Within a span of a year, Greta Thunberg’s weekly lone ranger act of skipping school to stage a climate strike outside the Swedish parliament has spread globally into what is known as the Fridays for Future movement. Despite being at the tender age of 16 and diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, Greta’s display of her commitment to the cause has been impressive.

By refusing environmental awards and refraining from travelling by air for international conferences, she has catapulted herself as a leading climate change campaigner, and earning audiences with various international leaders and politicians. Her message to them: to “listen to the science”, and also understand the acuteness of impending environmental disasters.

While these consistent and passionate efforts by a female teenager with disabilities are commendable, it is unclear how influential Greta’s call to “listen to the science” will be in getting politicians and corporations to address this “urgent climate emergency”.

Without discrediting the genuine concern that these young protesters have about the catastrophic impacts of climate change, one way forward would be to comprehensively understand existing societal concerns, and engage existing social movements. In other words, to listen to societies.

Read my full commentary here.

“The over-reliance on the government for solutions, however, reflects what some have termed as the nanny-state syndrome: due to years of strong state intervention and action, people have become apathetic and expect the government to address all problems.”

Read more about addressing climate change in Singapore in this article in Asia Dialogue, the online magazine of the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute.

 

Photo by yeowatzupPublic Housing, Dover, Singapore, CC BY 2.0, Link 

RSIS Centre for NTS Studies' Year in Review 2012
RSIS Centre for NTS Studies’ Year in Review 2012

Think saving the planet is that easy? Think again.

If trying to understand the complex interactions between sciences, economics, culture, politics, security and global/regional frameworks is just not working for you and you’re close to giving up, then check this out.

For the fourth year running, the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies has released its Year in Review (2012). The Year in Review provides a snapshot of dominant NTS events/issues in 2012, particularly affecting the Asia-Pacific region.

This year’s publication focuses on the role of institutions in NTS and its feature article is on developments in Myanmar. Articles following that are based on the 5 themes: Climate, Energy, Food, Health and Water. The publication also includes a summary of activities and publications produced by the centre in 2012.

To view the report [in pdf], click here.

Heavy rains in Thailand and Cambodia since July 2011 have resulted in high socio-economic costs from flood damage and has claimed at least 500 lives. For Thailand with areas only two metres above sea level, the flood is said to be the country’s worst in the past 50 years, with a third of its provinces declared disaster zones. However, such incidents are not all that new nor unexpected, for two main reasons:

Picture by Philip Roeland

Firstly, various studies have highlighted the increasing vulnerability of Southeast Asian countries to weather–related disasters. Among these is the Report by the International Development Research Centre, which has highlighted areas in Southeast Asia that are highly vulnerable to various environmental hazards. Similarly, other reports, such as those by the World Bank, United Nations and World Wide Fund have highlighted the socio-economic factors that increase vulnerabilities, such as rising population densities in cities. Secondly, there is existing knowledge and solutions to control floods, based on the region’s long experience with disasters. These factors are particularly significant in Southeast Asia, which is home to at least three megacities – Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila.

Yet, in spite of such information, there remains a strong dose of inertia within states to effectively integrate climate change adaptation strategies with disaster preparedness…

To read the rest of this commentary published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies [in pdf],  please click here.

Here’s an RSIS commentary written by me and my colleague Devin on the prospects of UNFCCC talks in Cancun. Enjoy!

Abstract

Given the dismal results of COP15 in Copenhagen last year, there has been growing pessimism on the prospects of the forthcoming COP16 meeting in Cancun. Governments and civil society should push for a better outcome.

To view the commentary (in pdf format), please click here.

OK, so its been 3 months since the last blog post. Indeed, there has been quite a bit of activity, especially on TheGreenBush’s Twitter Account. I had never thought I would have been a fan of New Media, but it can be quite addictive… and also quite useful. Its increasingly becoming an important part of work and play. Here’s a slice of some highlights (related to the environment scene in Singapore).

 

1) Satu Hari Di Hari Raya

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/24253153799

 

2) The Inaugural Singapore Global Dialogue by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/25383243056

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/25387992518

 

3) The HAZE cometh… again!

In terms of catching a flight back to Singapore, turned out that Paris strikes was not the only thing to be anxious about.

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/28392075066

http://twitter.com/#!/thejakartaglobe/status/28578499385

http://twitter.com/#!/thejakartaglobe/status/28719842267

http://twitter.com/#!/eco_singapore/status/28906478981

 

4) Finally made my way to Green Drinks after months!

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/29003171869

Great conversation, and so looking forward to working with Olivia on a Green Drinks session on spirituality. Akan datang!

A lot more to look forward to and definitely a life that is far from boring. Kids who suggest that they don’t have anything to look forward to in Singapore, or are just so fixated on grades, clearly have not learned to live life to the fullest. A simple act of getting out of their comfort zone, would be a great start of doing them (and society in general) a whole lot of good.

Good luck Kids, the real world awaits you, whether you’re prepared or not.


I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak on the “Going Green” Panel during the Young Leaders Forum at the 6th World Islamic Economic Forum on 18th May 2010 in Kuala Lumpur. Below is the text of my presentation during the session.

Good Afternoon, everyone. The title of my presentation today is “Curbing a Culture of Careless Consumption”. I would like to start off with a few words by Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review on Climate Change. In a recent blog post, Stern noted that

“the two great challenges of the 21st century are the battle against poverty and [not just climate change but] the management of climate change… If we fail on either one of them, we will fail on the other.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think you would agree with me that Poverty and Environmental issues such as natural disasters and resource scarcity have all existed even before we realised what climate change was all about. But the important difference here is that the effects of climate change and the superficial responses taken to address it, exacerbate the risk of environmental disasters and thereby strengthen the feedback loop between poverty and environmental degradation.

As mentioned earlier by Andrew, multi-stakeholder cooperation – amongst governments, businesses, civil society groups and communities – is vital to address such issues. But this is often easier said than done, as various parties bring to the discussion table their own pre-dispositions and interests. Formulating a consensus on issues then becomes difficult because they don’t understand each other (and sometimes refuse to understand each other). What multi-stakeholder cooperation really needs is a common foundation based on holistic understanding and commitment to responses that are needed for long term success.

This common foundation I think can be found in the theme of consumption, which affects all  parties right down to the level of the individual. Consumption (and in turn the production) of goods and resources are part and parcel of economic growth and development, which is of course what many developing countries aspire to achieve to alleviate poverty. Higher level of economic development corresponds with higher  consumption levels. However, it has come to the point where much of this consumption is just careless. Careless consumption is excessive and selfish. It is careless towards the environment, and careless towards the future of communities.

Some of us here are fortunate enough to have our basic utilities bill subsidized ( or in some cases given for free) by our governments.  And there are others in this room whose governments have engaged in what has come to be termed as “land grabbing”. In a bid to sustain current levels of economic growth and consumption patterns, many developed and industrialising countries have resorted to land acquisition in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia to produce resources to meet their domestic demands of goods. – in other words, poor countries with their already limited resources,  are helping to sustain the economies and consumption patterns of their wealthier counterparts, rather than their own.

Cheap mass-produced goods have also allowed lower income stratas of society to partake consumerism –for example, the Sachet product industry. Instead of buy a big bottle of branded shampoo, less well-to-do folks can buy them in small amounts in plastic sachets. This phenomenon has actually contributed to an increased amount of thrash.

Andrew also mentioned the increasing population in urban areas. While cities such as Jakarta and Manila are centres of increasing economic growth, they are also the sites for increasing economic inequalities, and coincidentally the regions’ most vulnerable areas to climate change. This picture shows a row of slum houses along the Ciliwung River in Jakarta. The lack of proper waste disposal, most of which has ended up in the rivers (including those plastic sachets), has actually been cited as a contributing factor to the disastrous floods in Jakarta in recent years, and also the damage caused by Typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines – wherein the thrash clogs up the drainage system.

I’m not saying that we should stop people from consuming more, but rather its about getting them to consume more sustainably. And this feeds into the extensive literature available on changing your habits, doing simple things like reduce, reuse and recycle;  reducing your carbon footprint, getting out there to appreciate nature, etc.. (by the way, for those of you that haven’t checked out www.storyofstuff.com, I suggest you do as it gives a quick overview on consumption and how the materials economy works).

But here’s the thing, environmentalists have been saying this over and over…but why is there still this massive inertia to make the change?

My answer to this, is the lack of engagement. Specifically there is a need to engage those that remain apathetic towards environmental issues, but also groups of ppl you would conventionally not consider to be environmental advocates. I’m thinking particularly, influential local community leaders, and in many Muslim countries and communities, this includes your Islamic clerics and scholars.

Another hat which I wear, is being part of the Young Association of Muslim Professionals in Singapore. Last year, we published a book on Muslim Youths in Singapore. In the chapter I contributed, I had conducted a simple survey amongst a group of about 200 youths to get their perspectives on environment. What was interesting from the survey was that 90% of them said they would like to see more action taken by religious leaders and scholars in promoting environmental awareness.

The good news is that people have started to talk about it. Environmental advocacy amongst Muslims has taken off pretty well in the US and in the UK (as mentioned by Omar) as well as some pilot projects in Indonesia. But overall, we are far from reaching that critical mass amongst Muslims.

I’d just like to end with reasons why it is important that we achieve this critical mass.

  • Firstly, Globalisation and all its complexities have demonstrated to us that environmental issues are just as important as the bread and butter issues such as employment and education
  • Secondly, Curbing Consumption is not alien to Islam. In fact it’s not alien to any of the other major religions like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism. The environment is the world’s shared resource, and this only serves as an important base for greater intercultural and interfaith collaboration and cooperation.
  • And thirdly, and I think most importantly – It’s about having foresight. We often hear the talk of the Muslim world as being lagging behind with regards to development, and always having to play catch-up. It is therefore vital for us to be thinking about contemporary issues such as the environment (which is what the rest of the world is already talking about). And if we’re going to just stick to the business as usual model, and disregard sustainability, it might very well be the case that once we’ve reached those higher levels of development, the rest of the world would have probably already naturalised sustainability into their everyday lives and moved on to other issues. If this is the case, then we’re back to square one where we’re still playing catch up but without any option to save our planet.

And with that, I thank you.