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  Today Online 12 Dec 06
Environmental issues not mere evangelism
Letter from Teh Peijing

Today Online 6 Dec 06
Country's survival comes first
But there may be a way to make money while saving nature
Letter from Chia Hern Keng

Today Online 7 Dec 06
Development that ignores impact on the environment can hurt a nation
Letter from Maryanne Maes

Today Online 4 Dec 06
Voice of common sense
Howard Lee

"WHAT do you mean, you nearly fell asleep?" I asked my colleague in horror. We were talking about An Inconvenient Truth, which for me was probably the most thought-provoking movie of the year.

"I didn't know it would be Al Gore giving a lecture--so boring!" she protested.

I should have risen to the occasion and given my most heart-rending and vivid account of the Earth's plight, but I stopped myself unwittingly. Can my concern for our little blue globe be good enough reason to lend credit to a film that is, admittedly, a few points short in the excitement quotient?

Such is the argument found in many dilemmas we face today. As the odds seem insurmountable, we lose faith and start to doubt our own beliefs and values. It is not uncommon to find ourselves succumbing to commonly accepted standards, when we feel that our own voice in the matter seems small, insignificant.

In environment conservation terms, the line of reasoning is usually drawn between economic imperatives and the often minority green view about doing the right thing regardless.

We tend to believe that there is no way the smaller voices of green activists can be heard. Much as we would like to prove this biased opinion wrong, social reality often confirms it.

Such, too, is the case for the usual rhetoric in our island state of Singapore, the most recent and prominent example being the development of the integrated resort (IR) on Sentosa.

Of the three bids that vie for the coveted prize, two have made proposals opposed by a few local conservationists (that is, those with reason to doubt the bidders' logic that taking whale sharks out of their natural environment and keeping them in a tank to be harassed by snorkellers is the best way to save the species).

Yet, we are also led to believe that a successful IR must be one of its kind--even if that means having the world's largest fishtank that some are deluded enough to believe can stand in as an ocean for "the world's largest mammal (sic)".

Or course, all this should matter little on an island used to trading a green jungle for a grey concrete one.

But, our dilemma now is our status as a developed nation, with a global duty to act responsibly for the benefit of our natural environment. Singapore has signed the Kyoto Protocol.

Even more recently, our Prime Minister made a plea at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in Hanoi for greater efforts in sustainable development.

And back at home, we are still ready to award million-dollar contracts to corporations that have arguable environmental focuses.

While we cannot deny them their commercial interests, the decision our authorities make this month in choosing the operator for our second IR--and the restrictions we impose on the winner to ensure they follow the best of environmental practices--will send a clear signal to the world about our sincerity in environmental conservation.

Already, there are plans to develop our southern islands--one of our last vestiges of natural seclusion, and by all counts our heritage for marine life. If we were to sanction a Sentosa IR that has less than environment-friendly inclinations, would it set the standard for future developments?

At stake here is more than a piece of land or water, but our international integrity.

Is coming up with star attractions aimed at being one of a kind--at the expense of inconvenient truths--the only way to keep Singapore's economy going?

Will the world think less of us if we choose instead to be unique in our character, if we kept our word on conservation at the expense of a less flamboyant tourism centrepiece?

Can our concern for our planet be a good enough reason to lend credit to responsible and sustainable development, even if it is a few points short in the novelty quotient?

We might never be comfortable with the answer.

Some Singaporeans have made their small voices heard in support of common sense, not commercial cents.

But it will take more than a few voices to cut through our economic rhetoric. What we need is for every Singaporean to realise that the world is watching us.

The author dives in Singapore's waters and would gladly give up the opportunity to pet a whale shark if it means returning balance to nature.


Today Online 6 Dec 06
Country's survival comes first
But there may be a way to make money while saving nature
Letter from Chia Hern Keng

I refer to Mr Howard Lee's comment, "Voice of common sense" (Dec 4).

I must admit I do not know much about environmentalism except that there are efforts to save the earth from pollution and species extinction.

In the 1950s and 1960s, we lived in kampungs where daily survival was foremost on people's minds, and words such as stress and environmentalism--which are now frequently bandied about--were simply not in our vocabulary.

Not that we never experienced stress or environmental pollution, but they were so much a part of life then that nobody questioned them. We lived in a cramped and far-from-hygienic environment. The drains were always clogged with rubbish and infested with mosquitoes. I was so often bitten by mosquitoes as a child that I developed embarrassing skin problems, and my toddler brother (among others I knew) was suspected to have died from dengue.

Yet, villagers lived with the situation as there were other pressing matters such as basic economic survival, housing and our new national identity at stake.

Then, as governance in Singapore improved, we were moved to HDB flats--and suddenly it seemed that the sun was shining down on us. Gone were the cramped quarters and dirty drains. Even the Kallang and Singapore rivers were thoroughly cleaned up.

Let us give credit to the Government where it is due.

However, keeping the environment pollution-free is only one aspect of looking after the nation. Mr Lee asks: "Is coming up with star attractions aimed at being one of a kind--at the expense of inconvenient truths--the only way to keep Singapore's economy going? "Will the world think less of us if ... we kept our word on conservation at the expense of a less flamboyant tourism centrepiece?"

We do not live by environmentalism alone.

Unless Mr Lee has a better idea to bring money into Singapore--a land so small and devoid of natural resources--I do not see how such environmental evangelism is going to help the humans and animals in our midst.

I consider our country, despite its current economic development, to be in a precarious position for a number of reasons.

So, when the Government decided on the integrated resorts, I wholeheartedly agreed with the idea.

Years ago, I had proposed to the Government to move strongly into the tourism sector as a new economic strategy, before it actually happened. I pointed out that Hong Kong was buffered from the 1987-1988 economic recession by the flood of tourists from mainland China.

Only by making Singapore very attractive to travellers can this tourism business be assured. Areas such as Bugis, Little India and Suntec, for instance, should be further spruced up.

I would even suggest turning Pulau Ubin into a kampung-style tropical ecotourism resort--for locals and foreigners alike--so that the natural environment there would be protected.

If we think of environmentalism, we also need to consider man as part of nature.

Keeping Pulau Ubin in its current state without letting people appreciate its beauty would be a waste.


Today Online 7 Dec 06
Development that ignores impact on the environment can hurt a nation
Letter from Maryanne Maes

MR Chia Hern Keng brought up some valid points in his letter, "Country's survival comes first" (Dec 6).

I was one of several writers frustrated by the Government's decision to develop the Southern Islands.

I objected to the sheer lack of the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) that are long overdue to be implemented for development projects in this country.

I think I speak for many environmentalists and nature lovers when I say that we are not against development, but every country must inherently practise sustainable development.

To develop the Southern Islands with no regard to any adverse impact on the wildlife ecosystems is myopic and irresponsible as a nation; every national action taken has a ripple effect on the global front.

Singapore has been a participant in many international environmental conferences since the early 1990s: The Rio Conference on Environment and Development, as well as the Johannesburg Conference on Sustainable Development being key examples.

I am proud that Singapore had since adopted several key principles of both, but one missing element remains--EIAs.

If conducted with due diligence, EIAs can offer a much wider range of options to the developer and the nation in integrating the needs of this country to attract tourism and investment, while sparing a thought for what little wildlife remains in Singapore.

Let us also not forget that the mobile marine species such as fish are migratory, and they also belong to the seas of other countries. Wouldn't we be infringing on the sovereignty rights of those countries that would want to protect those species?

We should also recognise that the super-rich these days, especially celebrities, try to be ethical models to society. If they come here and realise that our islands have been developed at the expense of the tropical marine life, it could mar their reputation as caring beings.

In this environmentally-conscious clime, it is imperative for Singapore to fulfil its obligation to the world as a responsible global city.

A country's survival is very much dependent on how other countries view it. To mandate EIAs and to incorporate green accounting will be some of the key necessary steps we need to take.

Today Online 12 Dec 06
Environmental issues not mere evangelism
Letter from Teh Peijing

I refer to Mr Chia Hern Keng's letter "Country's survival comes first" (Dec 6).

I agree that Singapore needs to balance economic growth with environmentalism.

His suggestion to turn Pulau Ubin into a tropical eco-tourist resort combines environmental protection with economic benefit and is more practical than an exclusive resort on the Southern Islands.

But as a sufferer from the recent haze, I would like to point out that environmental issues in Singapore are not just about "environmental evangelism" nor just about conservation of non-human species, as he puts it but about very real consequences, some of which threaten our country's survival.

Environmental issues that affect us on a regular basis, such as the haze, have a significant negative effect on our economy in terms of health costs, lost productivity and tourism.

Low-lying Singapore is also at risk from rising sea levels due to global warming. A rise in sea levels will mean no more East Coast park, precious little Changi Airport runway, no more Siloso Beach, and maybe not much left of Sentosa for future Zouk Out parties.

Environmental issues are not just for "believers", but have tremendous potential to disrupt everyone's lives, especially if they are unforeseen.

I trust we have not forgotten the sheer devastation of the 2004 tsunami, which was all the more deadly because it was unforeseen.

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