A Singaporean environment activist speaks from Peru

 

Conference Of the Parties (COP20) in Lima is the foremost, principal opportunity for global nations to negotiate and shape the contributions they will give to vastly reduce their carbon emissions, before a definitive commitment in Paris.

Lastrina is a young environmental activist from Singapore, she shares her thoughts about her work, cynicism and thoughts for Singapore’s environmental future.

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1.       Firstly, why do you do what you do? Why fight the cause of environmentalism?

For me it is personal motivation. Growing up, I lived near West Coast Park. Over the years I have seen development at land and at sea. Today West Coast Park is crowded with people. I see changes in the physical landscape and I have different feelings about how it is back then and now.

My dad is an underwater construction diver. He built underwater pilings for the bridge between Harbour Front and Sentosa, Marina Barrage, Marina Bay platform. My uncles worked on ships and travelled around the world. My grandfather was a sea captain. Because of their marine influence, I am aware of the dangers that changes in the environment can pose for wildlife and the people working or living on it.

Perhaps it is with this experience with nature that drew me to the environmental cause.  I wouldn’t call it a fight for the environment though. I see it as more of a moral responsibility. A responsibility towards the problems we’ve caused.

Humans need to modify our physical landscape to suit our lifestyle, and that is fine. But there is a need to be sustainable.

 

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2.       Some people actually think Global Warming is a hoax (for example: http://www.globalclimatescam.com), what do you think?

Here’s the fact: the Earth’s average temperature has been increasing.

For Singapore in particular, have a look at this: http://app2.nea.gov.sg/data/cmsresource/20090721544571208250.pdf. The research paper reveals that “…mean yearly temperature for Singapore for the period 1948 –2008 shows an increase of 0.25 degrees Celsius per decade..” I actually feel the heat. Not sure if anyone in Singapore is feeling colder.

Sure you can say things like “But the Earth’s climate has always been changing.” Fair. But what’s different now is that since the industrial revolution, mankind has been releasing so much carbon dioxide it affects the Earth’s balance. 85% of CO2 produced is due to human-related activities. That is also fact and you can’t deny that.

 

3.       Economics naturally drives mankind to continue consuming and spending, it is a system that exists to consume. Without consumption, there will be no economy. In light of this, do you think environmentalists are fighting a lost cause?

You have just described the capitalistic economic system and this is not the only system we can opt to live on. There are other systems, maybe not popular today but there are. For example:the sharing resource economy and the participatory economy.

Yes, society has to consume and spend. But it is the management of this consumption we need to consider. Our activities should not be carried out the expense of the environment. For without the environment, we have nothing to talk about- no air to breathe, no land to grow food, no products to trade, nothing to consume.

We are all aware human activities carried out during the last century has been detrimental for the Earth. Each day new reports and fact send worrying messages. This is why politicians at international negotiations are doing what they can to push forward for a low carbon society. I don’t think it’s a lost cause. What we do need to do is to act at a rate that reflects more urgency.

 

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4.       What would you see your roles as in Singapore and the region?

For now, I’m comfortable in my position as an independent environmentalist. It feels easier talking to members of the public- they don’t think you’re a government official with instructions on what they should do. With this position, it’s also easier communicating with civil service. They’re more willing to talk and share resources in my capacity as a youth environmentalist.

I don’t have a sense of a strong ASEAN/Southeast Asia youth network, and that is something we ought to work on. I know Singaporean youths are perhaps more eloquent in English and can assist in bringing together our ideas together before putting it on international platforms. This we can certainly do for the region, although I am not sure if I want to be the one taking up that role. I’m still exploring.

Now that I am at COP, the priority is to create networks with youth participants from other Asian countries. Based on day 1 yesterday, we know there are people from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, which came in a delegation like us. There are youths from India and Philippines who are part of other kinds of working team, youths from Indonesia who are part of the party delegates, and youths from Nepal who are part of intergovernmental organisations. We have also seen Asian looking youths from countries in US and New Zealand. Plan is to know these people first.

 

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5.       What are some of the fun facts you’ve learnt at the UN conference of Parties?

Here’s one: shipping carbon dioxide emissions are projected to increase 50% to 250% despite increase on energy efficiency. Maesrk has a new ship designed to move 1 tonne of cargo. 184km using 1kwh of energy for the same amount of energy a boeing 747 can transport a tonne of cargo 0.5km. So ship use less energy than plane.

Here’s another one: A Brazilian airline ran a commercial flight on biofuel was last year. This year they tried sugar cane successfully. During the Fifa World Cup, more than 300 flights were run on biofuel.

I also observed a Party session chaired by Singapore’s Gan Ann from NCCS where Parties discussed activities under the SBI work programme and NAMAs. Being able to sit in for sessions like this is an eye opening experience do me in the sense I get to see what or how they discussed before coming out with draft conclusions for the international agreements.
6.       Why are you doing what you’re doing through the Young NTUC?

Circumstance really. The previous 350 East Asia coordinator Rully Prayoga was calling out for people to attend the East Asia Climate workshop. For Singapore he contacted me as he know me from Eco Singapore event in 2011. At that point, Singapore’s Young NTUC had adopted the 350 brand, yet there is still yet to be an official staff for 350 Singapore. I met with them and the rest was history.

This continued into 2013, we continued to organise community outreach events through the support given by Young NTUC.

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7.       If there is one thing you’d like to tell the Environment Minister, what would it be?

I’d want the Minister to give us a platform for decision making. Or at the very least, allow us to be a part of their decision making process. What we have today are merely attendance in consultations or feedback. But I want to see more decisive action and leadership from youths. One way to do this is to have youth representative in the official delegation, as what is happening with Brazil, Belgium and Indonesia.

 

 

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About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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