Tag Archives: Singapore

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

A Rally Memorable Event

Singapore Climate Rally

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!

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Sources say over 1,700 people turned out!

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.

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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!

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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!

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Taken form @SGClimateRally instagram!

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.

Conclusion

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

Fragrant Frangipani Fans

Clusters of rich, pink flowers decorate its branches, sprinkled among the foliage. Yes, I’m talking about the frangipani tree! I recall that when I was very young, I loved to pick up fallen frangipani flowers and admire them. I’m sure many of you have done the same! I’ve always admired the beauty of the frangipani tree. So, allow me to share more about it with you!

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Photo of the frangipani plant outside the University Health Centre in NUS

There are a few different species of frangipani, which come in a range of colours: red, yellow, white and pink. The species of frangipani commonly found in Singapore is the plumeria rubra. ‘Plumeira’ refers to the genus of the flower, while ‘rubra’ means red in Latin. It first appeared in parts of South and Central America. In Singapore, you can find the frangipani along roadsides, as well as in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is also found near Buddhist temples as the frangipani plant is a symbol of rebirth.

Interestingly, plumeria rubra produces no nectar, attracts pollinators with a unique floral scent which is more noticeable at night. This is how pollinators are fooled into pollinating the frangipani plants’ flowers. Sneaky, isn’t it?

If you thought that the frangipani plant was completely harmless, you’re about to get a shock! The frangipani tree contains poisonous “milky” sap, even in the leaf stems. This could irritate your skin and cause rashes. To prevent such a case, let’s not pluck leaves or flowers which are still on the frangipani tree! It is important to leave the plant alone so that we may prevent injury to ourselves and preserve the plant’s beauty.

There is a well-known spirit in Singapore – the Pontianak. A figure from Malay lore, she is an Asian vampire hungry for vengeance for wrong-doings to herself after dying during childbirth. She can make even the strongest among us tremble just thinking about her. Perhaps it is her frighteningly long, claw-like nails, or her glowing red eyes. It is said that the fragrant frangipani flower smell will hit your nose at night, right before the Pontianak pounces on her victim. There is little hope of escaping her claws. She sure is spooky!

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Boo! (Art: Chern Ling)

On the flipside, in Singapore’s context, the frangipani flower holds particular significance to the Hindu community. The frangipani flower symbolises love and loyalty to your spouse in Hindu culture. Hence, it is usually included during wedding ceremonies, to welcome the couple as they embark on their journey into marriage and their future together. Frangipanis are also used as decorations and in perfume production.

Evidently, the frangipani is a plant that is deeply rooted in Asian culture. Different cultures could have different perceptions of what the frangipani symbolises. To end off, here is some food for thought: What does the frangipani represent to you?

Written by: Fang Ning

Where the skies are not blue

A field trip! To a farm! That seemed like the kind of things we would only get to experience back in primary school. But the BES freshmen recently had the opportunity to visit a local farm called Sky Greens. Here’s a little bit more about it!

BES students getting a guided tour around the farm

Sky Greens is a vertical farm located in Yio Chu Kang and it was founded in 2010 by Mr Jack Ng. It is the world’s first low carbon and hydraulic driven vertical farm. Woah woah… what does this mean?

Basically, the vegetables are grown on shelves fitted on 9m high structures. How this farm works is that the shelves will rotate throughout the day to ensure that the vegetables on different shelves will receive sufficient sunlight for growth. Rainwater collected on the farm is pumped into the system to allow the shelves to rotate and also irrigate the plants.

Vegetables being grown on shelves

Mr Jack Ng shared that he started this project because he was interested in doing farming after he retired. However, as current farming methods are very labour intensive, he decided to explore better farming methods.

While some farms may use hydroponics, Sky Greens grow their vegetables in nutrient rich compost. The contents of the compost include “Nespresso” recycled coffee grounds, recycled vegetable waste, beneficial microbes, seaweed extract, bean sprout waste, recycled woodchips and chicken manure. It was really amazing how he was able to reuse food waste and incorporated them into his compost, turning waste into something useful instead! Such efforts to reduce waste are truly admirable. In fact, the coffee grounds act as a form of natural insect repellent due to its acidity, thus benefiting the vegetables as well.

More photos pf the farm

The efficiency of this farm also was truly mind-blowing. It required 95% less water, 75% less labour, electricity and 10x more yield compared to an open field vegetable farm.  It honestly sounded too good to be true! Such green solutions are definitely needed, given that the global demand for food is increasing while resources are becoming more scarce. Moreover, the farm produces approximately 500kg of greens per day which are packaged and sold at FairPrice express outlets around the island. The greens sold are mostly what locals consume (Cai Xin, Xiao Bai Cai, Mai Bai etc). In fact, it only takes 4hours for the greens to hit the shelves after being harvested, in comparison to imported produce which can range from 3 days to 3 weeks. (Lim, 2015).

A packet of Nai Bai Cai from sky greens

Mr Jack Ng explained that he wanted to keep his produce organic and not use pesticides to keep the pests away. As such, he resolved this problem by producing “mini vegetables” instead. These mini vegetables are smaller in size than regular vegetables, but also required less time to grow (only 3-4 weeks are required!) By harvesting the vegetables earlier, he would be able to reach the food before the pests, so that no pesticides would be needed. I personally thought that was a pretty genius idea.

Test results proving that the mini-series contained higher levels of Polyphenol, which acts as an                                                                                            antioxidant

Moreover, this mini-series was also found to contain 35% more antioxidants than regular Cai Xin. What struck me as well was his heart behind producing the vegetables this way. Mr Jack Ng shared that he was adamant about not using pesticides as he would only be willing to grow what he would be willing to eat. As a farmer, he had the responsibility over what he was producing, because it was what people were going to consume. Truly, being a farmer is more than just planting crops, but also impacting the health of whoever would be consuming your food!

As a country that imports more than 90% of our food (AVA, 2019), we are heavily dependent on other countries to supply us the food we need. Honestly, that is quite scary, because we definitely cannot sustain ourselves if we were to stop importing food. With urban projects such as Sky Greens, we are certainly heading towards more efficient and sustainable methods of food production and increasing our food security in the long run. What an eye-opening trip!

Written by: Ann Shin

References

LIM, J. (2019). Vertical farming invention wins global award. Retrieved 9 September 2019, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/vertical-farming-invention-wins-global-award

AVA Vision | AVA Unveils Updated Food Security Roadmap. (2013). Retrieved 7 September 2019, from https://www.sfa.gov.sg/files/avavision/issues3-4_2013/food-security-roadmap.html\

What are the millennials up to lately?

Self-centred, self-absorbed, self-entitled. They are always on their phones, can’t let go of what they love, and seriously, they always think they deserve better in this world.

They are the millennials the society all so frown upon this day… right?

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Article posted by The Straits Times last week!

If you have seen young people watching their instagram feed every moment at noon on 15 March, looking disconnected and dissatisfied with the world, you have probably just encountered someone who has joined the Global Climate Strike 2019 (Tan, 2019). And he or she is probably more conscious about her surrounding and the world than you did at that moment.

Advocating for greater climate action is no longer the sole responsibility of climate scientists or influential businessmen and politicians; the young ones are taking charge, telling the world how the future generations deserve better and how the planet deserve better.

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Greta Thunberg (in yellow) the 16-year-old millennial who started this movement!

The global climate strike was a concerted effort of thousands of students from all over the world. In many of the countries, the students were skipping school and physically coming together to show the grown-ups that one doesn’t need to be rich and powerful to demand a change from the world.

Despite the growing movement towards sustainable development, climate change scepticism still prevails. This clearly shows that we should no longer rely on the scientists and statisticians to persuade the authorities and the general public.

In Singapore, where strikes and protests are not an option, the young people chose to make their voices heard by having a virtual strike on social media.

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Post for the Global Climate Strike from local advocates @theweirdandwild and @tingkats.sg

Several of the climate action and sustainability pioneers in Singapore have also expressed their support for this initiative. Singapore, as the forefront of urban development in Asia, has the ability to lead and set an example on sustainable development for the region (Hermes, 2019). While the booming trend of adopting zero-waste lifestyle such as ditching single use plastic straws and other disposable products used to be criticised as simply a fad, the fact that a growing number of young people have stayed religiously faithful to their commitment shows that the millennials in Singapore are ready to be the change they have envisioned.

Indeed, the millennials are still self-centred, self-absorbed and self-entitled. However, the sense of “self” has grown out of the stereotyped individualism. To the fervent advocates of climate actions and environmental sustainability, they feel the sense of entitlement not for themselves but for the environment, they are so stubborn that they refuse to budge from their pledges to slow climate change and most of all, while the world label millennials to be full of themselves, their belief that every individual has a power to change allow them to push forth many successful ground-up initiatives in the past years.

The strike may be over, but climate change doesn’t stop, and neither should our climate actions!

Written by: Andrea Law

References:

Tan, A. (2019, March 11). Global youth movement on March 15 calling for greater climate action may be held in Singapore as well. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/global-youth-movement-on-march-15-calling-for-greater-climate-action-may-be

Hermes. (2019, March 15). Strike by Singapore students unlikely. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/world/strike-by-spore-students-unlikely