So I woke up on Christmas morning and got a call from a friend who told me to flip to page 8 and 9 of the day’s Berita Harian (Singapore’s Malay-language Newspaper… no, not the Malaysian version). So there I was, slated as one of the 50 Malay/Muslim individuals that would likely to be playing an influential role in the community as well as for the country in general.  *GASP*

Caption reads "These are among the individuals expected to 'colour' 2011". No pressure, folks.

 

It was quite a surprise and totally unexpected, though its nevertheless nice that whatever little contribution I am making related to the environment is being recognised. It was also a nice plug for the United States Institute of Environment (USIE) (a programme of which I was the pioneer batch in 2009. Click here to read about the USIE Reunion).

Such contributions and mini-successes are of course not without help from many people who I owe their guidance and support. Guidance from the Almighty, family and friends have been crucial in every stage of my development. As for my professional development, I owe much of it to Assoc. Prof. Mely Caballero Anthony, whose tireless nurturing and support as a boss and dissertation supervisor has been most significant in the past 4.5 years. I am grateful also to  have had the various opportunities that have come by my way – whether it be USIE, speaking at various forums such as the World Islamic Economic Forum, or participating at the 6th International Session of Asia and the Middle East in Paris in 2010.

While these events have been exciting and deeply influential in my development, this is only the beginning. 2011 promises to be a jam-packed (and somewhat taxing) year. But hey, no pain no gain.

I look forward to various things including work at the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, the regional chapter of the Marketplace of Creative Arts, and of course, the development of Project ME: Muslims and the Environment. We have a long way to go, but as the old saying goes — Sedikit-dikit, lama-lama menjadi bukit.

Here’s to 2011. Happy New Year, folks!


"Work Safely". Yah Right!

The demand for coal is set to increase over the coming years, especially among developing countries. However, while coal may be a cheap source of energy to facilitate economic development, it is costly in terms of the implications for human security. Coal mining has been seen to adversely impact local communities and cause sociopolitical instability. Long-term environmental sustainability is also negatively affected.

In a recent paper, a colleague and I examined  the extent to which governance mechanisms have been successful in mitigating these socioeconomic and environmental costs, with a focus on China and Indonesia. Our paper also assessed the effectiveness of current initiatives designed to address the various forms of human insecurities stemming from coal mining in the two countries.

To read the article, please click here

 

So I was flipping through the papers while  on the way to work one morning, reached the forum section and decided to tweet something.

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/5424394478292992

Letters featured in the forum section basically talked about how there was still a lack of initiative amongst people in the heartland to actually go green, despite introducing initiatives such as recycling bins, and even providing yellow (though ironically plastic) bags to each household to place their recyclable materials in, after which would be picked up.

I must say that there is some truth to this, as it made me reflect on an incident that happened a few days earlier.

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/3978182977916928

So OK,  lady at coffee shop #1 doesn’t really get the point about BYO. Initially it seemed to be a cost issue. She said my cup was bigger than theirs. Fair enough, I don’t mind paying for the upsize. But yet, she still insisted filling a plastic cup, before I could transfer it to my reusable cup. Like lady, could you just try to think out of the box, for once? I said, “Well thanks, but no thanks” and left, as other people in the queue gave a (somewhat typical) curious-cum- “oh my god she did something out of the norm” look.

Fortunately….

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/3978889558757376

So yay, I got my teh si peng siew dai, and now I don’t even have to repeat my order because lady in coffee shop #2 knows exactly what I want when she sees me approaching with my reusable starbucks cup with a candy cane looking straw (one of them Xmas specials). Lady #2 doesn’t smile much, but she’s cool…. and overtime I’m sure she will 🙂

What seems to be clear from this little social experiment is that convincing people of going green will take a long time. Various environmental groups like ECO-Singapore have been making on-going efforts in trying to raise environmental awareness in the heartlands. However, like in any community development programme, the fruits of such labour would only be seen in the medium to long term.

That said, going green is more than just telling someone to use a BYO cup or recycle. Half of it boils down to EQ and effective social skills of understanding the other party’s needs and concerns. Communicating is not a one way street. Environmentalists need to understand that they have to do more than just tell people “Hey Go Green! Look at me I’m doing it, why aren’t you?”. Environmentalists must also open their ears and address responses (whether pessimistic or just reality) such as “Why should I? How does it address the current problems (like bread and butter issues) that I face?”. Answering these concerns with clarity and building trust for long lasting communication would be necessary.

Let’s hope environmentalists take these 2 cents into account at Cancun.

 

Green Bush Buds. Wow!

Ok, so I didn’t think I’d join Facebook, but I did.

I didn’t think I’d get an iPhone, but I did.

I didn’t think I’d join Twitter, but I did end up being a Twit.

But hey! It ain’t that bad after all.

And thanks to the geniuses behind paper.li, I’ve got my very own newspaper (of sorts).

Presenting GREEN BUSH BUDS –  a compilation of my favourite green news sources, people and organisations (on Twitter) who have something worthy to say about the environment. Check out the occassional youtube videos and pictures that come along with it too.

Some of the notable sources for Green Bush Buds include Green Prophet, World Resources Institute, IUCN, and the Environment/Green sections of notable newspapers such as CNN, the Guardian and Bikya Masr.

And the best part: a subscription function!

So what are u waiting for? Subscribe now! 🙂

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 got this from a fellow Muslim sister, Alia, from the DC Green Muslims mailing list.  Found it lovely. Hope you do too.

—————————————————

Asalaamu ‘Alaikum!

Have you ever wondered why there is so much evil on the earth? Why are there so many environmental problems, so many wars, so many famines and sickness?

From Jan-Aug 2010 alone,

  • Destructive earthquakes (Haiti: 12/01/10- catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake killing almost 300,000 ppl and leaving 1.5mil ppl homeless, one of the WORST earthquakes in history),
  • Droughts (Russia: an estimated 10mil hectares of agricultural land has been devastated by the fires following the worst heatwave in Russian history),
  • Floods (Pakistan: covering 1/5 of the country, leaving more than 1500 ppl dead and 20mil ppl affected, THE WORST in UN history),
  • Heavy rains & landslides (China: Heavy rains have affected more than 300mil ppl and caused $1.7bn in economic losses across the country; more than 2,100 ppl are dead or missing across China due to floods and landslides; 12mil people have been evacuated from their homes nationwide)
  • Famine (Niger: is also suffering from severe food shortages following a prolonged drought. The UN estimated that at least 7mil ppl, more than half the population, are facing starvation in Niger.)
  • Drug war (Mexico: 26/08/10 – 72 bodies found near the US-Mexico border the biggest single discovery since the launch of a drug war four years ago)
  • Civil war (Sudan: 13 aid org’ns have been expelled from Sudan since the ICC issued an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir last year for reporting human rights abuses. The ongoing 7 yr conflict the UN estimates has left 300,000 dead and 2.7mil displaced.)
  • Oil spill: (Gulf of Mexico: up to 79% of the 4.1mil barrels of oil that gushed from the broken well and were not captured directly at the wellhead remained in the Gulf. Many species are currently nesting and reproducing in the area, and an entire generation of hundreds of species could be lost as a result. Countless marine birds could also be affected, as the area is a primary flyway for many species, currently in its peak migratory period. New information also reveals that BP is using 100,000 gallons of dispersants (1/3 of the world’s supply) on the oil, further contaminating the ocean with harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, the true environmental ramifications of this catastrophe won’t be known for years to come. Not only marine life and beaches are affected, but also the health of countless ppl are also at risk
  • War: Israel vs Palestine: 22 day War on Gaza 2008-2009- crowded into a strip of land 40km long and 10km wide, Gaza’s 1.5 million people suffer from widespread poverty, malnutrition and unemployment, a situation only worsened by Israel’s bloodiest assault on the territory in decades. 1,434 Palestinians were killed (235 were combatants, 960 civilians lost their lives, incl 288 children & 121 women. A total of 5,303 Palestinians were injured in the assault (incl 1,606 children and 828 women. About 100,000 Gazans lost their homes in the three-week war; the shooting at medical crews; the use of illegal munitions against a civilian population, including white phosphorus shells; the prevention of the evacuation of wounded; bombing and shelling of schools, hospitals, supply convoys and a UN facility. Israeli death toll: 13, 10 of which were combatants.

to just name a few if you weren’t aware….

It’s because of you. Yes, you. And me, and the rest of man.

Many times when we are struck with a trial or calamity, our first reaction is the thought: “why me?!” Yet the sad fact is that we do not realize these trials are a result of what our own hands have reaped.

Allah azza wa jal says in a monumental ayah for our times:


ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُمْ بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

“Evil has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned, that He (Allah) may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return”. (30:41)

Allah ta’ala says ‘fasaad’ has become apparent. Fasaad means an imbalance and is the opposite of ‘islaah’ (reformation). Fasaad is when something decays, spoils and it is not as it should be. There are two types of fasaad: tangible evil such as famine, drought, wars and intangible such as bad manners and doing shirk.

This ayah does not only state that evil has appeared on the land, but it includes the land and sea. On the land, there is physical land pollution, drought, earthquakes and vegetation is scarce. There is also an imbalance in the people of the land. Such fasaad is also evident in the sea: the water is polluted, and certain species that live within it are nearing extinction.

How is it that we are the cause of this fasaad? Allah ta’ala says:

بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ


because of what the hands of men have reaped.

The “ba” in the beginning is known as the ‘ba of reason’ or ‘ba of causation’, showing that it is through continuous sinning without repentance, disbelief in Allah and corruption that fasaad has appeared. Abu Al-’Aliyah said: “Whoever disobeys Allah in the earth has corrupted it, because the good condition of the earth and the heavens depends on obedience to Allah.”

Allah ta’ala only mentions the hands of men because most of our deeds are done by our hands and our hands represent action.

This fasaad has appeared:

لِيُذِيقَهُمْ بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا

that He (Allah) may make them taste a part of that which they have done.

The ‘laam’ here is known as ’laam of ‘illah’, of reason. The reason for the appearance of evil is so that we are made to taste and experience what our own hands have reaped.

An interesting part of this ayah is the word بَعْضَba’dha, which means “some” of the consequences. The fasaad on the earth is not a complete retribution of what people have done, rather Allah ta’ala only gives us a taste of the consequence in this dunya. Imagine, everything that is going on around us is only some of what man has done!

May Allah have mercy on Imam Sa’di who said in his tafseer of this ayah:

Then how Exalted and Glorified is Allah! He blessed through His trials and favored by His end results, and if He made the people taste the full consequence of what they earned, not even one creature would remain on the earth.

Allah azza wa jal then ends the ayah,

لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

in order that they may return.

SubhanAllah, the reason as to why there is fasaad upon this earth is so that we may return to Allah azza wa jal: from wrong actions to right actions, from disobedience to obedience, from imbalance to the balance of the earth.

Islaah, reformation, is a part of tawbah. Allah ta’ala says:

إِلَّا الَّذِينَ تَابُوا وَأَصْلَحُوا

Except those who repent, and do islaah: reformation to good. (4:146)

Take these signs around us as a blessing; how Merciful is Allah to let us see what our own hands have repead so that we may repent! Turn back to Allah and ask for His Forgiveness before it’s too late.

Shaykh ibn al-Uthaymeen rahimahullah beautifully said:

“By Allah, sins effect the security of a land; they effect its ease, its prosperity, its economy; and they effect the hearts of its people. Sins cause alienation between people. Sins cause one Muslim to regard his Muslim brother as if he were upon a religion other than Islam.
But if we sought to rectify ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and those in our areas, and everyone we are able to rectify, if we mutually encouraged good and forbade evil, if we assisted those who do this with wisdom and wise admonition- then it would produce unity and harmony”

A media report earlier this month noted that a former Defence Chief, Lieutenant-General Desmond Kuek, would appointed to Permanent Secretary post at the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR).

My first impressions of this shift:

1) Environmental and Water issues are taken seriously and given as much attention as other traditional security/military issues.

2) MEWR will possibly run a tighter ship, based on military timing and efficiency.

3) Possibilities of greater integration and cross sectoral cooperation, thereby effectively mainstreaming human security issues into the conventional political realm. 

To read the report in the Today paper, please click on the following link: TODAYonline | Singapore | Former Defence Chief appointed to Permanent Secretary post at MEWR.

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.

After close to a year, the pioneer batch of USIE (United States Institute on the Environment) were reunited in Malaysia from 22-26 April 2010! Participants from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Malaysia gathered in Kuala Lumpur for 2 days before heading to Trengganu for more hands-on activities.

Downtown KL

The KL leg of the trip was hosted by the Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE), coincidentally on Earth Day! The follow-on workshop was a chance for USIE participants to take stock of how far they had come with their action plans, which they had formulated in the US. It was great to hear the developments thus far – from garnering support and planning activities at the community level (eg. schools, sporting events, organic farming) to participating in global events such as COP15, 350.org’s day of action on 24th Oct 2009. But USIE folks aren’t just event organisers. Indeed, many have been able to take on leadership positions as well as provide support and inspiration to others in furthering the need to protect our environment. From gaining opportunities to speak at international events to simply providing constant reiteration of environmental awareness to young students, USIE alumnus are indeed diverse in their professions and skills in catering to various audiences. What was also clear from the experiences of the USIE alumnus, their 6 weeks in the US in 2009 was an inspiration and primary motivation for their action plans…. or as USIE participant, Chow Geh Tsung, would put it…. “FIRE!!”

USIE at MACEE

This was followed by roundtable sessions with invited speakers based in Malaysia to share their thoughts on the environment, namely – Mr Steve McCoy (Managing Director, Counterpoint), Mr Thiaga Nedeson (Senior Manager, Formal Education System, WWF-Malaysia), Mr Kris Kvols (Economic Officer, Environment, Science, Technology & Health, US Embassy in Malaysia) and Miss Eio Er Jin (Programme Officer, Global Environment Centre).  These sessions were fruitful as it allowed USIE participants to compare the issues and opinions of environmental practicioners from the  US in 2009 and Malaysia in 2010.

Jom, pergi Trengganu!

Mangrove Planting at Setiu
Trengganu offered a clearly different scenario vis-a-vis Kuala Lumpur. Away for the hustle and bustle of urban life, the serene quiet little town life in Kuala Trengganu was perhaps slightly different from what the Singaporeans were used to, but indeed a  familiar feeling for the Pacific Islanders. Dr Siti and UMT (Universiti Malaysia Trengganu) folks were wonderful hosts during this leg of the trip, from the time we landed close to 11pm (due to flight delays) to our departure at 6.30am.

Mangrove planting at Setiu was a worthwhile experience. The importance of mangroves as natural defense systems should not be understated. According to Assoc Prof Sulong Ibrahim, the Malaysian government chanelled more funding to mangrove rehabilitation in the post-2004 Asian tsunami period. He also elaborated on the role played by locals in the area in maintaining the mangroves as well as contirbutions by visitors (a form of Eco-Tourism for Trengganu). Prof Sulong along with a team of locals in Setiu then demonstratedto us  how mangrove planting was done. After a couple of hours of getting wet and muddy in the mangrove, USIEians successfully planted 300 young shoots of Rhizophora apiculata.

The warm hospitality of UMT culminated with a dinner hosted by the Vice-Chancellor of the University. USIEians had the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences with several members (primarily) from the maritime and marine studies faculty…. while tucking into BBQ-ed seafood fresh off Trengganu’s coast! Mmmm….

It was unfortunate, however due to choppy sea conditions, that we were unable to set out to Redang Island to explore the Chagar Hutang Turtle Sanctuary. It would have been a wonderful experience and a good comparison with USIE’s turtle watching experience off the island of Molokini in Maui, Hawaii. Nevertheless, we were able to explore the UMT campus and its various research capabilities in Marine Sciences. What was indeed commendable in UMT was the breadth of knowledge and opportunity that undergraduates had for their final year projects (i.e. access to resources that for most universities would be largelylimited to post-graduate students).

Some USIE advice to SUSI

The last night together was spent collating ideas on what lessons and advise could be given to the following batches of  USIE participants (officially known as SUSI on Global Environmental Issues). In doing so, several common themes arose, including:-

  • Being practical and sensible in whatever action/task is to be performed
  • Being open to new or alternative ideas
  • The power of networking and strengthening weak ties
  • Not being afraid to get out of one’s comfort zone

While the entire trip was only 6 days, it certainly brought back many memories of USIE’s 6 weeks in the US. USIEians have expressed feeling much more recharged knowing that our action plans are moving along – albeit with occassional difficulties – and that we are all doing our part in fostering greater environmental protection via our various fields. Indeed, the USIE fire will carry on burning.

Media coverage on USIE’s trip to Malaysia

US Embassy in Malaysia’s Press Release