Some thoughts on “The 8% Solution: biodiversity, imperialism and nature in Singapore” video

1. Despite the title showing “biodiversity”, the biodiversity of Singapore wasn’t discussed at length. No mention was made regarding the extent of extinction and endangerment of our native flora and fauna in the last 200 years.

2. Although around 96% of the original rainforests were replaced by agriculture by 1880s, Singapore was still considered greener than it is today, as there wasn’t much urbanisation. Even the tigers could continue to exist until the last tiger was hunted in 1930.

3. The indigenous peoples such as Orang Laut were left out of the conversation, as if they didn’t exist in Singapore’s history. We are doing them a disservice as they were the original owners of the land, who lived in harmony with Nature and whom we should learn from regarding sustainability.

4. If the natural environment of Singapore could no longer support an expanding human population of 137,722 in 1880, what makes us think that it can support a growing human population of nearly 6,000,000 today in the context of climate emergency?

5. Even if 56% of Singapore’s land is said to be occupied by vegetation today, about one-third of it is managed parks, gardens, roadside trees, etc, while the remaining comprises mainly secondary forests or spontaneous regrowing vegetation.

Moreover, if we say Singapore is a “green city” or one of the “greenest” cities today, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t suffering from the effects of rising urban heat island effect, urban claustrophobia, human-wildlife conflicts due to further fragmentation of forests, etc.

Further thoughts

Though both are small post-colonial island-states, Hong Kong has allocated a larger proportion of green spaces (56% tree cover in 2010) than Singapore (30% tree cover in 2010), despite having one of the highest population densities in the world.

Mauritius is also a former colonial tropical island like Singapore, but it has more wild green spaces (47% tree cover in 2010), thanks to a smaller population and greater environmental consciousness.

Singapore should learn from Hong Kong and Seychelles on how to prioritise nature conservation, instead of trying to develop at the expense of our biodiversity and our health, well-being and quality of life.

It doesn’t mean we should all settle for cramped apartments or live in villages, but rather we should focus more on redeveloping brownfield sites, repurposing underutilised lands and managing our population dynamics, so as to have more breathable, liveable spaces for everyone.


Bukit Batok Hillside Park area: what it used to be, and what we may lose if parts of the forest are destroyed for development

This post is a summary of the open petition letter that I have sent to the authorities on 24 December 2020 regarding the conservation of the entire Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area. This area was formerly joined together with its neighbouring forested hill to form a long continuous ridge.

Before 2018, Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area used to be a long ridge about 35 ha in size, serving as a continuous ecological corridor. It connects to Tengah forest in the north and the forested hill where Bukit Batok Civil Service Club is located in the southeast. (Source: Google Earth)
In 2018, the ridge was divided into BBHP Hill 1 and Hill 2 by a new road construction along Bukit Batok West Ave 5. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was conducted at BBHP Hill 1 area (shown in the background) in April to June 2018. (This photo was taken on 19 August 2018, showing that the road construction was still going on.)
After the new road was built through the ridge and divided it into two hills in 2018, the present BBHP area (Hill 1) is restricted to 17 ha, and its neighbouring forested hill (Hill 2) comprises about 18 ha. (Source: Google Maps)
View of BBHP Hill 1 from Bukit Batok West Ave 5. This part of the forest may be destroyed if HDB proceeds to build BTO flats here.
View of BBHP Hill 1 from Bukit Batok West Ave 2. This part of the forest will remain intact as it has been designated as BBHNP (8.9 ha) in December 2020. However, the slopes on this side of the hill are mostly steep and not very accessible for many hikers and native ground-moving wildlife such as wild boars (if they wish to move to and from Tengah forest).
View of BBHP Hill 2 (18 ha) from Bukit Batok West Ave 6. As this hill is just next to BBHP Hill 1, we can infer that the forest, shrubland and scrubland here are rich in biodiversity too. From my observations, the flora include Christmas candle shrubs, and the fauna include lineated barbets and oriental whip snakes. Alas, this hill is designated for development, according to URA Master Plan 2019, as shown below.
BBHP Hill 1 is at risk of further forest fragmentation if HDB proceeds to build BTO flats on 2 plots of land in BBHP area. The designated 8.9 ha BBHNP is deemed too small and fragmented to be able to sustain much biodiversity on its own. BBHP Hill 2 (18 ha) is in danger of being totally destroyed for development, thus losing vital ecological connectivity. (Source of base maps: URA and SDP)
In summary, this diagram shows:

(1) What BBHP area used to be before 2018;

(2) What BBHP area has become in 2020;

(3) What BBHP area might be by 2030 if it is not conserved fully.

(Source of base maps: Google Earth, Google Maps, NParks)
An infographical poster on top 5 reasons to conserve BBHP area fully

For more details on why we should conserve Bukit Batok Hillside Park area and its neighbouring forested hill (i.e. BBHP Hill 1 and Hill 2), please refer to the open petition letter here.

Bukit Batok West ridge with lush tropical grassland, scrubland and secondary rainforest

Sometimes, we don’t have to travel too far to enjoy Nature in relative solitude.

In Bukit Batok West, a couple of natural ridges stand close to newly constructed BTO flats.

One ridge has about 70% forest and 30% grass/scrubland (as shown in the photos).

The other ridge is almost covered with secondary rainforest (aka Bukit Batok Hillside Park area).

Unlike their more well-known neighbours (Little Guilin and Bukit Batok Nature Park), these two forested areas hardly have human presence.

It is probably because of the dense plant growth and steep slopes that circle round much of their perimeter.

Nevertheless, it is becoming rare to see wild nature scenery in an increasingly urbanised Singapore.

It is better to cherish these nature places before they disappear, especially since they are marked for development according to URA 2019 concept plan.

In the meantime, I am recording their tranquil beauty to advocate for the conservation of the natural habitats and our biodiversity.

No doubt the vegetation has been modified by humans to some extent, mainly due to our past history regarding rubber plantation.

But the grassland, scrubland and rainforest are recovering and taking on some resemblance of natural landscapes.

I believe they are worth conserving rather than having the hillslopes cruelly dug and the natural vegetation replaced with concrete buildings and manicured gardens.

If that were to happen, not only we will lose our biodiversity, we will also have to bear the consequences of environmental degradation, such as:

  • warmer microclimate
  • higher risk of flash flood due to increased surface runoff over impermeable ground
  • more insect pests such as cockroaches and dengue-carrying mosquitoes invading our residential areas.

As one article noted:

“Plant biodiversity can limit herbivore pest outbreaks.

By contrast, pest control that relies heavily on insecticides can lead to detrimental rebounds of herbivore pests as pesticide application may destabilize the communities of natural enemies.

“Our experiments show that conserving plant diversity provides multiple benefits for controlling herbivore pests”

(from “More plant diversity, less pesticide“)

Christmas candle stick bush

Call to righteous action for sustainable development

Our forefathers who immigrated to Singapore to make a living since its modern founding in the 19th century didn’t really have the benefit of hindsight on the environmental impacts of deforestation.

Neither did the colonialists, whose efforts to exploit the natural resources and replace the forests with plantations and industries for trading have caused the indigenous Orang Laut and Orang Seletar peoples to be displaced from their territories in Singapore.

Without the indigenous people’s ancient wisdom on how to live in harmony with Nature and use resources responsibly, which have sustained them over many centuries, our economic activities have invariably caused much damage to the environment and resulted in reduced biodiversity considerably.

The few efforts made by the authorities to conserve Nature, such as establishing Botanic Gardens and nature reserves, are commendable, but they are insufficient to mitigate the environmental crises we are facing today.

Although we might attribute our material success to modern technology etc for building housing and industries, it comes at the heavy price of environmental degradation and climate change and their adverse impacts on our health and safety.

In a way, we are all complicit in our own self-destructive habits, consciously or unconsciously, in our pursuit of economic growth.

On one hand, we have benefited from living in public housing that occupies formerly forested lands.

On the other hand, we also have the benefit of hindsight to see the negative consequences of our actions.

Hence, we are at the crossroads where we have to change the way we do things, as what might have worked in the past is no longer working for us.

According to the philosopher Hegel, major events in history go through the cycle of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

For example:

Thesis: Economic development at all costs
Antithesis: Environmental destruction to our peril
Synthesis: Sustainable development to restore ecological balance

Today, the responsibility falls on our shoulders to reconcile both the thesis and antithesis, in order to ensure sustainable development for our future generations.

“Sustainable development” should not be just a trendy buzzword but rather a living reality.

Even NParks has shifted their focus from making Singapore “City in a Garden” to “City in Nature”.

Singapore cannot sustain itself due to dwindling biodiversity and global warming, unless it restores our forests, instead of replacing natural forests with manicured gardens on a large scale.

While their “One million tree planting” campaign is laudable, I feel it is like a bird flying around in circles with only one wing.

The other wing must also be flapping in sync, so that the bird can fly straight and make progress.

That means we must also stop removing the remaining forests and instead consider brownfield sites and under-utilised land spaces (such as golf courses) for future development.

These remaining forests, such as Bukit Batok Hillside Park, Dover forest, Bukit Brown forest etc, must be retained for posterity.

Otherwise, we will continue to suffer from adverse effects such as the increased risk of zoonotic virus, flash floods, dengue fever, heat-related illnesses and mental health issues.

The Covid-19 pandemic, the recent rise in suicide cases, mental health cases and dengue outbreak cases, and so on are signs we cannot afford to ignore.

According to Channel News Asia article dated 11 October 2020:

Up to half of the wildlife species found in Singapore could disappear by the end of this century if nothing is done to mitigate the impact of climate change.”

The time to change our future for the better is now.

Each of us can continue to use our voice as checks and balances to hold our authorities accountable for the state of our natural environment.

May I invite you to sign the petition below to make your voice heard for the sake of yourself and your future generations?

There can be no sustainability without conserving our biodiversity

Bukit Batok Hillside Park remains as a green buffer in a concrete jungle.

How do we balance nature conservation and urban development in order to ensure a sustainable future?

One way is to preserve our few remaining forest habitats and redevelop brownfield sites for housing and other uses.

Our forest habitats are homes for the diversity of flora and fauna, comprising our natural heritage.

They also serve as natural cooling agents to mitigate the increasing urban heat island effect exacerbated by global warming.

A sterling example is Bukit Batok Hillside Park, which is under threat of a proposed housing development.

It functions as the last remaining forest corridor for our resident wildlife between the disappearing Tengah forest and Bukit Batok nature park and Bukit Timah nature reserve.

Losing this hillside park will result in loss of biodiversity and increased heat.

This in turn may lead to a greater risk of proliferation of dengue-carrying mosquitoes and stress-related health issues respectively.

Instead of destroying our forests and replacing them with buildings and human-centric gardens which lack biodiversity, we should adopt an eco-centric approach in order to ensure a sustainable tomorrow for ourselves and our future generations.

P.S. Feel free to check out my podcast “Why I advocate nature conservation“.

P.P.S. Do support nature conservation and sustainable development by signing the petition here.

Learning to practise sustainable living from our primate friends in Singapore

Long-tailed macaques in Macritchie rainforest in Singapore

How can we ensure a “sustainable tomorrow”?

How do we live sustainably, without damaging the natural environment on one hand and without stunting our economic growth on the other hand?

Can we really achieve the elusive goal of sustainable development on this tiny Singapore island?

Well, it is said that the best conservationists are the indigenous tribes, who live off the land and take only what they need from the environment, without harming it.

Alas, we no longer have any indigenous peoples in our midst whose lifestyle we can emulate, no thanks to aggressive urbanisation and industrialisation, which has all but wiped out over 90% of the original rainforests.

Then again, we can probably learn from our primate friends, such as long-tailed macaques, who live mainly in the nature reserves and nature parks.

They can survive and thrive without damaging or polluting the forest.

Can we learn to live in harmony with Nature just like our animal friends?

We are all in this together and we are here for one another

I like what Matthew Fox shared in “Creation Spirituality“.

1. The universe is fundamentally a blessing. Our relationship with the Universe fills us with awe.

2. In Creation, God is both immanent and transcendent. This is panentheism which is not theism (God out there) and not atheism (no God anywhere). We experience that the Divine is in all things & all things are in the Divine.

3. God is as much Mother as Father, as much Child as Parent, as much God in mystery as the God in history, as much beyond all words and images as in all forms and beings. We are liberated from the need to cling to God in one form or one literal name.

4. In our lives, it is through the work of spiritual practice that we find our deep and true selves. Through the arts of meditation and silence we cultivate a clarity of mind and move beyond fear into compassion and community.

5. Our inner work can be understood as a four-fold journey involving:
– awe, delight, amazement (known as the Via Positiva)
– uncertainty, darkness, suffering, letting go (Via Negativa)
– birthing, creativity, passion (Via Creativa)
– justice, healing, celebration (Via Transformativa)
We weave through these paths like a spiral danced, not a ladder climbed.

6. Every one of us is a mystic. We can enter the mystical as much through beauty (Via Positiva) as through contemplation and suffering (Via Negativa). We are born full of wonder and can recover it at any age.

7. Every one of us is an artist. Whatever the expression of our creativity, it is our prayer and praise (Via Creativa).

8. Every one of us is a prophet. Our prophetic work is to interfere with all forms of injustice and that which interrupts authentic life (Via Transformativa).

9. Diversity is the nature of the Universe. We rejoice in and courageously honor the rich diversity within the Cosmos and expressed among individuals and across multiple cultures, religions and ancestral traditions.

10. The basic work of God is compassion and we, who are all original blessings and sons and daughters of the Divine, are called to compassion. We acknowledge our shared interdependence; we rejoice at one another’s joys and grieve at one another’s sorrows and labor to heal the causes of those sorrows.

11. There are many wells of faith and knowledge drawing from one underground river of Divine wisdom. The practice of honoring, learning and celebrating the wisdom collected from these wells is Deep Ecumenism. We respect and embrace the wisdom and oneness that arises from the diverse wells of all the sacred traditions of the world.

12. Ecological justice is essential for the sustainability of life on Earth.
Ecology is the local expression of cosmology and so we commit to live in light of this value: to pass on the beauty and health of Creation to future generations.

I think Matthew Fox’s outline of the creation spirituality provides hope and vision for humanity to work together to heal divisions and bridge differences between one another as well as take concrete actions to conserve the environment. When more and more people realise that we are all connected, we will all commit to live in the light of our ecological and cosmological interconnectedness, and so pass on the beauty and health of Creation to our future generations. I like what he shared in the quote below. 

“There’s no such thing as a Jewish ocean and a Lutheran sun and a Buddhist river and a Taoist forest and a Roman Catholic cornfield. Once you move to the level of creation, you’re into an era of deep ecumenism, and I think for Mother Earth to survive we need this awakening of wisdom from all world religions, and not just the five-thousand-year-old patriarchal ones, but the goddess religions, the religions of the native peoples of America, Africa, and Asia, and I think this and this alone is going to awaken the human race — this combination of mystical wisdom — to its own salvation.

A map of the world, showing the major religion...
A map of the world, showing the major religions distributed in the world as of today. A different type of map which views only the religion as a whole excluding denominations or sects of the religions, and is colored by how the religions are distributed not by main religion of country etc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thoughts on an introduction to a resource-based economy

Video information

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*This is the 18 min video backup for the live March 21st, TEDx [Portugal] Talk by Peter Joseph called: “An Introduction to a Resource-Based Economy “.

I have checked out Peter Joseph’s video introduction of the resource-based economy. Like what he shared, the current socioeconomic system is flawed in many ways as it results in inequality, starvation, ecological harm and so on because of the self-serving property-based system. I agree that an access-based system that serves to meet the needs of the current world population and future generations while conserving the environment at the same time would be an ideal system worth considering and implementing.

I see this proposed idea of the resource-based system as a natural progression that is in step with the rise in collective evolution of humanity. As people continue to evolve and acknowledge our oneness and interconnectedness, more and more of us are finding that the outdated monetary system is flawed and a new and more equitable system is needed to ensure sustainable use of resources to meet the needs of ourselves and our future generations without further harming our environment.

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