a community of singaporeans

Climate change – the other terrorism facing Singapore

Posted by theonlinecitizen on February 14, 2007

By Eddie Choo

What are the chances of an act of terrorism – 9-11 style, occurring? And what are the chances of major climate change occurring? How does America prepare for the former, and how does America prepare for the latter?

The study of America is typical of the response of many other nations. Today, many nations still appropriate a certain percentage of their GDP to defence against ‘potential aggressors’ – ranging from conventional warfare to terrorist attacks, or even as a measure of paranoia against revolutionary coups and other forms of domestic strife. Governments all around the world rate defence as a high priority as a measure of their commitment for their ‘existence and sovereignty’.

All of this makes sense, given that human nature and its aggressive aspect is still very much with us, and the tendencies for megalomania and ‘war on a whim’ are still very much possible. The lessons of previous wars are still with us, and the armed forces that governments keep is a reminder of that legacy, and it is also a legacy of the violent nature inherent in all of us.

The other terrorism

However, all nations are currently under threat, not by terrorist attacks, not by wars by rogue countries started by rogue leaders, but by something more powerful, much more powerful than chemical or biological weapons, something that can compete with the world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons in terms of civilisation-destruction power.

Just what, you might be thinking, can match the sheer force and mushroom clouds of nuclear weapons?

Think of the planet Venus. It is a planet about the size of the Earth, yet the planet surface is obscured due to the thick cloud of carbon dioxide and sulphuric acid. The surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead. So, what can match the force of nuclear weapons?

It’s the greenhouse effect.

Carbon dioxide

Venus is the way it is because of the greenhouse effect, of the special spectral properties of carbon dioxide, which retains some of the heat from the sun that would otherwise be re-radiated to space. The current levels of carbon dioxide are sufficient to maintain a clement temperature on the planet surface; any higher, and the results are unpredictable. We could either get Venus, or a snowball, and computer models are still unclear about which, though many simulations indicate similar trends of increased temperatures. Increased temperatures might also lead to a new ice age, as water vapour might get released

Compared to nuclear weapons and terrorism, how does the threat of Venus look like? If countries are genuinely concerned about their security, existence, and sustainability, shouldn’t governments think about the environment and climate in a more serious way, or is there simply no urgency to do so?

Governments need to spend more to protect the environment

Governments can spend outrageous sums of money preparing ‘deterrents’, to convince other nations not to attack them. Why can’t governments spend equally outrageous sums of money to prepare against any possible environmental changes? It just doesn’t make sense, does it?

Ok. So what if it all turns out to be wrong, that there might not be anthropic climate change in the near future? What if everything turns out to be all hot air? Well, given the amount of environmental damage that we have done, it still pays to spend for the environment, simply because we have to. We can stop and reverse deforestation and halt the loss of ecological diversity, thus ensuring the continuity of natural selection and the ready stock of nature’s formulation for pharmaceutical companies and farmer’s crops. And by pursuing environmental policies, we could reduce the human cost of environmental damage and allow our descendants to live in a better world.

Viewed in these terms, there is no harm in committing ourselves to this Pascal’s Wager. There is no harm for us if we commit ourselves to the environment, and it surely is no harm for us if environmental and climate hell does exist.


Singapore has much to gain from following an environment-friendly mindset and policies. A substantial amount of land has been claimed from the sea, and these areas are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. We cannot wait for Changi Airport to be flooded before we become environmentally conscious. We cannot wait for East Coast Park to be flooded and lament the loss our beaches before we begin to think seriously about alternative energy.

And rising sea levels is merely a portion of the whole set of problems that we’ll have to face should our worst fears materialise. We are a global city, and our economic growth will depend on the global situation as well. Should climate change become fully manifest, economic costs will be substantial as countries divert economic production to recovery programmes. Climate change will result in massive slowdowns in the global economy, and we will bear the brunt of the slowdowns, as global demands for manufacture wane.

Beyond economics

All these are just the beginning. The impact of global warming goes beyond the economic. Climate change is slated to cause rainfall patterns to vary, and in the local region of Southeast Asia, where people depend on rice agriculture for their livelihood, changes in rainfall patterns will cause massive food disruptions and shortages. Our supermarkets will not be able to stock rice. In the face of all these potential calamities, what has our government done?

Instead we are bombarded daily on the transportation systems about the danger of a man carrying a backpack, and how we should all be good citizens in being vigilant about the people next to you who carries a bag.

I believe that no one likes to be accused for a wrongdoing we didn’t intend to do. Yet we are doing it everyday. We are denying our children, and our children’s children of a better future, and as every moment passes us by, we might be committing them to an environmental gloom that they never did.

We are also, with our inaction, denying the better future for Singapore.

About the author: The writer is currently a NSmen.


10 Responses to “Climate change – the other terrorism facing Singapore”

  1. Sarek said

    The following links may provide some details on what the government is doing regarding the global warming issue:

    We can take note that the government has all sort of recycling, water conservation and energy conservation efforts that are directly and indirectly addressing the global warming issue. However, few of these efforts are enforced by law and the effectiveness of these campaigns are unknown.

    The impression is that economic factors have much influence on government policy. While the government legislated law to require commercial vehicles to use Euro IV diesel, it also has a policy to allow increasing private car ownership to meet people’s life style aspiration.

    Yes, governments around the world and Singapore government need to put in much more effort to tackle this global warming problem. The longer we delay, the more damage and costly it will be to the world and to us.

    We can’t enjoy economic growth now at the expense of the future of our children.

  2. Hi Sarek,

    What I feel is lacking is a more public and sustained educational programme to highlight the consequences of global warming. By most accounts, global warming is a very serious issue – particularly for small island states like Singapore.

    The best book I’ve read on this issue is James Lovelock’s book The Revenge of Gaia”

    With the rise of China and India, we can expect that climate change will worsen further – unless the world gets together and get serious about doing something about it.

    For a start, I personally would like to see the govt dedicate more money and resources to educating the public about this.


  3. Sarek said

    For a start, I personally would like to see the govt dedicate more money and resources to educating the public about this.

    The problem is I can’t remember any government education drive that has any impact on social behavior.

    The next question is:

    Is the government really ready or willing to handle any public demand on environmental policy changes that will derail its own policies.

  4. Quite frankly, I think the Singapore government has focused so much on long-term economic survival that giving the same attention to long-term environmental survival may be too much to ask. Their shortsightedness in the environmental aspect is already apparent in their age-old drive to make Singapore more populous – the environmental and security repercussions of which have been little discussed for too long. A small island like Singapore, especially with a large population cannot be (and is not) self-sufficient in the the resources like water and food. I’ve long suspected that the spore really intends to buy its way out of any problems with money – not entirely impractical. However, if climate-caused calamity strikes, all the money may not buy manage to buy food that just isn’t there to be had all around. This really gets into the area of food security.

    I think it really lies with how much creativity and focus the government has and wants to take on. Singapore has the option to look at progressive environmental ideas like zero-waste systems, greenroofing and community gardening if it wants – but obviously, to see these adopted in any good capacity, the decision and effort has to be handed downwards, not up.

  5. Dear Singaporecityzen,

    We will have 2 options – both extreme ones – in the event that water level rises to a serious level and singapore is underwater.

    1. We can try and buy our way out to a nearby country to house our people.

    2. “Annex” parts of our neighbours, which means going to war.

    These, as I said, are extreme measures in extreme circumstances, of course.

    A better solution might be for the UN to step in and help us.

    But to be realistic, we can and should educate our people but at the end of the day, I feel that climate change is so huge a problem that tiny singapore is really at the mercy of the bigger countries.


  6. Sarek said

    Just turn Singapore into “Venice of the East”, no need to do anything that drastic.

  7. Singeo said

    It’s great to see the rising awareness of this issue in Singapore. I blogged about the effects of rising sea levels on Singapore a couple of days ago. You can check out my post here: it includes a link to a Google Earth simulation of the effects of rising sea levels on Singapore.



  8. A few loose comments:

    First, unlike terrorism, global warming is a global affair, in that it is possible for a country to shield itself from terrorism, but not from climate changes. It doesn’t help, from a pragmatic point of view, if Singapore cuts its carbon production but other countries continue to cough out greenhouse gases. I think this is the reason why many countries like the US refuses to take action. This is, sadly, the current attitude of many countries. The US points its finger at China, and China points to Russia, and Russia points to US. Of course, from an idealistic point of view, we should all care for the environment, but…

    Second, I’m quite pessimistic if you’re telling me that Singapore can be more eco-friendly. I’m not putting the blame on the government; it’s not as if they’re not doing anything (I still recall the 3R that we always learn in primary school). The fault lies in the general population. Sure, there are some people like you and I who are concerned enough with the environment, but many Singaporeans, I’d wager, take the attitude of “why should I do it if it doesn’t benefit me?” One of the reasons why I take public transport instead of drive is due to environment, but ask yourself as I’ve often asked myself, how many people are willing to be like me?

    Well, so here’s some food for thought.

  9. sarek said

    It seems our PM Lee is sharing is sharing Eddie Choo’s view.

    une 2, 2007
    Climate change a long-term security threat: PM
    US-China ties and Middle East conflicts are two other scenarios that can affect outlook for region
    By Zakir Hussain & Goh Chin Lian
    TIGHT SECURITY: There were a series of road blocks manned by policemen, Cisco guards and Gurkha soldiers around Shangri-La Hotel. Goods and delivery vehicles were also subjected to thorough checks before they were allowed to pass. — CAROLINE CHIA
    PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday highlighted a new dimension to the problem of climate change.

    He sees it as a potential long-term threat to world security, not just an economic or environmental worry.

  10. Hi Sarek,

    I’m glad that the PM agrees that climate change is more than just climate change. Basically, the biggest effect (besides the rise in water level) will be on resources. As we all know, the whole world is racing towards this thing called “progress”, especially in Asia, particularly India and China.

    Any limitations to natural resources (which can be a consequence of climate change)will increase tensions inter-nationally. All of human history is littered wih examples of how nations go to war over resources.

    Climate change will have a devastating effect on resources, especially for a small nation like Singapore. Thus, it is good that the PM recognises that global warming will have political, social, and international consequences.

    Question is: How do small nations like us make our voices heard and get the “big boys” to do something about the issue? I think one way to go is for nations like singapore to make use of regional organisations like ASEAN to get our voices heard.

    But sadly, I am not sure if ASEAN has any clout in this – given how ASEAN has been totally unable to do anything about regional issues like Burma and the Indonesian haze.


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