By Eddie Choo
What are the chances of an act of terrorism – 9-11 style, occurring? And what are the chances of major climate change occurring? How does America prepare for the former, and how does America prepare for the latter?
The study of America is typical of the response of many other nations. Today, many nations still appropriate a certain percentage of their GDP to defence against ‘potential aggressors’ – ranging from conventional warfare to terrorist attacks, or even as a measure of paranoia against revolutionary coups and other forms of domestic strife. Governments all around the world rate defence as a high priority as a measure of their commitment for their ‘existence and sovereignty’.
All of this makes sense, given that human nature and its aggressive aspect is still very much with us, and the tendencies for megalomania and ‘war on a whim’ are still very much possible. The lessons of previous wars are still with us, and the armed forces that governments keep is a reminder of that legacy, and it is also a legacy of the violent nature inherent in all of us.
The other terrorism
However, all nations are currently under threat, not by terrorist attacks, not by wars by rogue countries started by rogue leaders, but by something more powerful, much more powerful than chemical or biological weapons, something that can compete with the world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons in terms of civilisation-destruction power.
Just what, you might be thinking, can match the sheer force and mushroom clouds of nuclear weapons?
Think of the planet Venus. It is a planet about the size of the Earth, yet the planet surface is obscured due to the thick cloud of carbon dioxide and sulphuric acid. The surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead. So, what can match the force of nuclear weapons?
It’s the greenhouse effect.
Venus is the way it is because of the greenhouse effect, of the special spectral properties of carbon dioxide, which retains some of the heat from the sun that would otherwise be re-radiated to space. The current levels of carbon dioxide are sufficient to maintain a clement temperature on the planet surface; any higher, and the results are unpredictable. We could either get Venus, or a snowball, and computer models are still unclear about which, though many simulations indicate similar trends of increased temperatures. Increased temperatures might also lead to a new ice age, as water vapour might get released
Compared to nuclear weapons and terrorism, how does the threat of Venus look like? If countries are genuinely concerned about their security, existence, and sustainability, shouldn’t governments think about the environment and climate in a more serious way, or is there simply no urgency to do so?
Governments need to spend more to protect the environment
Governments can spend outrageous sums of money preparing ‘deterrents’, to convince other nations not to attack them. Why can’t governments spend equally outrageous sums of money to prepare against any possible environmental changes? It just doesn’t make sense, does it?
Ok. So what if it all turns out to be wrong, that there might not be anthropic climate change in the near future? What if everything turns out to be all hot air? Well, given the amount of environmental damage that we have done, it still pays to spend for the environment, simply because we have to. We can stop and reverse deforestation and halt the loss of ecological diversity, thus ensuring the continuity of natural selection and the ready stock of nature’s formulation for pharmaceutical companies and farmer’s crops. And by pursuing environmental policies, we could reduce the human cost of environmental damage and allow our descendants to live in a better world.
Viewed in these terms, there is no harm in committing ourselves to this Pascal’s Wager. There is no harm for us if we commit ourselves to the environment, and it surely is no harm for us if environmental and climate hell does exist.
Singapore has much to gain from following an environment-friendly mindset and policies. A substantial amount of land has been claimed from the sea, and these areas are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. We cannot wait for Changi Airport to be flooded before we become environmentally conscious. We cannot wait for East Coast Park to be flooded and lament the loss our beaches before we begin to think seriously about alternative energy.
And rising sea levels is merely a portion of the whole set of problems that we’ll have to face should our worst fears materialise. We are a global city, and our economic growth will depend on the global situation as well. Should climate change become fully manifest, economic costs will be substantial as countries divert economic production to recovery programmes. Climate change will result in massive slowdowns in the global economy, and we will bear the brunt of the slowdowns, as global demands for manufacture wane.
All these are just the beginning. The impact of global warming goes beyond the economic. Climate change is slated to cause rainfall patterns to vary, and in the local region of Southeast Asia, where people depend on rice agriculture for their livelihood, changes in rainfall patterns will cause massive food disruptions and shortages. Our supermarkets will not be able to stock rice. In the face of all these potential calamities, what has our government done?
Instead we are bombarded daily on the transportation systems about the danger of a man carrying a backpack, and how we should all be good citizens in being vigilant about the people next to you who carries a bag.
I believe that no one likes to be accused for a wrongdoing we didn’t intend to do. Yet we are doing it everyday. We are denying our children, and our children’s children of a better future, and as every moment passes us by, we might be committing them to an environmental gloom that they never did.
We are also, with our inaction, denying the better future for Singapore.
About the author: The writer is currently a NSmen.