This is the slide deck I presented at the Asia Pacific Centre for Social Enterprise (APCSE), Griffith University, Open Lecture Series this week.
Image source: UNEP
The WWF released its latest Living Planet Report yesterday, and I went along in person to the Botany Centre in the beautiful Botanic Gardens here in Singapore to get it from from the Chair of the Board of WWF himself, Dr Christopher Hails.
The launch of the Report was billed as an important precursor to the next gathering of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity scheduled to be held in Nagoya, Japan later this month and I had assumed, therefore, that there would be a focus on biodiversity loss. Instead Dr Hails gave a broad and far ranging presentation that described the general health of the planet (or lack thereof). He certainly did not disappoint and the audience (all of whom, it’s fair to say, could be counted as converts) was more numerous than I expected and certainly well-informed.
One surprise for me was that, for the first time, I was presented with data on the ecological footprint for Singapore. For some reason, Singapore has always been missing from any international league table of ecological footprints. Less surprising, given the passion for consumption in this country, was the world ranking of 21st, each person requiring 5.34 biologically productive hectares to fuel this consumption and dispose of the associated waste. Putting it another way, if everyone in the world lived like Singaporeans, we would need three planets.
Breaking the Singaporean ecological footprint down, carbon emissions is the biggest offender. This came as a surprise to some members of the audience, but Jurong does house one of the top three largest oil refining centres in the world. Then there is the aircon! If the owners of some of the buildings in Singapore turned the thermostat down a notch, maybe a Singaporean lifestyle would only require two planets.
Any more of this left-wing, environmentalist, clap-trap and I might just be forced to subscribe to this magazine!
Seriously, though, having managed to get up my nose for several decades now with its doctrinaire free-market editorial, The Economist is actually starting to talk sense, analysing issues such as the plight of the world’s forests in a manner that would have been total anathema a few years ago. The narrow, neoclassical approach is nowhere to be seen and instead we are treated to some penetrating insights that are extremely timely from a periodical of such standing, given the looming crisis in global biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The article, Gulf oil spill: A hole in the world, written by Naomi Klein in today’s Guardian is by far and away the most cogent piece of analysis I’ve come across to date on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. To summarise the piece in a few hundred words would do Ms Klein a great disservice because the article needs to be read in its entirety. The Fault Lines film (see above) for which she served as consultant is also an eye-opener. The article (and the film) sift through events surrounding the disaster before, during (right now), and in the future, at different levels and in all its multiple dimensions, and one is inexorably led to the conclusion that — as a social-ecological system — the Gulf of Mexico could well be playing out its final act. The system has been under strain for some considerable time but, as resilience theorists will tell you, there comes a point where Gaia will simply not take any more abuse, a threshold is crossed, and the social-ecological system enters a new regime, where there is no going back to the old regime. The scary thing is that the collapse of the Gulf of Mexico social-ecological system would not necessarily end there. It is not an isolated system, but one that is inextricably linked to many more.
Image source: flickr.com/photos/cadams7216
There is an interesting piece in Wired today on Biosphere 2 (B2), the controversial experiment in the 1990s that attempted to recreate biodiversity. It now turns out that it wasn’t such a waste of tax payers’ money after all, because important research is going on that could help us better understand the impact of climate change. The original objective of B2 was real ‘space odyssey’ stuff with eight people being sealed inside between 1991 and 1993. By all accounts, they clashed over the nature and direction of the research, and Time Magazine concluded at the time that the experiment in self-sufficiency was “less like science and more like a $150 million stunt.”
More interesting was a comment on the article from one reader, who wrote:
I knew the original venture was a little pseudo-scientific, but I had no idea religious extremists were involved (… and they may not have, it must be said, as I can find no other reference to this claim).
Back in August, it was revealed that the Bush Administration planned to relax endangered species rules that would cut out the advice of government scientists who have had an input on such matters for 35 years. If successful, Bush would accomplish through rule changes what conservative Republicans have been unable to achieve in Congress; namely, ending environmental reviews that developers blame for delays and cost increases on projects. Undeterred by the 250,000 objections received by lawmakers and environmentalists, the Interior Department has been rushing to bring in the rule changes by 21November, or Obama can undo them with the stroke of a pen when he is sworn on 20 January. However, if the new rules do go through, they will be difficult to overturn since it would require the new administration to restart the rule-making process. The only way to avoid this scenario would be for Congress to reverse the rule changes through the Congressional Review Act; a law that allows review of new federal regulations. This law has only been used once in the last 12 years, but given the huge antipathy towards the Bush Administration, there would appear to be a high probability that this law will be employed to block the endangered species rules and other ‘last minute’ regulation changes.
When I was a kid growing up in the UK, the humble sparrow was often looked upon as a pest. Since the mid-1980s, however, its numbers have been steadily falling. A report on BBC news today reveals that the sparrow population is estimated to have fallen by 68% in the past three decades.
Sembawang beach (facing south)
After perusing the Singapore weekend papers on the ‘raging debate’ (sic) about the proposed casino (should Singapore be hip and have one to bring in squillions of dollars of tourist revenue each year, or take the moral high ground and remain boring), I decided that this was way too controversial for me and I set out to see if this country I temporarily call home has the remnants of a ‘soul’ somewhere. I’d read in a Reuters report that, amazingly, the Republic of Singapore has grown in size by around 20% over the last 40 years — that’s not population, but area. Roy and HG once joked that such was the Singaporean zeal for land reclamation, it wouldn’t be long before ex-pats like me could take a weekend drive back to Australia. Maybe the only thing that’s preventing this happening is that there aren’t many hills left to bulldoze in Singapore, and the Indonesians stopped them dredging sand from the ocean bed a couple of years ago because it was starting to affect their coastline! Anyway, in this Reuters report, a reference was made to Sembawang Beach at the northern tip of the island, and how this was one of the last remaining ‘natural’ beaches, the others being man made, a few dumper loads of sand having been tossed around the concrete retaining walls after the land reclamation process. I also read that a small group was lobbying to save this beach from reclamation and development and had even gone to the extent of setting up a web site to “provide quiet feedback” to the government. This sent my pulse racing and I simply had to see this beach with my own eyes.
Arriving in Singapore last week, I was immediately struck by the changes in the landscape since I was last here for an extended period in the mid-1990s. It’s bigger and glitzier and more ‘Western’ than ever. This caused me to ponder just how much more development can take place on this tiny land mass.