How Sustainable Is Southeast Asia's Exponential Growth?

How Sustainable Is Southeast Asia's Exponential Growth?

Southeast Asia

If you have been travelling to Southeast Asia in recent years, you know that it is one of the most fast growing areas in the world. Tourism, industry, IT, pollution and population - they are all exponentially growing more and more by the year. When you combine all of these with low prices (compared to the more developed countries in the West) you get a recipe for uncontrollable growth and the issues which come along with it. If you take a few days to travel in the big cities of this part of the world, you will quickly realize why more and more people are talking about the lack of sustainability of this growth. Many organizations have tackled this problem, from NGOs to governments and various companies. There are a few visible manifestations of this frenetic growth. First, there is the problem of garbage disposal. No matter how hard the authorities may try, the majority of Southeast Asia seems to suffer from a problem of public hygiene and waste disposal.

Excessive Use Of Plastics

One of the problem behind this is the excessive use of plastics. Everywhere you look, plastic is used or thrown away without much consideration for the environment. For example, if you go to a supermarket (or even to a local shop) they will rush to wrap your purchase into a plastic bag. This is not necessarily bad until you see the abundance of trash thrown out on the side of the roads (especially in the rural areas) or the fires made from the waste created from the hyper-consumption from these plastics (again, more frequently noticed in the rural area). Actually, one in four deaths are due to air, soil or water pollution - while local governments in Southeast Asia are slow to change from an oil-based economy towards a more green economy. The current issue of sustainability and pollution is more complex than it might seem. The whole economy, not to mention the social order, is dependent on these industries (as polluting as they might be), not to mention the foreign politics including exporting oil or other goods (especially with China and the United States). We also need to take into consideration the fact that most local people are used to consuming a lot of plastic and their whole economy is based on the low prices dictated by the local resources exploited by the local governments. Hence, this makes change difficult because any systemic change would have harsh repercussions on the common people and their standards of living.

At What Cost?

Most people travel to Southeast Asia because they know it is an affordable destination and local prices are much lower than the local prices from Western countries. However, this comes at a steep cost - usually at the expense of the environment and the cheap local manual labor. The whole system is much more complicated that it might seem initially - and hence, it will require a much more intricate solution to satisfy all the participants in these components which make up the system. The fact is that the Western countries are satisfied with the economic divide between the Southeast Asian countries and themselves - and the local governments of the latter countries are also happy with the momentary (apparently profitable) associations with the former. Hence, change is slow to occur. One of the most immediate solutions we can implement, as individuals, is to adopt the mindset of reducing our consumption of plastics and other goods, no matter how cheap they are (especially in the local area of Southeast Asia). That way, we can make a difference (especially when it comes to our immediate social circle) towards reducing the demand for plastics (which, in turn, will reduce the demand for oil) and other "necessities" of modern living.
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