Lianhe Zaobao interview: The future of our survival as a nation depends on how sustainable our development is

Yesterday, Lianhe Zaobao (Chinese morning daily newspaper) had a special feature “Non-zero-sum game of ecological conservation and urban development“.

Here’s a rough translation of the opening paragraphs of the article in English.

This is a familiar argument: the island-state (of Singapore) has a small land area and a large population. For economic development and urban housing construction, nature has to be sacrificed; no matter how important nature conservation work is, it must give way to economic development.

But must ecological protection and urban development be a zero-sum game where you have to choose one of the two?”

In response to the above question, the following are some excerpts of my answers that I have given to the interview questions posed by journalist Tan Ying Zhen.

At that time of starting the petition to save Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area last September, I didn’t really know what to expect because it was my first time creating a petition and it was a steep learning curve. I also had to find a balance between coming across as too demanding and too soft in my approach when I eventually wrote an open petition letter to the key decision makers. I sought to cite as many credible sources as I could find in order to back my observations and suggestions.

At the beginning, I had thought I would be lucky if at least 1,000 signatures were collected, in order to show that this issue matters to not just a handful of concerned residents. I was pleasantly surprised to find that more than 13,000 people have supported the petition so far.

By late last year, the news announced that about half of the BBHP area will be designated as the new Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park. However, my petition didn’t really move HDB to agree to conserve the entire BBHP area. Instead, HDB went ahead to launch BTO flats in one plot of land within the forested area in February 2021. They have also started to install fences around part of the area this month, apparently to prepare for partial clearance of the forest for housing development.

Because of that, I am not satisfied with their response. I am still gathering data and following the latest news updates and conversations on nature conservation, in the hope to engage HDB again for further feedback. I have written a blog to summarise how housing development in BBHP area would most likely adversely affect the natural habitats and biodiversity.

In spite of the disappointment, perhaps one consolation I could find is that the petition has at least helped to bring awareness to more people about the urgent need to conserve our few remaining secondary forests in order to maintain our biodiversity and deal with the climate emergency effectively.

More and more people expressing concerns about environmental issues

Singapore has been heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world, mainly due to rapid deforestation and urbanisation resulting in increasing urban heat island effect. According to, the annual mean temperature in Singapore has been rising steadily from 26 degrees Celsius in the 1970s to 28.5 degrees Celsius in 2019. The maximum daily temperatures are also predicted to reach 35-37 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

Since the rising temperatures affect our health and well-being as well as quality of life, more and more people acknowledge the urgency of climate change emergency and the need to retain our few remaining sizeable dense forests, which are much more effective than fragmented parks, gardens and roadside trees in cooling the surroundings.

I think that many of our youths are more willing to admit the fact that we have serious environmental problems because they have observed keenly in their formative years the destructiveness of our modern capitalistic system on our natural habitats and wildlife (and ultimately on ourselves).

Many of them are also more willing to speak up as they are usually filled with idealism and vigour, wanting to deal with these problems proactively (despite feeling at a loss about what they can actually do at their young age to make a significant difference).

In contrast, many of us adults have been too caught up with various responsibilities of work and family as we seek to make ends meet in order to deal with the rising cost of living, to the point where we hardly have the time and energy to think or do much about environmental issues.

Possible to have win-win situation through sustainable development

I think that conservation doesn’t always mean that we have to sacrifice development, and that it is possible to have a win-win situation (which to me is about sustainable development, which ensures the well-being and survival of ourselves and our future generations).

It is because we can ask ourselves what “development” means to us. If need be, we can redefine “development” in order to be able to “develop” in such a way that is in harmony with Nature as far as possible.

Development usually means growth, maturity, advancement, etc.

But let’s go one step further: why do we need to develop, grow, mature and advance?

Although every individual may have their own answer, one common denominator that we all share as human beings, regardless of language, race or religion, is that we all want to be happy.

To me, a win-win situation is all about first rediscovering that we are already self-sufficient and we don’t need to depend on material wealth and status to define our worth, so that our mindset will naturally translate into our actions and lifestyles that support sustainable development (such as redeveloping brownfield sites, repurposing underutilised lands, recycling, reusing and reducing waste, etc).


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