Mackerel
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Climate Unchange

Climate Unchange
Earth Hour? Campaigns? Do we even care?

18 June 2015


Climate change is a divisive topic. Its proponents say that the Earth’s rising surface temperatures, also known as global warming, is due primarily to human activity, namely, the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide and other – now commonly known as “greenhouse gases” – into the air. Climate change activists and those lobbying for our reduced “carbon footprints” range from the United Nations to the WWF (the panda organisation, not wrestling) to the David Suzuki Foundation to secondary school children in Southeast Asia.

Yet, there is a camp that scoffs at this stand. The International Climate Science Coalition, for example, states quite categorically that “science is rapidly evolving away from the view that humanity’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’ are a cause of dangerous climate change.” Mad men with an economic agenda? It all depends on where you’re standing.

Mackerel stands on the point where “climate change” represents a larger value that is important to us: Respect for our planet. And it starts with us at home. 

Climate change and Singapore

These are some key statistics as provided by Singapore’s National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) in a document entitled, “Climate Change and Singapore” (20 January 2015):

“According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), 2014 was likely to be the warmest year on record. It was marked by extreme weather events in different parts of the world, e.g. severe droughts in large areas of the western U.S. and northern China, and severe floods in northern Pakistan and India. In recent years, Singapore has experienced bouts of high temperatures as well as very intense thunderstorms, some of which have led to flash floods. Our mean temperature rose from 26.8°C in 1948 to 27.7°C in 2013, and we saw the hottest day in January (35.2°C) followed by the wettest February (395.2mm) in the last 25 years in 2013. In early 2014, Singapore also experienced the longest dry spell since rainfall records started in 1869. The first National Climate Change Study (2007 – 2013) found that mean sea level around Singapore could rise by up to 0.65m in 2100. Rising temperatures and reduced rainfall could affect the severity of haze events. An increase in temperature could affect our biodiversity and greenery, increase the energy demand for cooling, and pose implications for public health. For example, the occurrence of vector-borne diseases such as dengue could increase in a warmer environment.”

Yes, it is extremely hot in Singapore. And it rains when it shouldn’t, and doesn’t when it should.

We choose to concern ourselves with climate change because we only need to look into our own backyard to see that many Singaporeans don’t give a flying shit. 

Pristine island paradise not captured in this photo

Air-Con Central

The island is just one giant air-conditioned bubble. It’d be far easier to identify spots that are NOT air-conditioned. Singapore is a rare tropical island paradise where having the wind in your hair isn’t a thing, and where one has to pack a cardigan (some people prefer full-on fleece jackets) when headed INDOORS because it’s quite likely to be a chilly 20°C. Brrrrr.

I pack a pair of socks and a shawl whenever I watch a movie at the cinema. Pick a cinema, any cinema. They’re all bloody freezing with their air-cons on overdrive.

And we do this by burning fossil fuels – coal, fuel oil and natural gas.

According to the 2014 Living Planet Report by WWF, Singapore has the seventh largest ecological footprint in the world, which is a measure of the population’s demands on natural resources. The report notes, “If every person in the world lived like Singaporeans, 4.1 planets would be needed to sustain their needs.” 

What of the turbines that cool Singapore's numerous shopping malls and homes? "Too hot to sleep without air-con!"

Styrofoam Savvy

Crash any given business conference or walk into any food joint such as People’s Park Complex, Newton Hawker Centre or your friendly neighborhood economy rice stall at the coffeeshop and you’ll see people wielding disposable cutlery and eating off Styrofoam plates. “It’s more hygienic, what!” they cry.

“It’s cheaper and saves us the hassle of replacing stolen platters and cutlery,” claims the lady who sells vegetarian food at Tiong Bahru Food Centre. I hand her my lunch box to fill and cannot help but wonder, “Who would want to steal a used plastic plate?!”

Styrofoam and many other processed materials cannot be disposed of without some environmental fallout. Trash in Singapore is typically incinerated or buried in an already packed landfill on Pulau Semakau.  

What can i do, ah?

The solution could be as simple as “cut the demand and you cut the supply”. Which begs the question, “Don’t the educated masses of this great First World nation understand what climate change means?”

I obtained from NCCS results of a 2013 Climate Change Public Perception survey conducted by the climate change secretariat.

It would seem that 40.1% of the 1,000 respondents thought it the government’s problem to tackle, up from 26.3% in 2011. On the question, “Why do you think some people are not taking action to address climate change”, 37.7% said it was likely people didn’t know what action to take.

Cue awareness campaigns such as Earth Hour. Earth Hour describes itself as “a global environmental movement of WWF that mobilises hundreds of millions of people to make a difference for the planet. Its core vision is to create environmental impact by utilising the power of the crowd”. In fact, Earth Hour isn’t merely a campaign. It is now a registered charity based in Singapore with its own financial reports, overheads et al.

Some might know of Earth Hour and its snazzy countdown events around the world where everyone switches off their lights for an hour in a symbolic gesture of solidarity for the protection of our planet. In Singapore, some people might recall a major event in 2014 when the cast of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 joined in the festivities at The Float @ Marina Bay. Or that the 2015 event was cancelled on account of the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister.

No?

Well, our point is that campaigns like Earth Hour have been doing their rounds in Singapore since 2009, amassing strong corporate sponsorship, governmental support and volunteer time to spread the word about climate change. Even Emma Stone has made an appearance for the campaign.

The public relations results have been impressive. Several million tweets globally and sizeable numbers of Instagram posts and Facebook mentions. Posters at every other bus stop. Some money raised, too, for programmes in other parts of Southeast Asia.

Hashtags aside, how effective have campaigns such as Earth Hour been in helping to change mindsets? Do people know about Earth Hour? Do they understand the significance of switching off their lights for an hour one day in the year?

Earth Hour hasn’t been able to produce an effectiveness survey. I’ve asked for one and haven’t received any. My search for answers at the NCCS also drew a blank. They replied in an email to say, “We are not aware of any surveys WWF Singapore or Earth Hour has conducted, thus we won’t be able to provide you with the necessary statistics.”

NCCS, along with the National Environment Agency, is a supporter of Earth Hour. 

These bins have seen better days. Sadly, a lot of trash - not for recycling - finds its way into these things.

My tupperware and me

As a rational thinking adult, it was the general interest in reading and knowing more about my world that convinced me to have my lunch box with me to pack a take-away. And the ceiling fans do me just fine, even if it might be a sweltering 33°C outdoors. It also bothers me little that hawkers get a kick out of my bags and containers that I lug about on the average grocery run. Hey, at least I make them laugh.

So, I’ve decided to donate my hard-earned dollars to causes that reap real results. The retweets and other social media mentions take secondary importance to what I throw into my own rubbish bin.

 

Links

NCCS Climate Change Public Perception Survey 2013
https://www.nccs.gov.sg/sites/nccs/files/Annex%20A_1.pdf

“Climate Change and Singapore” (by NCCS) https://www.nccs.gov.sg/sites/nccs/files/Climate%20Change%20and%20Singapore_1.pdf

The World Bank (World Development Indicators: Energy Production and Use)
http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/3.6#

International Climate Science Coalition
http://www.climatescienceinternational.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=121&Itemid=67

WWF Living Planet Report 2014
http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/lion-citys-green-ranking-worsens http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/

Earth Hour 2015 Report
http://www.earthhour.org/sites/default/files/Earth-Hour-2015-Global-Stats-Report.pdf

Earth Hour 2014 Outcomes
http://www.earthhour.org/2014-outcomes

Energy Portal (by Energy Market Authority)
http://www.energyportal.sg/EnergyUsage/How-is-electricity-generated.html

“Earth Hour: Turn On The Lights, Celebrate Electricity” by Bjorn Lomborg
http://sg.linkedin.com/pulse/earth-hour-turn-lights-celebrate-electricity-bjorn-lomborg

Pulau Semakau
http://www.wildsingapore.com/places/semakau.htm

Pope Francis and climate change
http://www.dw.de/opinion-papal-encyclical-could-break-climate-change-deadlock/a-18524398