent (i.e. more than one-fourth) of the total global GHG emissions.
In this regard, the world needs to shift its attention to sustainable resource management and development practices to curb climate issues.
The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy has taken place in many developed and developing nations, reducing their carbon footprint.
Among the progressive measures has been the increase in facilities for renewable energy, including solar farms, wind turbines, biomass and hydroelectric plants — creating a sustainable “energy mix” ecosystem. In addition, “energy efficiency” and “energy conservation” practices were also introduced.
Energy efficiency requires consumers to invest in equipment that can operate with less energy for the same or more load, while energy conservation requires consumers to reduce the use of electrical appliances.
These measures can save natural resources from depletion, keep the environment free from pollution, and save some money in the long run.
The best environmentally friendly activities include the 3R practice of “reduce, reuse, and recycle”. Some might extend this idea up to seven (7R) in a circular flow — rethink, refuse, reduce, repurpose, reuse, recycle and rot.
These ideas are commonly applied to daily products or consumables, but the concept can also be applied to other human activities such as transportation. For instance, first, we should rethink whether or not it is necessary to drive fast and recklessly. Driving fast will consume more fuel, release more carbon and might put other people at risk. As a result, the second step would be to refuse to make it a practice.
Third, we should reduce our driving activity by prioritising what is important or at least make the most out of a single trip by accomplishing multiple tasks. Additionally, instead of using a car for a single purpose, a car-sharing practice will make better use of its capacity; this can be considered as repurposing or reusing.
This, in turn, will reduce traffic congestion and pollution, while adding value to the car owner. Finally, as the car reaches a certain mileage, we must plan whether to restore, sell or recycle the vehicle.
Ideally, the process of managing resources will form a closed-loop system; this circularity is aimed at eliminating waste and promoting the continual use of resources — a model known as the circular economy. Unlike the traditional linear economy with the “take, make and dispose” approach that lets waste end up in landfills, the circular economy adopts the “regenerative” approach where “all waste should be food for another process”, inspired from the natural system.
It will mainly involve “reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling” processes. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation paper, “Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change”, switching to renewable energy could cut GHG by 55 per cent, and the circular economy could reduce the remaining 45 per cent emissions mainly from the making of products and food production.
In Muslim countries, the concept of the circular economy has been a subject of rigorous discussion especially by those in the Islamic finance circle. Several Islamic concepts in relation to managing resources and the ecology, such as mizan (universal balance), miqdar (proportion), khalifah (stewardship) and maqasid (purposeful use) are supportive of the circular approach.
These Islamic principles can serve as catalysts, among others, to encourage the Muslim community to live in a sustainable system, thus contributing to the efforts to address the climate issue at the global level.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Saturday 26 October 2019
The ability of artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse human behaviour across different age groups must be utilised to identify the needs of a person in his or her learning process.
For decades, we have practised a conventional learning process that relies much on a standardised education system that mostly grades learners on the basis of age.
Such a measure had been adopted on the grounds that the cognitive development of a normal person could be identified and differentiated based on chronological age, especially during their early years.
However, even within the same age group, each person has different levels of cognitive development and learning capacity, and thus may have different needs in learning.
Today, artificial intelligence offers such an opportunity, which is known as “adaptive learning”.
Adaptive learning provides more than just tailored learning resources to learners. It uses algorithm to process the interaction between the learner, the educator and the computer.
This tailored-learning process requires the learner to be collaborative rather than a passive information receiver. At the same time, it allows the educator to monitor the progress of the learner through continuous formative assessment since every interaction is tracked in real-time.
An effective adaptive learning system retains the key component of the learning process, namely the presence of the educator. A real teacher during the class hour is indeed relevant, and in fact, integral to the learning process. A teacher with sufficient knowledge and experience can properly guide the student towards a better understanding and prevent him from making mistakes.
Long before the conventional education system and adaptive learning technology, a personalised learning system has been a practice in traditional Islamic pedagogy. In general, a personalised learning system assumes each learner to be unique and therefore has different needs.
The teacher will always be a source of reference, and provides the learners with the knowledge they need. In a traditional setting, the learners should master a certain level of knowledge in order to move forward in their curriculum.
Islamic pedagogy also emphasises knowledge to be put to practice. For example, in learning the Quran, the learner is said to have truly attained knowledge when he puts his learning into practice. Normally, this begins by teaching others when the learners engage in a study circle or collaborative learning with their peers.
Study circles enhance learners’ understanding through discussion and exchange of knowledge as it creates an active engagement between the learners and the teacher. Such an active learning atmosphere in the Islamic education tradition can also be found in the current adaptive learning environment but with the additional help of technology which facilitates teachers in monitoring development and provides the student with tailored materials that suit their needs.
The question should not be whether adaptive learning is better than traditional and conventional education systems. For decades, traditional and conventional learning systems have been providing people with necessary education and skills. It is the success of these systems which has given us the advancements that we have in today’s world.
And now, as technology advances in the age of Industrial Revolution 4.0, adaptive learning tools are widely available and can be utilised as a complementary or supportive component of our current education system to help teachers in their teaching and students in their learning so that it will be more interactive, interesting and efficient.
Besides the support of the adaptive learning system, our country also needs the people themselves to be adaptive learners. They should be taught and trained to be more adaptive to changes in their surroundings that encompass all aspects of their lives.
Adaptive learners equipped with survival skills and a flexible mindset could lead others, especially when they are in leadership positions.
According to the Centre for Asia Leadership, every person, especially a leader, should be capable of changing his mindset to take the right ‘adaptive action’ in line with the demands of Industry 4.0. Hence, we need to be adaptable and to keep pace since our time is one of accelerated change.
The Quran (al-Ra’d 13:11) tells us that God will not change the predicament of certain people unless they take matters into their own hands and change it themselves. Therefore, we should keep learning, be adaptable, and improve ourselves in order to gain and take advantage of the opportunities available to us.
Published in: The New Straits Times, 02 May 2019
The adoption of artificial intelligence in many industries has been regarded by some as a threat to low-skilled workers, as it will drastically cut down reliance on the human workforce.
Besides unemployment, there are also concerns about rising economic inequality caused by AI-driven companies. With fewer employees, these companies would gain a disproportionate advantage than most conventional companies that still depend on normal shift-based systems.
AI bots, for example, have achieved the capability to interact with humans and build relationships through conversations.
This would eventually enable these bots to affect human behaviour and possibly trigger certain actions. Such intelligent machines, however, are not immune to mistakes and confusion, and can be manipulated to fulfil certain ends.
Also, Al cannot be totally expected to be fair and neutral, since it is dependent on human programmers who have their own interests and preferences.
Recent developments have unveiled AI’s ability to recreate image, imitate voice and even generate fake videos of a person, which could be used for fraud. At this level, even voice recognition software can no longer identify such fraud.
Also, its ability to collect huge amount of data without consent, and put humans under surveillance can be a threat to privacy.
Even in cases where AI could potentially eradicate disease or disasters, its approach and method could still cause undesirable consequences that humans may not approve of.
AI raises great security concerns, especially in the form of autonomous cyber-attacks. Even though AI is currently under human control, the growing rate of AI’s ingenuity is exponential. AI experts fear that it might surpass human intelligence and potentially lead to a technological singularity which then becomes a threat to humanity.
Therefore, the problem now is how to programme an AI with morals. The previous “Laws of Robotics”, introduced by Isaac Asimov, would not be enough since there are more tricky questions about what counts as ethical.
It will be difficult to answer questions such as, “Should a self-driving car just hit another person to save the driver?” or “Is it allowed to programme military robots to kill a terrorist?” or “Should a trading bot inform everyone of a predicted disaster, or just keep it a secret?”.
An AI framework that can take into account human desires, goals, preferences and ethical codes is indispensable. Currently, the AI framework that adopts “reinforcement learning” is extensively studied and developed by some researchers to ensure that artificial agents act ethically.
More work is still in progress to improve this technology of ethics.
Besides, to ensure that the rise of AI in all industries is advantageous, we need to have an ethical code for the AI that does not compromise humankind’s potential and its survival.
Recently, the United Kingdom government published a report —AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?—in which five core principles are outlined. The first principle proposed that AI should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity. The second dictates that AI operates within parameters of intelligibility and fairness. Third, AI should not be used to lessen the privacy or data right of individuals, families or communities. Fourth, all people should have the right to be educated and flourish alongside artificial intelligence. The fifth principle opposes the use of AI as killer robots with the autonomy to hurt, destroy or deceive humans.
The IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, for instance, has launched a crowd-sourced global treatise entitled, “Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritising Human Wellbeing with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems”.
The report takes into account various well-established “classical ethics”, including religious-and-culture-based ethical systems.
As the global community continues to work together on the ethics of AI, there are still vast opportunities to offer ethical inputs, including the ethical principles based on Islamic teachings.
This is in line with Islam’s encouragement for its believers to convey beneficial messages, including to share its ethical principles with society.
In Islam, ethics or akhlak (virtuous character traits) in Arabic, is sometimes employed interchangeably in the Arabic language with adab, which means the manner, attitude, behaviour, and etiquette of putting things in their proper places. Islamic ethics cover all the legal concepts ranging from syariah (Islamic law), fiqh ( jurisprudence), qanun (ordinance), and ‘urf (customary practices).
Adopting and applying moral values based on the Islamic ethical concept or applied Islamic ethics could be a way to address various issues in today’s societies.
At the same time, this approach is in line with the higher objectives of syariah (maqasid alsyariah) that is aimed at conserving human benefit by the protection of human values, including faith (hifz al-din), life (hifz alnafs), lineage (hifz al-nasl), intellect (hifz al-‘aql), and property (hifz al-mal). This approach could be very helpful to address contemporary issues, including those related to the rise of AI and intelligent robots.
As there are so many ethical questions in the age of AI, we need to discuss and address the issues by taking into account various perspectives from different disciplines.
It is hoped that, through this approach, both scientists and religious scholars would work together to address all the issues in harmony, and put an end to the existing practice of separation where scientists and religious scholars operate in two separate universes
Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 30 November 2018