Urgent action needed for bright environmental future

Singapore's skyline blanketed with haze on Sept 14, 2015.
Singapore's skyline blanketed with haze on Sept 14, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

The haze is back, a toxic seasonal reminder that the environment does not follow boundaries defined by people.

In the weeks ahead, we will see news reports, statements from officials, activity in the non-governmental organisation (NGO) and policy sectors, and other action on what we can do to prevent similar smoke-haze episodes in the future.

I support these efforts wholeheartedly. My greater concern is that we are running out of time to holistically deal with far worse environmental problems that cloud the future of not only Singapore, but also the entire region.

The haze will pale in comparison to the regional instability that could occur if we do not deal with very real environmental challenges that face us and our neighbours.

Large-scale water woes, depleted fisheries and periodic crop failures are just some of the problems that may worsen in the years ahead. Each of them could trigger humanitarian and security crises on a scarcely imaginable scale.

A conventional approach is for different sectors to individually discuss issues and propose solutions. Environmental problems, however, require collaboration within and among sectors.

Policy solutions, technical fixes, infrastructure development, long-term urban and rural planning, economic development, job creation, access to good education, social and economic equity, diplomatic coordination, enlightened consumerism and an ecology-oriented outlook are needed.

Singapore has a cosmopolitan population, technical expertise and institutions capable of contributing to ensuring a bright environmental - and hence, social and political - future for our region.

We could start by bringing experts from various sectors together for a forum early next year to discuss environmental and associated social scenarios for the next 50 years.

Engage as wide an audience as possible. Hold these talks regularly. Let our universities, foundations, government agencies, corporations and NGOs take turns hosting these conversations.

Transition from identifying needs to seeking solutions. Broaden the discussion and involve the best minds from South and South-east Asia. Facilitate and support regional action.

We have the skills and will to brighten the environmental outlook for millions - can we bring it all together in time?

We can help deliver a future we want our children to inherit. Business as usual will lead them to places we dare not want them to go.

Shawn Lum
Nature Society (Singapore)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Urgent action needed for bright environmental future'. Print Edition | Subscribe