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Climate change rally: why no protest against haze and forest fires of Indonesia?

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah




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Sometimes, a writer does not quite realise the accidental brilliance of his work. I am going to zoom in on a report in TODAY Online on the Hong Lim Park Climate Rally held on September 21. Nuggets of truth and unintended irony are sprinkled all over the story which, if mined properly, either offer rich food for thought or can be construed as reflecting what the young truly think of the government’s climate change efforts.

Before I get into the meat of this comment, let me quote my favourite philosopher. This is to set the largely bemused tone in which I approach the subject of this column. Lee Kuan Yew once said he almost fell off his chair – or words to that effect – when he was watching a local TV show on student riots in the 1960s. He said the actors posing as students all looked very well fed, nothing like the hungry and skinny youngsters torching buses and smashing street lamps at that time.

The youths who turned up at the Hong Lim Park Rally were middle-class, more likely the products of Etonhouse or even home school. They were nowhere like our 1960s students or the Haitians whose country gets routinely devastated by hurricanes and know what lifelong deprivation is.

The placards at Hong Lim Park were creative. Some examples: Roses are red, violets are blue, our planet is dying, our future is too, I stand on what I stand on and I’m sure the dinosaur thought it had time too. And there was this participant in diving gear calling himself “Future Pasir Ris Resident”, presumably because he thinks in his lifetime, his Pasir Ris Avenue 3 block would be submerged in water.

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Two speeches were inspiring.

Dear reader, would you agree with the sentiments expressed by two speakers at the inaugural rally? I was amazed.

Three cheers to Oliver Chua, 11, and Ho Xiang Tian, 23.

A member of the Mother Earth Toastmaster club, Oliver said it is hard to comprehend the impact of droughts, floods, hunger and malnutrition in a country where “necessities are in abundance”, TODAY reports. However, he warned that if climate change is ignored, some of these disasters will become eventualities: “How habitable will Singapore be in 46 years’ time when it celebrates its hundredth birthday?” You tell me, TISG reader.

To get more Singaporeans his age to care, Oliver suggested that students would be learning about their relationship with the environment as part of their curriculum. And make that compulsory, too. Yes, please make it, Ministry of Education. Our children’s future is in your hands.

“A lot of my classmates are still in that ‘don’t know, don’t care’ or ‘I know but don’t know what to do’ phases,” said the primary school student. Touche!

Ho Xiang Tian argued that some of the school-going speakers, such as Oliver, should not have needed to speak up in the first place.

“They shouldn’t be having to come out here to give speeches because they are worried about our future without a stable climate… they should be worried about their (exams) and puberty instead,” he said.

The founder of environmental advocacy group LepakinSG then led the crowd in a moment of silence for the climate. LepakinSG is a one-stop calendar listing environmental events and activities in Singapore.

“We just took a moment of silence for the climate. But the government has been silent for far longer,” Xiang Tian said. Although Singapore contributes only 0.11 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, the nation needs to take more responsibility for climate action.

“(We) ignore the fact that we are the world’s fifth largest refinery export hub, or that the fuel we provide to ships and planes emits almost three times of our own national emissions.”

He added: “It makes no sense to me that we are told to switch off our lights when (they are) not in use, but the lights on Jurong Island never seem to be switched off.”

Some home truths indeed! There you go.

And even as the rally was ending, perhaps one of the most blatant polluters of the environment , not just in Singapore but also everywhere it is held – in terms of gas emissions, noise and local life disruption – the nearby hedonistic F1 was revving up to cause further havoc to the environment.

A participant at the Hong Lim rally said: “This (F1) is just one example of incongruities that we live with every day.” Not incongruity but greed, hypocrisy, a bit of youthful “blurr-ness”, complacency or unwillingness to offend or get into trouble.

I am glad someone talked about the F1. But, unless I am wrong, I could see no placard by anyone at Hong Lim Park attacking a bigger issue, the most obvious example of climate abuse right in our backyard – the forest fires of Indonesia. If there is anything worth protesting against most loudly and clearly, it is the devastation of Kalimantan, Sumatra and other parts of the archipelago. The Kalimantan disaster of the 1980s destroyed so much forest that the climate of the region was affected, according to reports.

So here is my challenge to environmentalists and the young of Singapore. Please do take climate seriously, spare no one. Do the right thing.

Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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