Do you have a five-dollar bill? If you do, have you taken a close look at the design of the bill? If you take a closer look, you’ll notice a large tree in the background of the bill but have you wondered what that tree was?
Well, you might’ve guessed based on the title of this post that it is the Tembusu tree!
The Tembusu tree (Fragraea fragrans) is an evergreen tree from the family Gentianaceae that can be found in Singapore. In fact, the Tembusu tree featured in the five-dollar bill is found at Botanic Gardens, where it is deemed by NParks as a Heritage Tree.
Fragraea frangans. Its name resembles the word ‘Fragrance” doesn’t it? Well, that’s because frangans means fragrance in Latin and the Tembusu tree’s name arose from the sweet smell that its flowers give off.
The most distinctive feature about the Tembusu tree is its deeply fissured bark. When I was first introduced to the Tembusu tree, the guides even told me that the Tembusu tree looks “out of place” in Singapore because of its thick bark that resembles insulation (which is odd for a tree native to South East Asia, where temperatures are almost hot all year round).
When you come across older trees, you might notice a distinctive branching pattern in the Tembusu tree. With sufficient space, the branches of the Tembusu tree will grow out horizontally before abruptly growing vertically again, creating a sharp bend in its perpendicular branching pattern that is a signature of the Tembusu tree.
The Tembusu tree’s flowers start out white and mature into a yellow hue and give off a strong, sweet scent during the morning and evenings. Its fruits, when ripe, are round berries that are contain lots of seeds which provide food for many different species.
The wood of the Tembusu tree is hard and durable, making it commonly used for building houses, bridges, rafters and chopping boards amongst other things in the past. That being said, perhaps let’s spare the 150-year-old Tembusu tree in Botanic Gardens, shall we?
“We should treat climate change defences like we treat the SAF – with utmost seriousness.”
On the 18th of August, 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally speech, addressing, among other issues, climate change and Singapore’s plan to meet the coming challenges. The title of my blog is a quote from his speech, which I took the liberty of making a minor edit that reflects my personal view. In this post, I’ll be picking out and summarising what I feel are the most important parts of the rally (that pertain to climate change), and giving some of my comments along the way. I understand that the measures listed out during the NDR are not comprehensive, and I must mention that my opinions are greatly summarised as well. While there are too many aspects of climate change to cover in this article, hopefully I’ll be able to give you an additional perspective!
What is climate change?
PM Lee began with a summary on the concept of climate change. He mentioned the greenhouse effect of rising CO2 levels – due to the effect of these greenhouse gases, we have already seen an increase in global average temperatures of 1°C and he even emphasised the gravity of this seemingly small increase. He later went on to list some of the issues Singapore will face: food shortages, diseases, extreme weather. Amongst the problems listed, he singled out the issue that he felt Singapore is the most vulnerable to: sea level rise. He then goes on to mention Singapore’s three-pronged approach to tackling climate change: Understanding, Mitigation and Adaptation.
Understanding Climate Change
Make no mistake, the effects of climate change are already being felt right now, but the scary part is what comes in the next few decades. These effects are difficult to predict, given the complexity and unpredictability of the world’s atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. PM Lee introduced us to the Centre for Climate Research Singapore which was set up in 2013 for research on climate science, to better understand the effects of climate change in the context of Singapore.
While having scientific basis behind policy-making is paramount, it is just as important for Singaporeans to be educated on climate change. An addition or integration of environmental studies into the formal education system would increase the literacy of Singaporeans towards key ideas like sustainability and stewardship. This would prepare the future generation for tackling problems like climate change and biodiversity loss while working towards a sustainable future.
Mitigating Climate Change
PM Lee mentioned Singapore’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and mentioned one of the steps the government has taken to limit our CO2 emissions is through a carbon tax. At $5 per tonne of CO2 emitted, however, could this tax be a bit too low? Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli explained that this tax is a nudge to businesses to begin improving efficiency, and that taxes will be increased with certainty, just over a longer time frame. Still, The World Bank estimates that to keep warming to within 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we would need a carbon price of US$40-80/tonne of CO2 by 2020 and US$50-100/tonne of CO2 by 2030. So is Singapore doing enough to persuade businesses to shift to greener technology?
These are just a couple of signs that Singapore isn’t taking its mitigation measures seriously enough, and this sentiment was echoed by the thousands of Singaporeans that attended the Climate Rally a few weeks ago. PM Lee goes on to say: “Although Singapore may not be able to stop climate change by ourselves, we can contribute to solutions, and we must do our fair share. Then we can be credible asking others to reduce their emissions too, and work towards a global solution to climate change.” Are we doing our fair share?
Adapting to Climate Change
PM Lee focuses solely on sea level rise. The grand plan is to build polders, inspired by the Netherlands. Polders are pockets of land reclaimed from the sea. Seawalls are first built around an area, and the area is pumped dry. PM Lee explained that these measures would likely be necessary for our eastern coastline, which is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.
These polders increase our land area while at the same time, keeping the sea out. They could even potentially be used to harness tidal energy. The drawbacks would be the cost of building them, which is estimated to be more than 100 billion dollars. Additionally, there are the costs of maintaining these polders as water has to be constantly pumped out. Constructing these polders may also be destructive to the marine ecosystem around the eastern shoreline. There is also another problem.
Let me introduce you to a graph.
Hank Green explained this graph well in his Youtube Video: “This is the scariest graph I’ve ever seen”. In a nutshell, while sea level rise by 2100 may be about 1m as we have planned for in our adaptation measures, the sea level rise that we subscribe to due to the additional heat in our atmosphere is far greater. If we do nothing about our emissions, sea levels could rise as much as 6 meters in the future. So how high are we going to keep building our sea walls?
While sea level rise is an issue that will affect Singapore significantly, other issues posed by a warming climate are just as serious. We import over 90% of our food, and climate change may soon render agriculture more difficult in many places. We may face a huge problem with food security. Singapore is also a hot and humid tropical country, which means we are especially vulnerable to fatal heat waves. All these problems will have to be addressed in the coming decades, perhaps even sooner than our rising sea levels.
While the measures that PM Lee went over in his NDR speech are laudable, there are still some areas where Singapore can do better. Though I’m no expert, it does seem that our mitigation measures are severely lacking. I understand that with every tax/investment/solution that is proposed, there are certainly challenges and costs. But Singapore is a wealthy country and if we do not take responsibility for our emissions, how can we expect other countries to, especially when they might not have the luxury to do so?
PM Lee said this in context to sustained effort to building adaptation measures: “We must make this effort. Otherwise one day, our children and grandchildren will be ashamed of what our generation did not do.” The government has to realise that this applies to our mitigation measures too. More emphasis has to be placed on mitigating climate change, even if the upfront costs may be great. Because the longer we wait, the greater the costs will become. With each tonne of CO2 we continue to release into the atmosphere, we increase human suffering in the future. Climate change is a moral issue, and it’s time treat it with utmost seriousness.
I think most of us have swooned over a cute picture of a fluffy white baby seal or a small kitten with innocent round eyes. If you are like me and love animals, well good news! World Animal day is happening October 4th this year.
World Animal Day aims to raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe . On this day, the animal welfare movement across the globe is united to celebrate their efforts and are given an opportunity to increase awareness and education about animal welfare. Through such actions, there are hopes to create a world where animals are always recognised as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare.
October 4th is chosen for this cause in honour of St. Francis of Assisi – an animal lover and patron saint for animals, whose feast day falls on this day . 1931 was the first year it was celebrated internationally and it has been going on for 88 years since !
So… what are people doing?
World Animal Day is celebrated in a diverse manner around the world, with different focuses on conservation of biodiversity, protecting endangered animals, and supporting animal welfare.
A simple search on the World Animal Day website will lead you to a long list of events happening in each continent. There are art shows in Taiwan, releasing of native birds back into the wild in India, and a dog walk under the moonlight in South Africa .
What can I do in Singapore?
Don’t feel left out of all the amazing activities happening globally, you can do your own part in showing love to all animals here in Singapore too!
Start with a trip to Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, River Safari, Night Safari or S.E.A. aquarium. There is a plethora of knowledge to learn from these places, not to mention you get to observe and fall in love with non-native animals.
Singapore’s biodiversity is much more vibrant than most would think, besides the boars at Pulau Ubin and Long-tailed Macaques at Bukit Timah, there are numerous species of animals that can be spotted across the island. Take a walk in any of our nature reserves or parks to spot some scaly, furry, hairy or slimy locals. Of course, you can sign up for our guided walk at Macritchie Reservoir Park where we are able to help identify various species of animals too.
Take some time or money out to any of the many animal welfare groups and conservation efforts in Singapore. Head down to any of the animal shelters relocated at Sungei Tengah Road and lend a helping hand for a day or more. Garden City Fund, WWF Singapore and Wildlife Reserves Singapore are a few of the many conservation efforts we have protecting our animals and their habitats.
If you have been thinking about getting a pet as a companion, ADOPT! There is a wide range of homeless pets waiting for your tender love – dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and even fishes! Do your research on which animals will suit you and your family’s lifestyle the best. After you are well informed of the costs and responsibilities being a pet owner entails, head on down to any of the animal shelters and choose your new family member, then shower them with love and care for the rest of their life. That being said, do not make rash decisions and only adopt if you are capable of and in an environment suitable for caring for an animal.
Spread your joy and love for animals this World Animal Day! Wish all the birds, lizards, insects, mammals or fishes you come by a happy World Animal Day, taking time to appreciate them a little more than usual.
At long last, Singapore has stepped up its conservation game! This year, on World Elephant Day (12th August), the National Parks Board (NParks) announced a ban on the domestic trade of elephant ivory, effective from 21st September, 2021 onwards . Selling ivory or ivory-made goods would be prohibited, as well as the open display of such products for sale. We will be joining other countries such as the United States, China and Taiwan in fighting against illegal ivory trafficking. In fact, our ban could turn out to be the most stringent, according to WWF . It’s great to hear that our government’s stance on this issue is far from half-hearted!
Wildlife Trafficking in Singapore
Did you know, illegal wildlife trade is actually prevalent in Singapore? Given our elevated global standing and strategic location, Singapore is a popular pitstop for illegal transactions on their way to their intended destinations . The large hauls of elephant ivory and pangolin scales seized earlier this year are proof of this .
The Why in Illegal Wildlife Trade: Elephant Parts
While it’s heartening to see Singapore’s determination in cracking down on wildlife trafficking, the problem needs to be targeted at its root – demand. Live animals and dead animal parts alike are heavily trafficked all around the world. What exactly is driving this? Well, unfounded beliefs on the properties of animal parts and the cultural symbolism of the ivory are just some factors.
There are beliefs in medicinal properties of animal parts, such as having the miraculous ability to cure various health ailments. Yet, these beliefs aren’t scientifically backed and so are merely myths. To me, this makes the whole issue more tragic. Imagine having your teeth brutally pulled out just because people think it’s a panacea to their illnesses, and your kin is slowly dying out due to this misplaced belief! In Myanmar, more elephants are being poached as demands for their body parts increase . Nothing is spared – their trunks, feet, skin, and even penis are used in traditional medicine. Their hide, for instance, is thought to cure eczema.
Moving on to the next point, ivory is highly valued, partly due to its rarity, and is carved into products ranging from religious figurines to even cutlery . Owning anything ivory says something about one’s status in some countries like China, which means that elephants are being sacrificed to indulge people who wish to flaunt their social standing and affluence… where are the ethical implications of this ? Aside from being a social symbol, some people desire ivory for spiritual fulfilment .
They perceive accessories made out of ivory such as bangles and amulets as capable of warding off bad luck and malicious supernatural beings. This is part of the reason for the pervasive ivory trade in countries such as Thailand. There, people donate to gods and receive amulets in return, which are believed to bring good fortune and protect wearers from harm . They are also readily sold in public. Amulets can be made of several types of materials, including – you guessed it – ivory ! It seems ironic to me that in a country where elephants are the national animal, people act in ways that contribute to the devastation of the very animal they revere.
More Action Needed
International trade in ivory has been prohibited since 1990, when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) placed the African elephant under Appendix I – identifying the species as being threatened with extinction, and thus prohibiting trade in elephant parts (excluding exceptional circumstances) . While this has been beneficial for elephant populations, poaching is still pervasive, and domestic markets on ivory should be shut down to ensure fuller protection of elephants. Some countries have yet to outlaw the ivory trade, such as Japan . These legal markets thus undermine efforts against elephant poaching as they continue to generate demand and promote illegal ivory trafficking.
Additionally, stricter enforcement is needed in countries where domestic ivory trade has been prohibited, for the ban to be truly effective. Despite the ban on the sale of ivory in China implemented at the end of 2017, Chinese demand for ivory is still going strong . Those who are adamant in acquiring ivory products can circumvent the ban by flying to other countries to do so, such as Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, where the ivory sale is legal or the enforcement of ivory bans is lacking .
Why Conserve Elephants
Great numbers of elephants are hunted down each year for their tusks . All species of elephants – African bush, African forest and Asian – are not spared. Some people may wonder, why should we protect them? Well, some arguments for protecting biodiversity include conserving nature for its intrinsic value – the existence of elephants is in itself valuable and they are hence worth conserving; and the importance of the role of elephants in the ecosystem.
Elephants are keystone species – such species are critical for the maintenance of ecosystems . They can be considered ecosystem engineers, affecting the physical landscape or characteristics of their habitat. For example, elephants are crucial in seed dispersal – eating the seeds of plants, they end up ‘planting’ new vegetation by excreting the seeds as they move from place to place . They are capable of using their tusks to dig for water as well, providing other animals with a source of water . Without their presence, entire ecosystems are greatly affected.
Let’s have a closer look at forest elephants! Smaller in size and less prominent compared to their counterparts, their population is declining. It has been speculated that more than half the population were killed between 2002 and 2011, largely fuelled by ivory demand (and habitat destruction) . This is worrying, given their ecological importance. Forest elephants are crucial for the growth of new trees – they ingest the seeds of trees and excrete them, prompting germination (their dung serve as fertilisers!) . Furthermore, recent research has revealed that the feeding habits of forest elephants could enhance forests’ ability to act as carbon sinks . Their preference for eating young trees and “early succession” plants (the first vegetations to grow in cleared or open forest areas) has been found to promote the growth and proliferation of larger woody trees, which are capable of storing more carbon . Given the current climate crisis in which the increase in global carbon emissions is showing no signs of stopping, we really need our forests at their best carbon-storing capacity! This underlines the importance of conserving forest elephants as part of efforts against climate change.
Cracking Down on Ivory… How Far Must We Go?
Imagine needing to list the Woolly mammoth as a protected species to protect existing elephants? …What? If you found this absurd, you’re not alone, because I felt the same! This was suggested by Israel at the CITES conference this year, in which all 183 countries onboard the agreement meet to discuss details . As ridiculous as this sounds, there’s some logic underlying it. As global temperatures rise, permafrost melts (such as in Siberia) revealing mammoth tusks that have long been preserved under ice . Given how mammoth ivory trade is largely unrecorded and unregulated, there is a concern that illegal elephant ivory is being passed off as mammoth ivory (the two are not easily discernible), thus highlighting a loophole in the system . To have to label an extinct species as ‘endangered’ to better safeguard their existing kin… it truly shows how difficult it is to comprehensively deal with the illegal wildlife trade.
There you have it! I hope you learnt something new from this post. Thanks for reading!
On 21st September 2019, Singapore had her first ever climate rally. For some, this event was a monumental occasion – they had hopes that it will be the catalyst for greater climate action from the government.
If you were unable to attend the SG Climate Rally, here is a detailed account of my experience!
Pre-main event – Activities and Booths
When my friend and I reached Hong Lim Park at about 3.30pm, I was pleasantly surprised to see a tremendous turnout. The registration queue was long but also really quick as the smiling volunteers were hard at work in managing the crowd. Immediately as we entered the park, you could not only feel the blazing heat, but a fiery atmosphere full of passion and excitement to match!
As the main event was slated to start at 4.45pm, we had plenty of time to explore the ‘booths’ (or Welcome Activities) and meet people. The “What on Earth is the Climate Crisis” booth was situated near the entrance, so this was the first activity we went to. Here, we could listen to the volunteers giving a crash course on the climate crisis (and related concepts) while also providing a safe space to discuss and ask questions about the whole topic! It was nice to see people openly talk about a wide variety of issues and their specific interests like geoengineering or environmental justice. Additionally, there was a quiz that you can attempt to test your knowledge on climate change 😛
The next booth which caught my eye was the Community Mural Painting; throughout the event, it was constantly being swarmed by people waiting to write or draw messages to express their thoughts and feelings towards the climate crisis! In fact, the volunteers had to roll out an extra banner just to accommodate more people.
Next, we headed to “A Postcard to My MP”. As the name suggests, the booth provided us with postcards, stamps and addresses for us to mail a letter to our MPs! Beyond expressing our concerns for the climate crisis to the government, this activity was also an introspective one for me. It really got me thinking about climate-related issues and what I personally hope an individual with power can and should do. Do I describe my fears and anxiety for the future and hope that their humanity understands mine? Or should I expect more from the ministers and demand something to be done, since it is a crisis after all? I found myself reflecting a lot about my role in environmental advocacy and what I should do as someone who wants to pursue this as a career – because of this, “A Postcard to My MP” was my favourite activity!
By the end of the activity, my friend and I were parched and proceeded to the water station to refill our bottles.
BES Drongos guides Hoyan and Lydia volunteering for the event!
On the way, we saw many interesting signs that were quite well thought out! Some were also hilarious and uniquely Singaporean like “Respect Your Mother” and “O-Levels are soon, so is this irreversible climate crisis”. Here are some of my favourites but do check @SGClimateRally on Instagram for more!
Unfortunately, we missed other activities like “Share Your Climate Crisis Story” and “Kids Read for Our Future” as it was already time for the main event – the speeches and the die-in.
Main event – Speeches
The speeches were all pretty neat. Each speaker had their own unique perspective (from an 11-year-old boy to an NGO’s co-founder) with their own take on the issue at hand. At the same time, there was a connecting theme between each speech – the weariness of being told about individual action which translates to the demand of the government and industries to take major action. I highly recommend anyone interested to visit The Online Citizen and watch the recorded speeches! Notably, I admire Oliver’s passion at such a young age and Karen’s wholesome honesty about her fears in speaking out to the government.
It makes no sense to me that we are told to switch off our lights when not in use, but the lights in Jurong Island never seem to be switched off – Ho Xiang Tian
Main event – Die-in
Honestly, I was quite skeptical about the whole “die-in” spectacle and felt that it was going to be an awkwardly uncomfortable experience. The idea was to have us “collapse domino-style” as a show of solidarity to everything we have lost to the climate crisis; thereafter, we can extend our reach to neighbouring attendees as a symbol of the interconnectedness between all things. Even as I type it now, the concept still seems quite peculiar to me!
Alas, perhaps it was because of the impassioned speeches right before, or perhaps it was because of the activity lead who was listing off all the elements of the 6th mass extinction, but the actual die-in felt surprisingly poignant. Despite whatever feelings you have for this segment of the event, I think that it made the rally a whole lot more memorable. Just like the annual Pink Dot, the die-in was SG Climate Rally’s big spectacle that had involved all attendees and meant something profound.
I personally found Singapore’s first Climate Rally to be a huge success! The organisers definitely didn’t bite off more than they can chew and everything seemed to have gone quite smoothly. Despite the heat and haze, it was also refreshing to see people still so energetic about wanting more to be done. While I believe that such rallies will still be needed in the near future, it was amazing to see Singapore’s environment-based civil society come together to demand better.
Written by: Afiq
The BES Drongos adventures on the Petai Trail and more!