For the past 21 years of my life, I have never once experienced a natural disaster. The reason for this is mainly because I am fortunate enough to be born in Singapore, where natural disasters are non-existent due to her special geographic position. In fact, Singapore is ranked 158 out of 172 countries being evaluated for their susceptibility and vulnerability to natural disasters (Joachim Heintze et al., 2018). Nevertheless, whenever I feel the tremors from earthquakes in neighbouring countries such as Indonesia or witnessed the destruction caused by tropical cyclones in other countries on the news, I am once again reminded of the existence of such natural disasters and how destructive they could be. However, such reminders are short-lived as I soon forget about them and focus on the daily matters around me.
Even though earthquakes are generally not regarded as consequences of climate change, I personally feel that Singapore’s immunity against all natural disasters, regardless of whether they are caused by climate change or not, may have resulted to a certain extent, in their complacency and lack of urgency in mitigating climate changes. Having not experienced any of such natural disasters before, it is easy for Singaporeans to fail to recognise the “realness” of such disasters and consequently, get lulled into a false sense of security. I myself am also guilty of this, as I slowly get desensitised to the news about climate change and the various disasters being reported around the world on the news every day. However, that is not to say that I am unaware or unconcerned about climate change. Despite being aware of the changes that climate change could bring, there is still a lack of urgency in trying to mitigate it. This situation is aptly described by the following quote from the author, Helen Keller, where I cite only part of the quote: “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.” (Keller, n.d.) This might also be the reason for Singaporeans’ apathy towards climate change, where they focus on other more “immediate” issues such as family support, job security and employment prospects rather than climate change, as shown from the pre-budget feedback conducted by the government back in 2017 (TAN, 2019). The lack of urgency in mitigating climate change could also be seen from the amount of time it took to implement plastic-reducing campaigns such as the one-use plastic bag levy, which, till this date, has yet to be rolled out fully and is still in the midst of debate.
In contrast, countries such as Rwanda has implemented laws that deem the possession of plastic bags as illegal since a decade ago (MING EN, 2019). One of the reasons that it takes so long for such campaigns to be implemented in Singapore is due to the potential backlash from Singaporeans, whereby, campaigns such as the plastic bag levy mentioned earlier remained as a sensitive subject (MING EN, 2019). Initiatives such as the ban on straws in certain Singapore universities have also been met with much protests from students who are unable to adapt to the sudden ban (YOU JIN, 2019). In fact, till this day, I still find myself instinctively reaching for straws in the fridge when drinking my Yakult. The fact that every single campaign is likely to result in much unhappiness in Singaporeans could have deterred the government from implementing these campaigns. In a 2016 survey conducted among Singaporeans, 9 out of 10 respondents answered that they are worried about the impacts of climate changes on future generations, but only 1 out of 3 respondents feel that changing their way of living could have an impact on mitigating climate change (TAN, 2019). The results of this survey correspond to some of the comments made by those protesting against the straw campaign mentioned earlier (Lim, 2019), where they feel that cutting down on their straw usage will have a minimal impact on reducing carbon emissions and hence, in mitigating climate change. However, I personally feel that this is not the case and there has been people working in the field such as the President of Jane Goodall Institute in Singapore, Tay Kae Fong, who share the same sentiments as me (Abu Baker, 2019). If one were to argue that the reduction in straws and plastic bag usage will not have much of an impact on mitigating climate change and is hence, not worth the inconvenience, then, using the same line of argument, one could also argue that since Singapore only contributes to 0.11% of global carbon emissions (Nccs.gov.sg, 2019), trying to reduce our emissions will only serve to inconvenience ourselves. In my opinion, the fight against climate change has always been about the collective effort from everyone. Rather than looking at the impact one could have on mitigating climate change, we should think about the impact if everyone were to play their part in mitigating climate change.
In Singapore, the mean temperatures have been projected to increase by around 2oC under the RCP4.5 scenario and 3oC under the RCP8.5 scenario by mid-century (2040-2069). The projections also showed an additional 1oC increase for the RCP4.5 scenario and an additional 2oC increase for the RCP8.5 scenario by end-century (2070-2099) as seen in Figure 1. (2015: Singapore’s Second National Climate Change Study – Phase 1 Chapter 5)
These increases in temperatures brought about by climate change could result in an increase in heat-related mortality in Singapore especially among the elderly due to their lowered ability to regulate their body temperatures as part of the aging process (Human health. Climate Change 2007: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability). Singapore is especially vulnerable to this problem considering that it is also having an aging population (Department Of Statistics Singapore, 2019). Moreover, Singapore is also heating up at double the rate compared to other countries due to the urban heat island effect (Ng and Hui Huan, 2019). This goes to show that climate change does have a great impact on Singapore and is likely to affect us in the very near future.
Sea level rise is also another problem resulting from climate change that Singapore is facing. The melting of ice sheets and thermal expansion of seawater contributes to the rise in sea levels around Singapore and it is projected that mean sea levels in the region around Singapore could increase by up to 0.30m and 0.32m under the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 pathways respectively by 2050. By 2100, the mean sea levels around Singapore are projected to increase by up to 0.74m and 1.02m under the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 pathways respectively which can be seen from Figure 2 (2015: Singapore’s Second National Climate Change Study – Phase 1 Chapter 8).
The rise in sea levels could result in increased erosion of beaches on reclaimed land on the southeast, west and north coasts of Singapore, lowering the elevation of the beaches which could potentially affect nearby-buildings. Other low-lying areas in Singapore at an elevation of 2m or less could also be affected by the rise in sea level, such as the commercial centre around Singapore River, main industrial island on West Coast, part of Changi Airport in the east, major part of the port area in the South and the recreational land along the Southeast coast (P.P Wong, 1992). This would represent a huge economic loss if the sea level rise were allowed to reach its projected values as shown in Figure.2. Even though the projected values are not as high as 2m, we would have to consider the values of MHSW (Mean High Water Spring) as well after the increase in the mean sea level which could reach up to a 2m increase in sea level with an increase in mean sea level of 1m (P.P Wong, 1992). This is because even a one-off incident of such a rise in sea level for a short period of time would result in huge economic losses from these areas of high economic significance mentioned earlier.
Singapore is also highly susceptible to vector-transmitted diseases such as dengue, which is transmitted by mainly female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes due to its optimal conditions as a tropical climate for the breeding of such vectors. With increasing temperatures, it has been shown that the Aedes mosquito population multiplies quickly due to shorter reproductive cycles and the higher temperatures also resulted in increasing feeding frequencies of these mosquitoes allowing for greater rate of transmission of dengue (Focks, D.A., et al. 2000). Increasing precipitation has also been shown to increase the population of Aedes mosquitoes by providing more breeding habitats over the long term. The effects of these could be seen from Figure 3 and Figure 4, where the projected risk of getting dengue increases with temperature and precipitation with more prominent trends in the graphs with lag strata from week 9-12 and week 13-16 due to time lag between the weather change and increase in dengue cases (Hii, Y.L., et al 2009).
Due to climate change, Singapore as mentioned earlier, would be experiencing such increases in temperatures and hence would likely face an increase in dengue cases. It has also been projected that the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfalls may increase in Singapore (2015: Singapore’s Second National Climate Change Study – Phase 1 Chapter 5), which would likely result in more outbreaks of dengue cases after such heavy rainfalls. This would then make it much harder for Singapore to control the dengue outbreaks, leading to more dengue cases and potentially more deaths from dengue.
While writing this essay, I have come to realise that climate change is already starting to affect Singapore and some of its effects could already be seen around us. Before this, I would never have associated the hot weather with climate change, having grown up in Singapore where the temperatures are usually high, instead crediting it to the lack of rain for that few days. I have also never expected that the rise in sea level might affect Singapore soon enough such that my generation might get to see its effects. I certainly did not expect that the change in climate would be more conducive for the breeding of the Aedes mosquitoes that could perhaps account for the recent surge in dengue cases (YI, 2019). Most Singaporeans, like me, are probably aware that climate change is happening and that there would be rise in sea levels, temperatures and more extreme natural disasters. However, due to the lack of knowledge on the probable impacts that these changes could have on us and how soon they could affect us, we remain apathetic towards these changes as we do not feel the urgency and need to mitigate such changes. Therefore, I feel that to mitigate such changes, there is a need to educate Singaporeans on how climate change could affect us and how soon they could affect us instead of just stating the changes in climate to instil in Singaporeans a sense of urgency in mitigating such changes. Perhaps with enough education on the impacts of climate change, the government might be able to gain a wider support for their climate change policies, allowing them to execute these policies more effectively and efficiently.