Singapore, not as green as you think

Singapore is an island city state located at the tip of the Peninsular Malaysia with a population of at least 5.6 million. Ever since gaining its true independence from Malaysia in 1965, the nation has grown rapidly in the early 1970s and 1980s, becoming one of the Asian Tigers in the process. It did so within a single generation under the leadership of the founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.

But all that development is not without cost to the environment.

Since its founding by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, the island has lost 95% of its natural forest. Although the government saw the dangers of being highly urbanised back in 1967 and implemented plans to make the country a garden city, it didn’t stop the island from losing over twenty species of freshwater fishes, 100 species of birds. A number of mammals have also gone extinct locally. And that was based on the journal, The Ecological Transformation of Singapore, 1819-1990, published in 1992 by Wiley. There are also 1358 species of native vascular plants but 759 of those are critically endangered based on a report1 published in the Singapore Red Book Data, page 2.

A 2003 analysis, reported by John Pickrell for National Geographic News in an article titled “Singapore Extinctions Spell Doom For Asia?” 2, put our wildlife losses as follow: 4,866 plants, 627 butterflies, 234 fish, 111 reptiles, and 91 mammals. Since 1923, 61 of the 91 known forest species of birds have died out. And that meant that as much as 73 percent of the island’s original biota has been eradicated.

Whatever that is left of island native wildlife, half of those can only be found in the various nature reserves located around the island that take up less than 0.25% of the land area.

It’s not to say the government didn’t do anything. To combat further flora and fauna losses, the government announced the Singapore Green Plan 1992 and Singapore Green Plan 2012. The plans promoted the conservation of the nation’s natural resources, the use of green technology to conserve the environment, both local and globally, and to raise awareness and instill a sense of personal duty among the locals to protect the environment.

Through these plans, Sungei Buloh Nature Park and Labrador Nature Park were promoted and gazetted to be nature reserve in 2001. NParks, the government organisation responsible for Singapore parks and nature reserve, also began reforestation of the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. By 2006, 71.6 hectares of land have been reforested.

Even then, environment destruction continues for the sake of development.

To increase the amount of space available for development, Singapore has been reclaiming land since its founding and has added 141 square kilometre of land thus far. Through this, the nation is able to reduce the pressure of having small amount of space to work with, thus allowing it to preserve historical and culturally significant buildings as it further urbanised and fuel its economical growth.

However, these land reclamation works, which have increased in intensity since independence in 1965, have caused the destruction of over 60 percent of our coral reefs and the loss of 95% of its native mangroves.

For past reclamation work, Singapore drew from its own hill but that source ran out decades ago. And land reclamation can’t use desert sand since they are of smaller grains and have smooth surfaces as a result of weathering that made them infeasible for construction use. As a result, the country has to import large quantity of beach and river sand from neighbouring countries. In 2010 alone, the country imported 14.6 million tons of sand3. In 2016, the country imported 38.6 million tons of sand with half of it supplied by Malaysia4.

Although the government did its best to get sands through contractors who must adhere to the legal requirements in which they operate, it didn’t stop the destruction of the source environment since sand are either mined or through dredging the beaches or river. The flora and fauna losses as a result of those activities is not yet quantifiable but it definitely leave marks that raise concerns in various local communities.

As a result, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam halted export of sand to Singapore if not outright banning it.

But it didn’t stop black market sand mining activities. With Singapore buying huge amount of it, it has become a lucrative resource. Blackmarket miners and smugglers targeted many of the islands around Singapore that has only a few or zero inhabitants as well as off limits areas such as nature reserves within countries like Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia to mine sand.

One such illegal source for sand came from Nipah Island. It’s an island situated on the borders of Singapore and Indonesia. In 2003, the island disappeared under the sea wave based on a report by the local NGO Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia 5.

Another questionable source was from the Tatai River in Cambodia. Sand mining from that river have caused veritable traffic jam on the water. Not only that, 270 families who lived along the river reported an estimated 85 percent drop in catch of fish, crab and lobsters and were being forced to eke out a living from small garden plots 6.

Even then, it didn’t stop Singapore from attempting to import sand from other countries outside of Southeast Asia. At the same time, the nation will begin to use new methods of land reclamation. One such method is to recycle excavated material from construction to use in some projects. Another was to pilot a new method that will use less sand in late 2016 78.

It’s a step in the right direction but doesn’t change the fact the damage was already done.

Furthermore, shoppers in Singapore are contributing to making the country less green by their heavy use of plastic-based products.

In a study conducted by the Singapore Environment Council, shoppers take 820 million plastic bags from supermarket each year. That’s an average of 146 plastic bag per person. The petroleum used in their production could have easily powered 1.9 million car rides across the length of the island and back 9.

In comparison, Australia uses 0.53 plastic bag per person while Malaysia uses 0.8 plastic bag 10.

A big part of the problem stems from the people who see using plastic bags as a right instead of privilege. Therefore, they will ask for more plastic bag than they need when they shop.

Not only plastic bags are heavily used in Singapore. Considering that there’s access to clean water in the country, locals continued to buy bottled water instead of bringing their own water drawn from the taps 11 and contribute to the 467 million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles used per year. In addition, 473 million polypropylene plastic disposables are used each year 12. The cheapness and convenience of these disposables is undeniable. Food establishments in Singapore buy them in bulk and doesn’t recycle them. Used plastic plates, fork, spoon and cup are thrown into the bin.

So, it’s not surprising that 94% of these plastic wastes are not recycled 13 and most of them just end up in the incinerators and landfills.

Lastly, there’s the electricity production to consider. Right now, the nation generates 95% of its electricity using natural gas. In 2001, electricity production rely heavily on oil. So it’s definitely a step in the right direction but natural gas is still a non-renewable resource, and when burned, generates carbon dioxide that are released into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

Pfft… I am not minimalistic enough!

Minimalism is a lifestyle and never a one time deal. Over time, your values will change and then you realise what you have now no longer bring you joy or give you any value. Then, probably, you will be like me and start to wonder whether you are minimalistic enough.

I have been into minimalism for about a year and a half and reached this point where despite my best effort, I’m find that I am not minimalistic enough. I still got a lot of stuff and get stressed by them. It is especially when I need to pack them up.

Clothes

Clothes are one of the few things that most people will accumulate a lot over the years if they aren’t careful and especially so these days due to fast fashion. Therefore, it is highly logical for someone who want to adopt a minimalistic lifestyle to target clothes as the first step during the decluttering process.

I got rid of a lot of flannels, t-shirts, pants and polo shirts until I could easily move my hanging clothes left and right of the wardrobe.

And recently, I came to realise I didn’t declutter sufficiently. I had to pack up my clothes into giant bags because of an upcoming renovation and my current fixed wardrobe will be taken down to make way for new one. The packing process actually pissed me off more than it should because of the sheer amount of clothes I still have. More than 20% of my clothes haven’t been worn for months or even years and they had been sitting there collecting dust. It even make my skin itch when I pick them up.

So I pulled out a bunch of clothes that I know for sure I won’t wear them ever again and toss them into the bin. Even after doing that, I still got like maybe 80 clothes (pants, shorts, underwear, etc.) and I’m sure another quarter of those I probably won’t wear ever again.

Technology and Electronics

If you are someone who love technology and electronics, it is inevitable that you have old processors, motherboards, rams, phones, adapters and cables lying around that you no longer use because you have gotten new ones to play with.

During my minimalism journey, I had targeted these items to declutter and got rid a lot of them. Hell, I even got rid of my gaming desktop because I no longer find value in it and prefer to just stick to one computer for my daily needs.

Yet, recently when I was going through those boxes that I have to store these technology items, I found myself extremely frustrated when I tried to repack those items back. It turns out, there were a whole bunch of stuff that I really don’t use anymore but didn’t get rid of. I was cursing and swearing at those items as I put them back into the boxes. It took a while before I could close those lids.

And I don’t have the time to clear these items because I got other more important things to do.

Paper-based items

I don’t know about where you live, but in Singapore, chances are you will receive a ton of letters from the government for every little notifications or updates as well as statements for your taxes and CPF account. And if you are Singapore guy and need to serve the military, you will also get a ton of reservist call-up letters and whatever updates the military wants “disturb” you with.

Yeah, I never liked the military. Still hate it. But I digress.

And let’s not forget about receipts. Now, normally you don’t need to keep those if you aren’t running a business where you need to file taxes. However, if you are someone who buys a lot of technology products, you need to keep those receipts for warranty purpose. And I have a ton of those lying around.

You would think that I’m done. No. Because of my interest in writing since secondary school days, I actually have a ton of folders and notebooks containing a bunch of old writings.

And oh, printed lecture notes, tutorials and laboratory instructions from my diploma and degree days. Those are still lying around in my cabinets.

So during my cleaning up process over the past two days, I realised that I hadn’t really put a lot of effort into decluttering paper-based items in my room.

By my estimation, I actually have about 80 over letters and that’s not including the envelopes used to contain those letters, five folders containing my old writings, countless pieces of papers accumulated during my studies.

Now, I managed to reduce the letter collection down to about 30 physical letters by shredding a lot of them and digitalising the important letters.

As for the old writings, I decided they aren’t worth keeping and so I discarded all of them. The school stuff on the other hand, I simply don’t have the time to clear them yet since there are a ton of things to do too.

 

All the above definitely prove that I’m not minimalistic enough. And it’s a journey of trial and error.

So what’s next?

Going forward, I need to work harder. I still want to meet my goal of having all that I own in just two boxes the size of 1 x 1 x 1 meter. It would make my life easier when I need to move house or something.

Movie Review #1 – Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Please note that there may be some spoilers.

I went to watch Kingsman: The Golden Circle with my friends on Sept 23, 2017 at Shaw Lido. It came out in Singapore on the Sept 21. This is my quick review of the show.

Some background first. I watched the first movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service, when it came out in 2014. I loved the first show due to its over-the-top action sequence with the occasional comedic scenes. The funniest scenes were always when Samuel L. Jackson is on. In that movie, we saw Eggsy, portrayed by Taron Egerton, grew from an anti-social youth to become a respected young man capable of dishing out heavy punishment on the bad guys.

In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, we saw Eggsy as a mature agent, able to fight off his enemies with relative ease. And when he’s not fighting or on the job, he was able to maintain a cover of a young adult who has a girlfriend, hanging out with his friends in his house.

About quarter way of the show, we get to see the Kingsman wiped out except for a few survivors — Eggsy and Merlin were the only those survivors.

From then on, the movie was about the remaining Kingsmen working with Statesman, the American counterpart to stop the villain, Poppy Adams, portrayed by Julianne Moore. She’s pretty good at portraying her character’s eccentricities.

Elton John stars in the movie too as a captive and generally serve to replace Samuel L. Jackson in the sense that his scenes were rather funny.

The action scenes were like the first, over-the-top yet maintaining some sense of believability. It’s generally a fun movie. During certain parts of the show, the CGI was pretty obvious. I’m not sure if it was intentional or what. Generally CGI in most Hollywood shows have a certain polish till the point where you almost couldn’t tell the difference between real and fake.

I give the movie 4/5 stars.