Category Archives: sustainability

Powering a Plant-based Future

With climate change becoming an increasingly pertinent issue that is facing our planet, it is no wonder that the global populace as a whole has been increasingly aware of the need for alternatives that are better for the earth. Combined with the advent of social media and the Internet, figures like Greta Thunberg have become household names and the causes they advocate for are now ones that pervade our everyday lives. I’m sure that we have all heard about or even partook in trendy green movements like the no plastic and BYO campaigns, carrying tote bags and metal straws around daily instead of using their plastic, non-environmentally-friendly counterparts. Sustainability has been a hot topic in the past decade, resulting in a market that is becoming saturated by eco-conscious shoppers whose preferences and consumption habits alike reflect these shifting priorities. More and more businesses, being aware of the importance that consumers place on the supply chain of products, have been hopping onto the trend and switching their branding and operations to be more sustainable. An increasing amount of new companies with the environment at their hearts have also been popping up in response, started by those that want to make a difference.

This is the environment to which PoweredByPlant (henceforth PBP) was created.

Sustainable. Plant-based. Ethically-sourced. These are the three concepts upon which PBP was built. Started by two university undergraduates in their final year, the two were a match made in heaven, brought together by their aligned visions for a greener future. Both entrepreneurs in their own right, Cherie and Krish are visionaries with varying prior business experience, which they have applied towards this business that is the embodiment of a cause that they are passionate about. Talking to them, only a year older than I am, really made me realise that a small seed of inspiration can be the impetus to something tangible; something amazing. Cherie’s journey began with her love for everything marine – beaches, surfing, the works.  Meanwhile, Krish was inspired by the scenes of pollution and cruelty she’s seen during her travels and at her hometown in India. Their vaguely coinciding environmental and ethical-based motivations collided and the idea for PBP was born.

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The Founders – Left: Krish (@krishapoorva), Right: Cherie (@cherie.paw)

Krish, being vegan herself, first proposed the idea of a plant-based business. While there were already many other sustainability-based stores online, what they saw was missing was one that targeted plant-based items only. Another important aspect that Cherie, having seen the stigma that eco-shopping is only for the wealthy, wanted to emphasise is affordability, as they came to the realisation that many think that more eco-friendly options are priced remarkably higher than their common equivalents, making them less accessible to the general masses. This is a prejudice that Cherie wanted to prove is unfounded, with many indie Asian brands using incredibility plant-based materials that are reasonably-priced. Arrives PoweredByPlant. An e-commerce aggregator that aims to “make sustainable shopping convenient, inclusive and affordable for all”, partnering only with brands and products that are “plant-based, plastic-free, sustainable, and ethically-sourced”.

“If everyone plays a small part to work towards a healthier planet, it cumulatively adds up. We don’t need everyone to be perfectly sustainable, we just need everyone to take the first step and feel included in our safe and encouraging plant-based community.”

Launched in May this year, PBP is still new and constantly renewing and improving, with the energetic and passionate team continuously coming up with bigger and better ideas to do the best for the brand and the planet. Ecokits (a cute and clever name  they call their eco-friendly kits) are the newest direction the company is taking, where products from different vegan planet-friendly brands are collated and combined into carefully-curated kits. Customers are also given the option to create their own combinations, to make a kit that is uniquely theirs! This concept stemmed from the negative environmental impacts of the gifting tradition, contributed to the unsustainable gift packaging and the potential undesirability of gifted items that may themselves be made via unsustainable and unethical processes. PBP posits a solution that is not to stop gifting, but to gift better alternatives – these bundled organic and plant-based essentials with personality; a new way of sharing love. Every kit is made specially for every personality, examples being: “for the yoga mom”, “for my bff”, “for my girlfriend”, “for the student activist”, “for the starter vegan”, “for the ocean advocate”, and so on. Not only does this make gifting more personal, it’s always a surprise to see what’s in the kit.

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PoweredByPlant’s website

PBP’s dedication to our universal planetary fight can also be seen through their collaborations with non-profit organisations and environmental-based eco-influencers. They are currently doing a fundraiser with One Tree Planted, an environmental non-profit charity that contribute immensely to reforesting efforts globally. Every eco-purchase on thepoweredbyplant.com equates to a tree planted! I was informed that every ecokit mentioned above plants 3 trees as each kit consists of 3 products, a win-win-win. There is also a separate fundraiser for shoppers who want to do just that little bit more, which can be found here. (I hear that there may also be more charity collaborations in the works, but that’s an exclusive that you didn’t hear from me.)

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PBP x One Tree Planted’s Fundraiser

Another unique feature of PBP is its team – a group of Gen Z volunteers who have come together and are motivated purely by their love and care for the people and the world. They know their own generation and the strength of social media, and are working actively in those mediums to bring PBP to the forefront. The PBP Instagram’s growth has been exponential, starting from nothing in May, and now, a mere 3 months later, closing in rapidly on 800 followers. From their educational posts (some of my favourites being the Black Lives Matter series and this post on growing your own scallions), to IG Lives with eco-influencers, to online webinars, PBP is doing a tremendous job on not just spreading their brand, but also spreading awareness and educating the public on the importance of sustainability. PBP manages to feel less like a business, instead being distinctly down-to-earth, friendly and approachable (just like its founders); a brand that is real, a brand that cares.

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A glimpse into PBP’s fun and quirky Instagram

With the growth that PBP has experienced and is experiencing, what I was dying to know was what else they have in store for us in the future. Based on the sheer drive and fervour that I sensed from this one interview alone, I know that this team is definitely not complacent and will not just settle here. When asked, the genuine passion and excitement for the places they want to bring PBP to in Cherie and Krish shone through. “America!” The West, where vegans are abundant and sustainability all the rage, is the ultimate goal. But not just that – Europe and other countries like India were also mentioned. In Cherie’s words, “Imagine living in a world where you can order an ecokit for your loved one halfway across the globe, full of sustainable and ethical essentials? With this, I hope to grow PoweredByPlant into Gen Zs favourite ecomart that anyone on the sustainable journey, young or old, can feel safe and happy to shop.” This is a business that they want to bring to the world, and only the future will tell just how far they will go.

Writer: Estella

The Voices We Silenced

When you think of the word ‘experts’, what appears in your head? Is it an image of a scientist working in a laboratory, or perhaps a professor teaching a class in university? Well, whatever is it, I believe that the majority of you would not be thinking of indigenous communities that still exist worldwide. Seemingly separate from the rest of civilisation, we tend to think of indigenous people as backward tribal natives that are beyond the reach of conventional sciences.

To continue down this interpretation of what the word ‘indigenous’ encompasses is not only naïve but potentially a fatal flaw in our efforts against climate change.

Firstly, what is ‘indigenous’? A quick search up the dictionary would return definitions relating to people who originated from a particular place. Our current misrepresentations of what indigenous people are, influenced by mainstream media, makes us believe that the term ‘indigenous’ only refers to tribal folks who reside in rural forests untouched by Man. In reality, indigenous people can simply be referring to people who have deep cultural roots and resided on particular lands for generations. Without delving into what constitutes an indigenous identity, let us examine their potential in humanity’s climate change efforts.

Our current focus towards tackling environmental issues places Man at the centre of all our decisions. When analysing environmental issues, we often make decisions based on how a decision will benefit/harm us. While we listen to the voices of scientists, indigenous groups of people are probably the last group of people on our minds to turn to as we seek out new technologies to reduce our carbon emissions. Climate change is undoubtedly a global problem but the main issue is its differing effects onto countries of varying levels of affluence – indigenous people bear the brunt of climate change as they are often situated at the heart of these issues. If scientists are deemed as experts because of their depth of knowledge about these environmental issues, why are we then ignoring the voices of the people who live on those lands and experience these issues in their day-to-day lives (and most importantly, pay the price for the decisions we make)?

Here’s where I argue that humanity should look at people who have co-existed with the environment respectfully and sustainably and incorporate their views into our policy-making.

Too often have indigenous people’s views been dismissed as naïve estimations, limited by a lack of education or at best predicated on “indigenous knowledge”’ (Howe, 2014, p.397). By side-lining the indigenous people, we are potentially missing out on vital knowledge preserved for generations. Would you say that educational background should be a reason why your voice shouldn’t be heard? If these barriers are being lifted in modern society, why are we imposing them on indigenous people?

On a more optimistic note, as Howe (2014) notes, researchers are now finding methods to codify indigenous ecological knowledge to enable the voices of indigenous people to enter the realm of politics and policy-making, signifying the gradual shift away from an anthropocentric view of the world around us.

While we are making progress, the next step would be for society to shift towards an eco-centric view of the environment. An eco-centric worldview, as suggested by its namesake, implies that the environment is placed at the heart of perception of the world around us. This is vastly different from an anthropocentric worldview as the environment is now, and rightfully so, the priority in all our actions and decisions.

In a case study of Cerro Quilish (Mount Quilish) in Northen Peru, Li (2013) observes that the locals have seen the Mountain as a sacred entity while mining corporations have seen it as a resource. While conventional governance and resource theory will side with corporations in seeing Cerro Quilish as an economic resource, here is where we need to consider the identity or identities of Cerro Quilish (or any other natural landform) in the vantage point of indigenous people. By connecting ‘the plane of the secular with that of sentient entities’, Cerro Quilish is brought back into the secular world and into political debate, dissolving ‘the separation of society and nature’(p.404).  Simply put, by recognising landforms and their agencies like how indigenous people have, we can gain new insights into the physical world around us and steer away from viewing everything as an economic resource.

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Figure 1: Yanacocha Gold Mine near Cerro Qulish. Source:https://www.mining.com/newmont-open-to-new-partner-to-expand-yanacocha-gold-mine-in-peru/

Adopting this new perspective is perhaps key to how society will be able to shift from our current exploitive stance on the environment and transit into a respectful and meaningful relationship with nature like indigenous peoples. Appreciating the identities of nature and its agency paves the way towards sustainable use of natural resources to sustain our societies. Only then can we start to take stewardship of the world around us and work towards a cleaner Earth.

To conclude, I have shown that the incorporation of indigenous knowledge and practices into modern society could be a possible solution to reconcile our destructive ways with nature. Arguing for the voices of the indigenous to be heard, I postulate that learning from such communities is key to how society and improve the divide between us and nature and learn to function symbiotically.

References

Howe, C. (2014). Anthropocenic Ecoauthority: The Winds of Oaxaca. Anthropological Quarterly, 87(2), 381-404. doi:10.1353/anq.2014.0029

Li, F. (2013). Relating Divergent Worlds: Mines, Aquifers and Sacred Mountains in Peru. Anthropologica, 55(2), 399-411. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/24467345?

Written by: Willis

The Five Dollar Tree

Hey there!

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.

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Source

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?

Written by: Willis

Thoughts on the National Day Rally

“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?

Furthermore, PM Lee mentioned that the aim was to cap Singapore’s emissions by 2030. However, the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C explicitly states that to keep temperatures within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the world would have to peak our carbon emissions in 2020 and become carbon neutral by 2050. Is Singapore setting too lenient a goal?

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.

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Transient sea-level rise versus committed sea-level rise. (Hardy & Nuse, 2016)

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.

Conclusion

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.

References:

Hardy, R.D. & Nuse, B.L. Climatic Change (2016) 137: 333. https://doi-org.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/10.1007/s10584-016-1703-4

I WUF ANIMALS – World Animal Day

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 [1]. 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.

History

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World Animal Day logo in the UK (Source)

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 [2]. 1931 was the first year it was celebrated internationally and it has been going on for 88 years since [3]!

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 [4].

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!

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Elephants in Singapore Zoo (Source)

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.

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A female Sunda Coluga carrying her young spotted in Singapore (Source)

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.

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Volunteers for SOSD (Source)

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.

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Hamsters up for adoption at Hamster Society Singapore (Source)

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.

References:

[1] https://www.worldanimalday.org.uk/

[2] https://www.indiacelebrating.com/events/world-animal-day/

[3] https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/world-animal-day-2019/

[4] https://www.worldanimalday.org.uk/events/index/1/0/id/page:2

 Written by: Audrey