Climate change defeatism is worrying. While most Singaporeans are concerned about the effects of extreme weather, a significant portion believe their actions will not make a difference to efforts to save the planet. After all, Singapore contributes merely 0.11 per cent of global carbon emissions. However, it ranks 26th out of 142 countries in terms of emissions per capita.
This statistic alone should alert Singaporeans that they have to play a role in combating the single most insistent threat to the world's future, save for nuclear weapons. It is wrong to rationalise that an individual can do no more about climate change than they can about war, famine or global religious strife. Every person contributes to pollution; polluters owe it to others to limit their actions.
Defeatism is exactly what makes environmental challenges so difficult to tackle. If people believe that they can do nothing to bring about significant change, then each will do nothing, and nothing will be done collectively. Instead, Singaporeans should seize practical opportunities to reduce their ecological footprint - like recycling, reusing and reducing (starting with plastic bags); using public transport and walking; and being energy-efficient. In these ways, even the ordinary person can play a part in Singapore's Year of Climate Action, launched recently. Small steps can be incremental instruments of large-scale change when many act together.
The same logic applies to states acting together across the globe. The signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 signalled that many were treating climate change seriously. In a historic consensus, world leaders committed themselves to ensuring that global warming stayed well below 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursuing efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 deg C.
Unfortunately, the breakthrough is hobbled by the possibility of retrogression, arising from American President Donald Trump's threat to pull his country out of the Paris accord. It is likely that the US cannot legally leave the Paris Agreement until the day after the next presidential election, given the need to serve due notice to others who are party to the deal, as former US vice-president Al Gore asserted at the World Economic Forum in Davos recently. Hence, if there were to be a new president, he or she could give 30 days' notice and America would be back in the agreement. Against this backdrop of politicking by climate-change doubters, it is the unwavering efforts of individuals to save the environment that might persuade their leaders to stay the course and not renege on a worthy agreement. With flooding in Paris, drought in Cape Town and more to follow elsewhere, people must wage their everyday war to counter global warming. They can and must make a difference.