An apocalyptic vision of Singapore

Too hot for habitation, Singapore in 2065 houses its people in cooled caverns underground, who connect via virtual media, not face to face.

Imagine the year 2065, when you mention "Singapore," you no longer refer to an island but a Corporation. Singapore Incorporated runs several suburbs in northern India and China, populated by a diaspora that had abandoned the island founded by Raffles.

With the rising sea level and temperatures bearing down at almost 40 deg C due to climate change, the island is now 202 sq km, whose reclaimed land has long been swallowed by the sea and is often buffeted by tsunami-like waves.

What was once a bustling city with towering skyscrapers now stands empty, as a testimony of a bygone era, while the majority of the mobile labour force have since abandoned the city and moved to satellite towns operated by Singapore Inc in the more temperate countries. Those who could not leave the island to better climes had retreated underground.

Only 30 per cent of the population of Singaporeans still live on the island, albeit underground. These are the ones without the resources to relocate to better suburbs of Singapore Inc in the more temperate countries.

Subsidised air-conditioned Housing Board flats dominate the landscape of quarried pits under central Singapore island, illuminated by industrial strength LED lights, leaving residents to view a perpetual night silhouette of the city.

Manufacturing and service industries in Singapore are kept to a bare minimum since the now-defunct Copenhagen Agreement, and then the new Melbourne Initiative, has cut global emissions by almost five times the levels that they were in 2010.

Not many residents of the island actually live topside, exposed to the natural elements. In fact, hardly anyone actually ventures above ground. The heat is unbearable and only a small pocket of residents, collectively known as Faith Spacers, are willing to live in areas around Seletar Reservoir, occupying what was once the Teachers' Quarters in Seletar Airbase.

Besides the poor, of those who have chosen to remain on the island are the intelligentsia who reside in the research institutions, primarily at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.

The other private institutions have moved away to other more landlocked locales. These institutions are no longer comprehensive universities but are instead part of a larger network of schools that have pooled resources across the world in order to conduct online courses. Since no one attends lectures any more, everything is experienced virtually in one's own home.

Seventy per cent of the population live in satellite towns in India and China, where the climate is relatively comfortable. The Singapore Government wisely leased several large pockets of lands in relatively colder areas, away from the main cities in India and China in the 2030s.

These areas were relatively undeveloped at the time and the Chinese and Indian governments were more than happy to lease the areas to be developed by Singapore Inc.

By the time temperatures started to soar in the 2020s, many of these satellite towns had already developed the infrastructure that allowed Singaporeans and, later, foreign talent to live in a temperate and efficiently run suburb of Singapore Inc. Jurong Town Corporation developed the land while the Immigration Authority managed the inflows and outflows of migrants in order to maintain the growth rates of the cities.

The global repercussions of climate change have also been felt all over the world. The driver of the world economy is no longer the US, whose unbearable temperatures have seen many migrate over to Canada, leaving the balance of power to reside more and more in the hands of northern territories.

The northern part of China and Russia, as well as Nordic countries, now supply most of the world's needed agricultural products while countries in the tropics, such as in South-east Asia as well as India and Africa, are the world's suppliers of solar energy. These countries are tapped into a worldwide grid which sells its energy supply to a central depository, which in turn resells it to the rest of the world. Imagine that the United Nations is now headquartered in Iceland.

The knowledge economy has fizzled away like discarded old oyster sauce, fermented by its own infertile imagination clinging to the past: a focus on mobile devices or the push towards more computing power. In its wake came the virtual economy. In the early 2000s, Singapore had opened its doors to animation companies, especially companies working on 3D technologies with the goal of supplying the movie industry. However in the 2020s, with the rising temperatures also came the emergence of new strains of viruses in the vein of Ebola and Sars, which created widespread pandemics. Policymakers around the world closed their borders to travellers, concerned with the spread of these deadly diseases.

In fact, even within local populations, new laws were enacted to enable one to minimise contact with fellow human beings. Social laws were passed which made gatherings of more than 10 people in one room illegal. Soon the closed-door policy resulted in the movie industry collapsing. In today's world one has to go through a complicated set of protocols in order to organise a gathering.

The authorities have the right to forcibly incarcerate anyone suspected of harbouring a deadly disease. Those suspected of being bioterrorists are cryogenically incarcerated before they are shipped to holding tanks on prison ships which are fully automatised and run remotely by human operators in Singapore Inc's headquarters in Gansu, China. Singapore Inc runs some of the world's largest ship prisons.

Technology companies then scrambled to meet a new demand: the demand for social interactions without needing face-to-face interaction. Temasek Holdings rushed into the forefront, relocating promising tech companies to the island of Singapore where they provided these companies state-of-the-art facilities in underground caverns, which were modelled after the New York skyline. Artificial lighting and green spaces using lichens and mosses were expertly interwoven into the very fabric of underground living. With full artistic licence given to these companies, Singapore then became the leading nation to export liveable realities.

This mass commercialisation of exported experiences resulted in Singapore coming to the forefront of the global demand for entertainment. Singapore levied a high corporate tax rate in particular on this industry, in exchange for maintaining the underground city and providing 24/7 services to the tech companies.

In spite of these social improvements, Faith Spacers choose to disregard the safety protocols. They have chosen to remain on the main island where they meet in groups beyond the stipulated 10.

They refuse all contact with wearable technology but instead actively seek outdoor activities in teams. They restore antiquated bicycles and use them to traverse the island, establishing new outposts called Faith Spaces, where they encourage face-to-face contact. They describe it as a religious experience: the personal connection with people, without the use of technology.

This counterculture is currently an annoyance to the safety of the majority of the populace; however, since they have chosen to bypass the general public, the authorities turned a blind eye, as they continue to remain a small minority.

• The writer is an associate professor at the Centre for Economic Research in Shandong University, China.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2015, with the headline 'An apocalyptic vision of Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe