Faced with the creeping temperatures and rising sea levels, anxious masses of young people across the globe skipped school and marched the streets on Sept 20. It was the first time millions of people gathered to demand for climate action.
And, it was no different in Singapore.
The first ever Singapore Climate Rally 2019, held on Sept 21, was an event inspired by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg. Co-organiser Aidan Mock, 24, a fourth year Yale-NUS student majoring in environmental studies, explained that the date of the rally was picked in solidarity with the other international movements.
However, Mr Mock added that the rally was not aligned with any particular movement, but a ground-up Singaporean-based group operating off Singaporean desires for greater climate action.
The issue has been the growing focus around the world and is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Global temperatures are predicted to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052, at the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions. This could intensify storms, heat waves as well as prolonged droughts in the future.
Sea levels could also rise by a metre, displacing ten per cent of the world’s population, resulting in a massive increase in environmental refugees. Even the slightest rise in sea levels will pose an immediate threat to a low-lying island like Singapore, which lies only 15 metres above the mean sea level.
The accelerating impacts of climate change will not be borne equally by the rich and poor, and the older and younger generations.
Despite the “elevated” Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) reading, the rally-goers spirits remained positive and unwavered as they came together with their placards and slogans in one of the largest climate actions in local history.
One of the founders of the initiative, Miss Lad Komal Bhupendra, a second-year National University of Singapore (NUS) student, explained that the motive behind this rally was to demonstrate a substantial number of people who were very concerned about the climate crisis. This rally was organised to show the urgency needed to combat the climate crisis.
“I hope that through this political space, the government will take notice of us and take our calls to action that we have come up with seriously,” said the 19-year-old.
Mr Mock noted that the 22 minutes dedicated to climate change in PM Lee’s National Day Rally was rather significant. However, much of the speech was dedicated to how Singapore will adapt to climate change, with very little focus on mitigation.
The organisers of the SG Climate Rally were looking for a much stronger mitigative action from the government and businesses.
Mr Mock said that any response will have an effect on the economy as a large part of it is based on fossil fuels. However, what this rally is calling for, is to pivot the economy away from fossil fuels, but at the same time ensuring a just transition.
Mr Mock believes that it is possible to invest in green technology, grow the Singapore economy and shift away from fossil fuels.
As much as there were calls for greater action to mitigate climate change, most of those that The IAS Gazette spoke to came to the consensus that the best way to cultivate good environmental habits is through environmental education which can help to raise awareness and therefore turn it into action.
While some schools have offered learning opportunities to develop more awareness on the environment, environmental education in Singapore remains weak as not enough time and effort are being dedicated to this subject matter.
Much of the environmental education in Singapore has been integrated into other school subjects. Furthermore, most environmental activities are not compulsory and only students who are interested, join them.
The rally was urging for stronger political action to instill a more positive attitude to the environment amongst Singaporeans, especially the younger generation.
The youngest speaker at the climate rally was only 11 years old. Despite his young age, Oliver Chua from Temasek Primary School delivered an impassioned speech on the environmental education in Singapore and how he felt that not enough was being done.
The Temasek Primary School student said that many of his friends had the “don’t know, don’t care” attitude or were unsure of what they could do. However, he still believes that children can make environmental efforts sustainable.
Suggesting the government to introduce compulsory environmental subjects into school curriculum where students learn how their collective efforts will make an impact.
Mr Chua said: “I believe this will be a sustainable multi-generation approach towards fighting climate change as a nation in the longer term, and I hope the government will look into my proposal.”
Madam Tan Siew Mui, 67, Oliver Chua’s grandmother, was one of the few older adults present at the rally. She was there to show support for her grandson.
The global warming age gap shows that 70 per cent of adults aged 18 to 34 say that they are concerned about the environment, a stark difference compared to the 56 per cent of those aged 55 or older.
While she may belong to the pioneer generation, Madam Tan, who has witnessed the increasing warmer seasons over decades, said that she was aware of the current climate issues and felt that climate change is a much bigger issue now than it was 50 years ago.
Madam Tan incorporated eco-friendly actions into her daily life, such as using less single-use plastic, as part of her own individual effort to combat the crisis she sees as well.
Even though some researchers might contribute such a contrast in climate engagement due to a difference in cultural epoch, Madam Tan is a great example of why we should not resign ourselves to this tempting reason.
Surprisingly, while the majority of the rally-goers were urging for more action to be done by the government, there were also some who did not share the same view.
Mr Henry Chew, 33, did not believe in the environmentalist message nor agree with the political action that they demanded. While Mr Chew acknowledged that climate change is real, he doubts that a climate catastrophe would happen.
He said that fossil fuels have brought to mankind a lot of convenience, comfort, and productivity. He added that it will not deplete anytime soon, and we should continue to tap into our fossil fuels reserves.
Despite facing backlash by some of the rally-goers, Mr Chew urged people to be open to different views instead of accepting the environmentalist message wholesale.
Malika Avani, 37, a nomad for the past eight years, is one of the few who had the chance of living with tribal groups in the Amazon. She witnessed first hand how they have to fight to protect their homes, some going as far to die with their land.
According to The Atlantic, there are about 300 indigenous tribes in Brazil who have fought for the demarcation of their lands. The fires are not only an urgent global catastrophe but also the start of the loss of autonomy for the indigenous people. The demarcation of their lands are under threat with the fires destroying their access to food, water and most importantly, culture.
However, most of the general public living in the city cannot readily comprehend the severity of the situation because of the urban sprawl.
“We are communicating more and more like machines as opposed to a human interconnected interdependence,” she said.
Miss Malika believes that now is the time for resilience and humility from humans to understand that they are not above nature and the repercussions.
While the turnout for the climate rally in Singapore had been good, a lot of focus was placed on individual actions, ranging from diets to fashion choices.
Yet, just beyond Hong Lim Park and into the shopping malls, numerous people were seen using plastic bags and straws. This was most stark during the annual Singapore Grand Prix, which was being held on the same weekend as the climate rally.
The main issue is that most Singaporeans are still not concerned with climate change.
As much as technology is driving human disconnection with nature, Tim Daudach, 29, from Germany believes that social media today is a powerful tool in spreading information as it does not have the incentive to focus only on issues that bring in profits, unlike traditional media. This global climate strike is the epitome of that.
At least in other countries, climate justice awareness is at its peak levels. Mr Daudach has confidence that such an uproar in climate movements will pique the interests of political parties into stepping up their efforts.
“Ultimately, the more people take to the streets to protest, the more afraid governments will be. So, I think it is definitely a powerful tool and one that will affect change in the long term,” he said.
Singapore political figures such as the Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, Singapore Democratic Party vice-chairman John Tan and activist Jolovan Wham were present at the rally.
Amongst the crowd was also Member of Parliament Louis Ng and his family. He commended the younger generation as a group who are willing to speak up about a cause they care about, proving that they are not just a group of apathetic and self-centred individuals.
Mr Ng mentioned that the climate rally was a positive movement that the government should support because citizens are willing to take action by coming down on a Saturday afternoon in the heat to show their support for this cause.
Mr Ng recalls that climate change was an issue being discussed when he was in secondary school and is worried that even after three decades, nothing significant has been put to action. He hopes that the rally will encourage more Singaporeans to focus on solutions and how each individual can do their part in making a change for the next generations to come.
Overall, the general consensus of those The IAS Gazette spoke to agreed that most Singaporeans still do not have the proper mindset towards environmental issues and are unaware of the problems that they might face should they continue on such levels of unsustainability.
Climate change is not the sole responsibility of one person, it is a pressing global issue in which everyone must come together as one humanity to tackle it before it becomes irreversible.
Mr Ho Xiang Tian, 23, co-founder of LepakInSG, ended his speech with one very impactful statement: “There have been countless speeches on the need for climate action. The government doesn’t need reminders of what should be done. They just have to do it.”
Nevertheless, this is the time for people worldwide to be hopeful for the shifts in political agendas to include increasing actions for climate justice.