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wild thoughts:
Why it makes cents for Singapore to be green:
thoughts for policy-makers

(written March 2006)

As a volunteer for Singapore's wild places, I am often asked:
"Why do you bother? There's nothing left to save anyway".
"Even if there was, Singapore can't benefit from keeping any of it"

The environmental issues facing Singapore today are those that the rest of the world will have to face eventually.

We are not self-sufficient in water. We have very limited land. We depend on imports of food, fuel and virtually everything we that use.

But we haven't given up.

We use technologies, efficient processes to make the best of the situation.

We are not afraid to implement new policies to ensure sustainable processes. We collaborate with all sectors of society, forge partnerships with industry. We develop programmes to break out of destructive mind sets and social behaviour.

We have to succeed simply to survive.

Being among the first to overcome these hurdles (simply because we have to), we have the potential to be global leaders in sustainable development. And our success can have real economic returns.

Some examples ...

Water: As a critical national issue, resources and talent were focused on establishing sustainability in this area. All aspects from supply to demand were tackled. We succeeded to such an extent that Singapore is now among the leaders in water technologies. And water technologies are now designated our new R&D focus (Environmental Technologies and Digital Media to be new areas for R&D Channel NewsAsia 3 Jan 06)

Waste treatment and disposal:
With virtually no land, Singapore cannot afford the luxury of limitless landfills. When the last of our mainland landfills was full, the offshore Semakau landfill was set up on Pulau Saking and Pulau Semakau. Although half of Pulau Semakau's mangroves and coral reefs and all of Saking's were lost, the construction and operation of the landfill was of such high environmental impact standards that the remaining shores are still rich and thriving.

In fact, public walks are now conducted on Semakau's shores! Semakau has the largest seagrass meadows and coral reefs in Singapore that the public can visit. In addition, birdwatching and sports fishing activities are also being conducted on the island with very positive experiences by nature lovers.

During our tour of the incinerator, the volunteer guides of Semakau were told that when other countries face resistance to plans to build an incinerator, they send the protestors to see how we operate ours. After such a visit, there is usually no further resistance.

These achievements did not happen overnight. They involved a global and long-term view, persistence and investment of talent and resources.

Wild reefs can co-exist with world class ports and petrochemicals industries: Cyrene Reef is a stunning submerged reef that lies in the middle of a triangle made up of Singapore's world class container ports and Pulau Bukom and Jurong Island, the location of world class petrochemical industries. (Did you know that Singapore is one of the world's largest producer of petrochemical products?)

This clearly shows that Singapore has the ability to develop and manage such facilities without completely wiping out natural habitats. This credential will stand us in good stead when Singapore participates in tenders to build or operate similar facilities elsewhere. In other countries, their reefs may be important for tourism, fishing or cultural heritage.

As Singapore starts to 'export' our development approaches, being able to prove that our methods are sustainable
will put us ahead of the pack.

The next step?

Singapore can demonstrate that First World living standards can be achieved without sacrificing all of the environment.

Compromises certainly have to be made. But with ingenuity, collaboration and sensitivity; a sustainable solution can be worked out.

Effective compromises should be celebrated; purists and extremists will have little contribution to a viable solution.

There are many areas that we still need to work on:

Brown issues:
alternative energy, greener transport. Adoption of new processes and products in these areas are particularly dependent on having the supportive policies in place. Alternative energy is a new growth area for investment and talent attraction.

Green issues: co-existence of our wild places with urbanisation. A manicured garden may be nice, but it is wild places that give Singapore heart and soul. I believe innovative urban planning, technologies and educational programmes can integrate wild places with our urban landscape for a more meaningful urban experience. And these processes can be applied to others facing similar urban pressures.

Blue issues: amongst the most neglected of the issues.

It will obviously pay to better understand the dynamics of our shores. Our reclaimed land on the east coast is being eroded and no one seems to know why (Reclaimed land under threat ST 6 Mar 06). How do reefs and other habitats affect our shores? What is the possible impact of a rise in sea levels on Singapore? Our main business district and many key industrial installations are along the coast (Jurong, Bukom, Tuas), as well as major residential areas. Many of these are built on reclaimed land too.

The Semakau landfill shows how reclamation can be done to meet urban needs without sacrificing all. Similar diligence applied to other reclamation projects can only benefit the nation. And the processes developed will surely be of commercial interest. There are currently off shore landfills in Manila, Hong Kong (it appears they may have as many as 12) and Osaka.

Most people believe our shores are dead and buried. But our shores are very much alive and of world class standards! If we can clear up our waters, our reefs can be as attractive (to wildlife and tourists) as those in Malaysia and the region. And the processes, technologies and educational programmes that we develop to do so can be applied to other shores that are rapidly facing similar issues.

Integrated approach to wild places: Singapore is probably the only place in the world where a tourist can visit a rainforest, a mangrove, a coral reef all within half an hour from the central business district (and a cold beer in a 6-star hotel).

Yes, our wild places may not rival those of neighbouring countries. But ours make for a good first introduction to these magnificent and rapidly vanishing habitats.

Something that business travellers can squeeze into their busy schedules. For many, it might be the only opportunity they can get to experience tropical habitats first hand. No doubt, most will also be impressed at how urban Singapore still has so much that remains wild.

Green global leader?

Singapore has shown that it can lead in many areas. In environmental issues, Singapore's 'disadvantages': limited land, natural resources, can actually MAKE us world no. 1!

We HAVE to solve these issues NOW, simply to survive.

The rest of the world will eventually face these problems as well. By that time, we would have been there and done that. This is a position that Singapore can certainly leverage on.

So "Should we bother?"


Not just because its pretty and it's good for our soul.

Not just because we CAN if we just make the effort.

But because we MUST if we are to survive.

And also because it makes good sense and good cents.

Can the rest of us make a difference in this effort?
Can one person make a difference?


these blog entries were first uploaded on MoBlog Singapore! Celebrate Singapore NDP 04
website©ria tan 2004