Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Mass Cycling Event

A commenter brought to my attention a mass cycling event on 29 Nov in Singapore, held in conjunction with the Climate Conference in Copenhagen. It will start from the Xtreme SkatePark in East Coast Park, head to Fort Road, and return. Both skaters and cyclists welcome. For more details, see their website.

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Greenwashing

Found a paper by NUS professor Natasha Hamilton-Hart on Singapore’s approach towards climate change. You can read a version of the paper (with some typos) here. Notable excerpts:

…by clinging to its official developing country status, Singapore has continued to refuse to accept any obligation to reduce absolute emissions. In fact, its declared emissions target is for a substantial increase in emissions over 1990 levels. This is because its goal of reducing the carbon intensity of the economy–the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per dollar of GDP–by 25 per cent from 1990 to 2012 is consistent with a substantial increase in absolute emissions, given that the economy has grown at far higher rates than the targetted annual average decline in carbon intensity. By 2004 the carbon intensity target had already almost been met, which was consistent with the recorded doubling of absolute emissions between 1990 and 2000, and an increase of per capita emissions by over 50 per cent in the same period (Earthtrends 2005).

[…]

There appear to be two major reasons for Singapore’s accession to the Kyoto Protocol: a desire to protect the country’s international image and to benefit from the economic opportunities that the protocol opens up. Singaporean officials and others associated with Singapore’s environmental policy may also be inspired by a sincere wish to address the problem of global climate change, and may see accession as a useful first step in giving the issue a greater national profile. This has certainly occurred, but such concerns have yet to produce a policy shift that would contemplate absolute emissions cuts or non-voluntary measures.

[…]

Consistent with… explicit statements that Singapore wants to be seen to be acting responsibly is the effort expended in presenting Singapore’s environmental record as a shining example of environmental responsibility and sustainable development. This involves more than highlighting Singapore’s real accomplishments in areas such as pollution control, the management of vector borne diseases and tree planting. It also involves obscuring or omitting Singapore’s record on issues where its performance is poor by international standards. Climate change is one such area. The selection of improving the carbon intensity of the economy as a target, for example, is a way of presenting Singapore’s policy as an “improvement” when in fact it allows for very substantial increases in emissions, albeit at a slower rate than would have occurred had the intensity not increased. In discussions of climate change and energy policy in official documents and speeches, Singapore’s actual trend of rising emissions is almost always omitted. While Singapore’s emissions as a percentage of the world total (around 0.2 to 0.3 per cent) is often mentioned, speeches and documents such as the Singapore Green Plan 2012 never mention Singapore’s high per capita emissions. At 15.2 metric tonnes per capita in 2000, Singapore’s per capita emissions were well above the developed country average of 11.2 tonnes, making Singapore the sixth highest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide in the world (Earthtrends 2005).

[…]

While Singapore’s record in managing pollution and maintaining a green environment is very good for an industrialized city-state, the kind of environmentalism espoused by its policymakers is conditional. The government’s approach to environmental protection is dominated by concerns for human health and a desire to present Singapore as a pleasant destination for tourists and expatriate professionals, who are targetted to play a substantial role in the economy and whose preferences for a superficially green environment are therefore reflected in efforts to maintain the aesthetic appearance of Singapore as a “garden city”. Indeed, the progenitor of the garden city initiative, Lee Kuan Yew, has explained that “clean and green Singapore” was intended as a strategy to distinguish Singapore from its neighbours in the eyes of foreign businesspeople and tourists (Lee 2000, pp. 173-74). As noted in a study of Singapore’s environmental ideology, economic necessity and a desire to develop the tourist market, not ecological principles, were behind initiatives such the “garden city” campaign and the decision to sign the global treaty banning trade in endangered wildlife (Savage 1992, pp. 205-7).

There is strong resistance to allowing the notion of inherent environmental values to infringe on economic goals. Environmental impacts of developments may indeed be “carefully assessed” as claimed in official statements, but this presents a rather misleading picture of the planning process. As noted by a legal scholar, “There is at present no legislation in Singapore making EIAs [Environmental Impact Assessments] compulsory for major developmental projects”. Further, “there have been calls to enact EIA legislation to institutionalize the impact assessment procedure so as not to leave EIA decisions to administrative discretion. It appears that under the current system, EIAs are usually required, if at all, only of industries for pollution control purposes” rather than biodiversity or conservation purposes (Tan 1998, section 5.3). Indeed, as related in another account, Singapore’s main environmental NGO have been frustrated by “the government’s consistent deaf ear to calls for environmental impact assessments of all large-scale developments the institutionalization of which would inconvenience the government in promoting physical development” (Chua 2005, p. 63).

Fact of the Day

People here often stare at me like I’m crazy when I say that motor vehicles here a large contributor to the hotness of Singapore’s environment (largely because they demand so much tarred space, and tar is a major contributor to the Urban Heat Island Effect). This excerpt from a Science review of urban ecology, therefore, may be of interest:

The best-documented example of anthropogenic climate modification is the urban heat island (UHI) effect: Cities tend to have higher air and surface temperatures than their rural surroundings, especially at night. Several characteristics of urban environments alter energy-budget parameters and can affect the formation of the UHI. These include land-cover pattern, city size (usually related to urban population size), increased impervious surfaces (low albedo, high heat capacity), reduced areas covered by vegetation and water (reduced heat loss due to evaporative cooling), increased surface areas for absorbing solar energy due to multistory buildings, and canyon-like heat-trapping morphology of high-rises. The UHI is a local phenomenon with negligible effect on global climate, but its magnitude and effects may represent harbingers of future climates, as already-observed temperature increases within cities exceed the predicted rise in global temperature for the next several decades. Kalnay and Cai estimated that urbanization and other land-use changes accounted for half of the observed reduction in diurnal temperature range and an increase in mean air temperature of 0.27°C in the continental United States during the past century. By comparison, downtown temperatures for the United States have increased by 0.14° to 1.1°C per decade since the 1950s. Research on the effects of elevated temperature on remnant ecosystems (e.g., parks and open space) within cities, particularly when other variables are controlled, may contribute much to our ability to predict how ecosystems will respond to global climate change.

UHI affects not only local and regional climate, but also water resources, air quality, human health, and biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Urban warming in hot climates exerts heat stress on organisms, including humans, and may influence water resources by changing the surface-energy balance, altering not only heat fluxes but also moisture fluxes near the surface. UHI may induce the formation of photochemical smog and create local air-circulation patterns that promote dispersion of pollutants away from the city. In warm regions (and summertime of cooler regions), urban warming greatly increases energy consumption for cooling. For example, about 3 to 8% of electricity demand in the United States was estimated to be used to compensate for UHI effects, representing another indirect feedback to global climate change. One way to mitigate the UHI effect is by increasing vegetation cover and albedo, but this strategy is a trade-off requiring greater water use, especially in arid regions.

The emphasis is mine. Since Singapore’s average temperatures are much higher than the average city temperature in the US, I imagine that the proportion of Singapore’s electricity demand used to compensate for UHI would be at least on the high end of 3-8%.

The NYT on Kampong Buangkok

Wow. I never would have thought they’d consider it to be of international interest. They even took the same shot of the HDB flats looming at the end of a footpath leading out of the kampong.

Sustainable Seafood in Singapore

So, apparently there isn’t a sustainable seafood guide for Singapore yet. But the WWF has sustainable seafood guides for Hong Kong and Indonesia. Between those two, I imagine a large variety of seafood consumed in Singapore is covered. As a signatory of CITES, Singapore requires CITES permits for the import of certain endangered species, but their list of marine species for which such permits are required does not include most of the species being consumed that are overfished.

[Part of] my feedback at ‘Sustainable Singapore’

I had already posted some feedback along quite similar lines at their main feedback page, but I was so disappointed by their ‘Commute’ feedback page, for its unstated assumption that any further accommodation of cyclists will take place only on sidewalks, that I submitted another piece of feedback particularly for the ‘Commute’ section:

Hello,

I am disappointed that this section does not seem to even consider the possibility of improving conditions for cycling on the roads. Little attention has been paid to research that has been done on the far higher accident rates for cyclists on footpaths as compared to cyclists on roads. For links to several such studies, see here:
http://www.cyclecraft.co.uk/digest/research.html
https://onelesscar.wordpress.com/2008/06/11/risks-of-sidewalk-versus-road-bicycling/

It has always been assumed, by both urban planners and the general public, that cyclists are safer on footpaths. As such, cyclists on the roads suffer because drivers think that we do not have a ‘right’ to safety on the roads. As a cyclist, when I speak to drivers, they usually express shock and disapproval that I cycle on the roads. It is time to reconsider our entrenched attitude that roads belong only to motor vehicles and that bicycles belong on sidewalks. The number one reason why cycling is not a popular mode of transport in Singapore is that it is unsafe to cycle. As the studies linked to above outline, sidewalks present their own safety hazards, containing more obstacles than the roads and restricting cyclists’ visibility to motorists at intersections (which is where most accidents occur). The countries in which cycling is safest (e.g. the Netherlands) create dedicated cycling lanes rather than mix cyclists with pedestrians.

Given that the countries most experienced with accommodating cyclists wisely keep cyclists separate from pedestrians, and given that any research that has been done on the comparative risks of sidewalk versus road cycling has found sidewalk cycling to have higher accident rates, it is time to reexamine the assumption that cyclists can be accommodated only on the sidewalks. The current suboptimal conditions for road cycling are perpetrated by a lack of will on the part of transport planners to accommodate cyclists on the roads. It therefore begs the question to argue that cyclists should not be on the roads because the roads are unsafe for them. The question we should be asking is why we have created a situation where the roads are unsafe for cyclists in the first place. This is the question that urban planners in many parts of continental Europe asked themselves in the 1970s and 1980s, and that is the reason why they now have some of the most sustainable cities in the world. Sustainable development is not compatible with sticking to an assumption that road space for motor vehicles is sacred. Perhaps we should start to recognise that public transport is not the only alternative to driving. We can get people out of their cars and onto their bikes, if only we have the imagination to question some of our basic assumptions about our already too-generous provisions for private motorists. As I’ve stated in feedback elsewhere on this website, transport experts everywhere acknowledge that bicycles are a much more land-efficient mode of transport than cars, because you need less land to transport the same number of people on bicycles compared to the same number in cars. Given our scarcity of land, therefore, it is all the more important that we consider converting some of our existing road space, inefficiently utilised by car drivers, to space that can transport more people by bicycles.

In short,
1. Please reconsider the possibility that cycling on the roads can be made safe enough to transport significant numbers of people on bicycles on roads. This is for the good of everyone (less pollution, less congestion for the same land area, less annoying of pedestrians). Other cities have done it and are still economically thriving; there is no reason why Singapore cannot. Judging by the experiences of other cities, claims of economic disaster should we take away road space from motorists are greatly exaggerated, probably by motorists themselves.
2. Please take a hard look at all the research that shows the dangers of sidewalk cycling relative to road cycling. Look at other cities’ experiences with accommodating cyclists, instead of making decisions on ‘commonsensical’ grounds about where bicycles belong. This is not a new area of exploration, but one that many other cities have vast experience with. We should learn from the experts.

Thank you for considering my feedback.

This will happen to Orchard Road one day, too.

It’s only a matter of how long our urban planners want to hide their heads in the sand. From the NYT:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Monday that he will create a car-free zone on three Saturdays in August, along a 6.9-mile stretch of streets through Manhattan, from the Brooklyn Bridge, north to Park Avenue and the Upper East Side. Cars, trucks and buses will be banned on the streets along the route from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Aug. 9, 16 and 23. The mayor was careful to describe the initiative, called Summer Streets, as an experiment.

“If it works, we’ll certainly consider doing it again,” Mr. Bloomberg said, at a news conference in the East Village on Lafayette Street, which will be included in the route. “If not, we won’t. But we have never been afraid to try new ideas, especially the ones that have the potential to improve the quality of life.”

The route will run north-south along Centre Street, Lafayette Street, Fourth Avenue and Park Avenue to 72nd Street. The southern half of 72nd Street from Park Avenue to Fifth Avenue will also be shut to vehicles, to link to Central Park.

Mr. Bloomberg and the transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, said the idea was to make the streets a haven for walkers, cyclists and others. Fitness, dance and yoga classes will be held along the route, and there will also be places to rent bicycles.

[…]

While the idea seems novel in New York, it has been tried with success in many other cities, according to Ms. Sadik-Khan, including London, Paris and Bogotá. She said that in Bogotá one of the city’s main streets was closed to motor vehicles every Sunday.

The plan got a mixed reaction on Monday along the route.

“I think it’s a lovely idea,” said Allison Blinken, 65, a retiree who lives on Park Avenue at 66th Street. “Anything that makes the street more pedestrian-friendly.”

[…]

Downtown, however, there was a fair amount of grumbling over the potential impact on business.

“He’s got to be crazy,” Pablo Urema, 49, a worker at a parking lot on Lafayette Street in SoHo, said of the mayor. “We do a lot of business every Saturday morning. No cars for the parking garage means no people for the businesses.”

Tran Harper, 44, the manager of Canal Lafayette Store, which sells Chinese teas and herbal products on Lafayette Street in Chinatown, was also displeased.

“It’s a big problem because my merchandise doesn’t fall from the sky,” Mr. Harper said. “How do I get it here? Saturday is the busiest day. We have a lot of deliveries on Saturday. Also a lot of customers park their cars in front and come in to buy.”

At the news conference Mr. Bloomberg responded with peevishness when asked about the potential for a negative reaction from business owners or residents. “I knew you were going to find something wrong with it,” he said to a reporter.

“Look, there will be minor inconveniences,” he said. “There’s minor inconveniences when it rains, when you have snow, inconveniences when it’s hot, when it’s cold, inconveniences when there are people on the streets, when there’s not.”

But the mayor predicted that most stores would see an increase in business and compared the initiative to his ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, which met with initial resistance but ended up being popular.

When I mention turning Orchard Road into a pedestrian mall to friends, they go ‘but people will need to drive there!’ Counter-intuitively, pedestrian malls actually result in an increase in business for shops in the area, with the exception of bulk-goods businesses (which form a negligible percentage of business in an area like Orchard Road, anyway). This is because people who would normally spend less time in the mall area due to the unpleasant fumes and noise find themselves walking around more in a car-free zone.