Southeast Asia — Prolonged exposure to the haze, says Howard Shaw, Executive Director of the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), is causing Singaporeans to fallsick.
Recent fires in Indonesia caused haze around the region
Shaw, in making the casual observation adds, “Even though the haze has cleared up now, many are just starting to get sick. I find it quite scary.”
Whats even scarier for this environmentalist is just how the haze has affected the atmosphere and is contributing to global warming, “In terms of greenhouse gases and pollution the effect of the haze is huge.”
Hopefully, the haze will help raise greater awareness about the environment among Singaporeans, with the launch of Clean and Green Week (CGW) which this year focuses on Climate Change and Youths and the Environment.
“The message is that it is important, something we have to address and something we have to make alterations in our daily lifestyles in order to make a difference,” says Shaw.
“Its not to say we need to make drastic changes, but being mindful of it being a problem, undertaking day-to-day simple measures such as switching off lights, choosing energy efficient appliances, maybe driving a smaller car or even better, driving less, to play our part, can make a difference.”
By saving energy (and not to mention money spent on household bills), individuals can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases which are causing infra-red radiation to be trapped within the earths atmosphere and causing an overall warming effect.
Warming climates will see increased incidences of drought; in some places increases in rainfall leading to floods; we could witness an abundance or spread of more tropical diseases as a result of warming north/south of the equator; and rising sea levels due to the increase in melted water from polar ice caps as well as the Greenland ice sheet.
“The scariest thing about climate change is how it can potentially disrupt lifestyles,” says Shaw. “For thousands of years we have had different civilisations depending on certain types of agriculture, and they were able to predict their annual crops, and prepare for dry seasons, prepare according to their food demands.”
“With shifting weather patterns we will see a disruption in our food supply because we are not going to be able not able to predict anymore whether we can grow, say maize, in certain parts of north America, or whether we can still grow oranges in Florida whether the weather is still suitable to grow such crops.”
“Depending on how fast climate change occurs, the worrisome thing is whether we are going to be able to adapt quick enough to it. And of course the growing population, together with habitat loss due to climate change we really are burning the candle on both ends.”
Shaw believes we should be really worried. “Im not qualified to say how soon. But I have read numerous articles from different climate scientists, they all set different dates I guess the question of when it could affect you but they all unanimously agree that it is happening at a much quicker rate than we first anticipated. So it would be foolish and unethical for us to say, ok its not urgent.”
The reason why the National Environment Agency (NEA) and SEC are targeting youths is because changing mindsets is expected to take at least three generations. “The youth today are the next generation and unless we have this drive and commitment among todays youth, their children, which is the next, next generation, will miss out.”
“Thats why the focus is so strong on youth for this particular CGW because we dont want to miss this generation and if we do, well have to wait for another 30 years for the next one,” explains Shaw.
Just in the past ten years Singapore has really shot ahead in tackling climate change.
The signing of the Kyoto protocol earlier this year – signifying Singapores commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – has been a milestone for Singapore with numerous spin-offs: a lot more companies making a commitment to being environmentally conscious; a sharp increase in youth groups tackling such issues; and recycling programmes in housing areas and schools being put in place at a rapid rate.
One Singaporean doing her bit for the environment is 20 year-old student, Shn Juay, who was recently crowned Miss Earth Singapore 2006.
“I do have friends who are curious ‘what is Miss Earth, can you explain’, so I do explain to people who I meet, my cause, the reason and how they can help in their own small little ways, the small difference they can make yes I do spread the message, and what I have achieved so far is to generate awareness among more Singaporeans.”
While Juay believes Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and government bodies have been successful in increasing awareness about environmental issues, she still feels a lot more can be done.
“Since I was a student I have been receiving all these messages, been participating in all the recycling programmes in school, and even in public they distribute recycling bags to households to encourage residents to recycle. I think so far, the campaigns are working well, but there is definitely room for improvement and we can do so much more.”
She encourages fellow Singaporeans to do their bit by car pooling, taking public transport and not asking for more plastic bags when shopping at the grocery store.
At a national level, Shaw believes the opportunities for slowing down climate change are great.
“In Singapore we have several opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions the biggest one is in promoting efficiency. Im not talking about implementing any kind of space age technology, Im just saying with what weve got either through purchasing practice or in our usage habits we can actually make a big difference just through efficiency, without having to change power source or type of fuel supply.”
The other great opportunity he identified lies not so much in reducing greenhouse gas emission but playing a part in the global struggle through Research and Development (R&D) in clean technology and renewable energy something that has already been done very successfully with water.
Given the fact that Singapore is a dense, urbanised city state, without the right conditions nor resources for wind or hydro power, there is no doubt that Singapore certainly is faced with a technological challenge.
Still, Shaw remains optimistic. “We are already a hub, we have an excellent scientific, R&D infrastructure and personnel community in Singapore, I think this challenge can be put up it could be one of our greatest exports at the end of the day.”