by Howard Lee
For me, COP16 was a complete let-down. Countries waited for countries to commit to binding agreements to tackle climate change. No one wanted to make the first move towards protecting the environment.
Singapore’s position at the conference was no different. It is still something that I frown upon, as I have always believed that, instead of seeing curbs on emissions as a handicap, we should seize the opportunity to make ourselves the test-bed for a green city that other countries can model after, and creating home-grown green energy solutions that we can export. Yes, forget the casinos. This is true enterprise that will never find lack of global demand. It is something we can still achieve, as meaningful as the need to protect our environment.
Meanwhile, all these international shenanigans cannot stop the dedication of some of our local volunteers, dedicated to do the right thing for Earth. This article is an interview with Grant W. Pereira of the Green Volunteers, a local group that is dedicated to re-establishing our lost flora, animal protection, and public education to increase awareness about our natural environment.
What do you feel is the most pressing environmental or conservation concern for Singapore? Where have we done well or poorly?
In Singapore, our most pressing problem is the pressing problem of freely available plastic bags. Per captia, we are one of the biggest users of plastic bags in the world. These bags take literally hundreds of years to dissolve and if incinerated the toxic fumes cause grave health problems. If countries like Taiwan, Australia, now Italy and even Bangladesh can ban these harmful bags, our government should have the political will to do the same.
What we do well is the ''clean and green'' campaign we have had for a few years. We have beautiful and well maintained parks in Singapore. It’s a great idea but I think more effort should be made to reintroduce more native plants and trees so that our native fauna can return.
The Green Volunteers have a programme called S.P.R.O.U.T.S. [Singaporeans Proudly Replanting Our Unique Trees and Shrubs] to reintroduce native flora back into our parks.
I personally think it’s a waste of time attending global conferences about climate change/global warming. All we need worldwide is to plant more trees to slow this down.
What are your views on the level of awareness and contribution among Singaporeans on these issues?
Generally, Singaporeans are aware of local and global environmental issues, but many don’t give a damn. If you go to a park on a Monday (especially during school holidays) you would be shocked at the amount of rubbish/trash around these pits even when there are rubbish bins so close by. Singapore is known as a ''clean and green'' city simply because we have laws against littering and socially unacceptable behaviour. I wonder what the situation would be if there were no fines or corrective work orders against littering.
What can private, public and people sectors do to enhance conservation efforts?
I believe education is the only way to get the message across. Environmental discussion should be held at all schools. This should be held on a Friday (last class) so students can practice what was discussed over the weekend.
What would you say is the Green Volunteers' single biggest contribution to Singapore?
The Green Volunteers contributions to our environment are numerous. We have given many talks about the environment to schools, done many mangrove replanting and cleanups. I regularly bring students to China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to do social and environmental projects. Over the last 12 years we have planted more than 250,000 trees in this region. We stopped Resorts World, through a campaign, from bringing in the endangered whale shark to their resort. We wrote an interactive booklet about the Pulau Ubin sensory walk.
What are the priorities of the Green Volunteers for 2011? Any alignment with international conservation movements?
Our goal is to continue to do what we do, but with more intensity, getting more volunteers to make this happen. We will soon start a bluefin awareness campaign as many consumers don’t realise that the tuna stock is as endangered as the panda. We work closely with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Howard Lee is a corporate communication professional and volunteers with a local marine conservation group.