Here's the thing about being an environment reporter: You start to feel a little guilty about many of the pleasurable things in life.
Before I started covering green issues four years ago, vacationing in a good hotel meant luxuriating in the claw-footed tub, never mind that I was essentially stewing in my own dirtiness and wasting water to boot. Entire weekends could be spent in the comfortable cocoon of the air-conditioning in the bedroom, never caring that the machine had been switched on for the past 12 hours.
But a consequence peculiar to reporting on environmental issues is that every fact and figure comes to seem like a referendum on your own lifestyle choices. While housing reporters can hardly be blamed for homelessness or crime reporters for murders, the plain fact is that each of us is a little (or a lot) responsible for climate change.
It was impossible to continue soaking in hotel tubs guilt-free when my job partly consisted of reminding people over and over again that each person in Singapore uses on average 151 litres of water a day, and more could be done to reduce this. (The United Nations recommends 100 litres.)
Sometime in the past year, I also found myself starting to wake early during weekends to switch the air-conditioner off, if only so I could flop back to sleep a little less heavy in my conscience.
The key thing I have taken away from the job so far is that if people do not feel responsible in some way for climate change, they are extremely unlikely to do something about it. And I mean “feel responsible” in a visceral sense, not in a woolly, academic way. It was not until I started covering green issues - and so had a professional stake in the matter - that I started to feel a nagging need to better match my deeds to the words I was putting on paper.
Of course, few people will become environment reporters, so one crucial question for the country’s planners and activists - if they want to encourage more people to take better care of the earth - is how they can instill this sense of necessity in people.
On the other hand, there is also something to be said about blunt measures. The Government, for example, has steadily phased out the worst of energy-guzzling air-conditioners and fridges. I may never give up my air-conditioner, but buying a model that pollutes the world less is much more conceivable.
If there is one thing I could mandate, though, it would be the banning of plastic bags in stores and supermarkets here. I’m sure that Singaporeans can adapt to this just as Taiwanese shoppers did. That’s one thing I wish we can bag today, as a quick win for the environment.