Some thoughts on consumption trends in Singapore.

Written for the Association of Muslim Professionals’ monthly magazine.

Timely given the fact that EarthOvershootDay was last week. (Singapore’s Earth Overshoot Day was apparently in April, hence suggesting that the country is consuming more than the global average!).

Online version of the article can be read here.

Beyond symbolic “feel good” environmental activities, there is much to learn and build on crises and traditional/cultural practices

In this piece,  I argued that what is lacking from existing environmental awareness campaigns, is the sustained experiential awareness of resource scarcity.

In the case of Singapore, given the fact that majority of residents start from a point of easy access to resources, they generally lack an acute experience of being without resources.

To read the article, click here.

Nuclear energy protests in the immediate wake of the Fukushima Nuclear crisis in Japan (Credit: SandoCap / flickr.)
Nuclear energy protests in the immediate wake of the Fukushima Nuclear crisis in Japan (Credit: SandoCap / flickr.)

Civil nuclear energy policy in Southeast Asia has seen sharp swings recently. Prior to the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear crisis in March 2011, several ASEAN member states had been actively pursuing nuclear energy. Fukushima compelled some to re-evaluate their plans. Thailand delayed the construction of its first nuclear power plant. In the Philippines, it became more difficult to gain public support to reactivate the Bataan nuclear reactor. Meanwhile, Japan pledged to phase out nuclear energy. Two years on, however, the momentum has reversed. Japan is now taking a more pro-nuclear stance, and some countries in Southeast Asia have revived their nuclear plans.

What is behind the rapid policy about-turn? This NTS Insight argues that while the discourse post-Fukushima has emphasised safety and energy governance, economic and strategic interests remain primary drivers of civil nuclear energy use in Southeast Asia.

To read the full article, please click here.

If the world is small, Singapore and its neighbours are microscopic!

In late July this year, I had the opportunity to meet Ustazah Kauthar, initiator of the Go Green Muslims programme in the Integrated Islamic School in Shah Alam, Malaysia. It was wonderful to see her various efforts in nurturing the young with fundamental environmental principles through the school’s curriculum. During our conversation, Kauthar had briefly mentioned her husband Giovanni who was into permaculture.

Fast forward 6 months, Bro Giovanni and I have met (online.. thanks Facebook)!  Giovanni is the Founder of Murujan Permaculture Design, where as the Lead Teacher and Consultant, he is responsible for developing course structure, project ideas and execution.  As a consultant and teacher, Giovanni focusses on soil building, food production alternative economic systems and community development.

In January 2012, Murujan will be conducting a Permaculture Design Certificate course that will be conducted by Mustafa Fatih Bakir, founding director of The Permaculture Research Institute of Turkey.

Opportunities for Permaculture courses in this part of the world are few. Moreover, while the knowledge earned from the course would be priceless, its low training fees making all the more worthwhile, especially for (those of us on a shoestring budget!). That’s a full 2 week course with an international trainer for RM 2000 (an approximate SGD 820). You could never get a permaculture course in Singapore at that rate for sure!

Click here for more details on the course, which is open to all.

On a side note, I can’t help but emphasize how great it is to see Muslims from all walks of life doing their bit for the environment.

Green Muslims are out there. We just have to find one another other, InshaAllah  🙂 

So my family recently had our Eid open house. As I had done for Eid in previous years – as well as other parties- I set up a little recycling bin for used tin cans. We use up about 4 to 5 cartons (24 in each pack) of canned drinks for each Eid party.

Be Green, Please: Empty Tin Cans Only!

Its a small but consistent step that we’ve taken in recent years. In previous years, some little nephews threw other bits of thrash into the recycling bin. Fortunately, there has been a great improvement this year with 100% of the recycling bin’s content being just the tin cans. Guess the kids have made a mental note of not messing up Aunty Sof’s green activities!

Family settings are clearly the best place to start going green. So, go ahead and try it out for yourself. 🙂

"Work Safely". Yah Right!

The demand for coal is set to increase over the coming years, especially among developing countries. However, while coal may be a cheap source of energy to facilitate economic development, it is costly in terms of the implications for human security. Coal mining has been seen to adversely impact local communities and cause sociopolitical instability. Long-term environmental sustainability is also negatively affected.

In a recent paper, a colleague and I examined  the extent to which governance mechanisms have been successful in mitigating these socioeconomic and environmental costs, with a focus on China and Indonesia. Our paper also assessed the effectiveness of current initiatives designed to address the various forms of human insecurities stemming from coal mining in the two countries.

To read the article, please click here


Green Bush Buds. Wow!

Ok, so I didn’t think I’d join Facebook, but I did.

I didn’t think I’d get an iPhone, but I did.

I didn’t think I’d join Twitter, but I did end up being a Twit.

But hey! It ain’t that bad after all.

And thanks to the geniuses behind, I’ve got my very own newspaper (of sorts).

Presenting GREEN BUSH BUDS –  a compilation of my favourite green news sources, people and organisations (on Twitter) who have something worthy to say about the environment. Check out the occassional youtube videos and pictures that come along with it too.

Some of the notable sources for Green Bush Buds include Green Prophet, World Resources Institute, IUCN, and the Environment/Green sections of notable newspapers such as CNN, the Guardian and Bikya Masr.

And the best part: a subscription function!

So what are u waiting for? Subscribe now! 🙂

OK, so its been 3 months since the last blog post. Indeed, there has been quite a bit of activity, especially on TheGreenBush’s Twitter Account. I had never thought I would have been a fan of New Media, but it can be quite addictive… and also quite useful. Its increasingly becoming an important part of work and play. Here’s a slice of some highlights (related to the environment scene in Singapore).


1) Satu Hari Di Hari Raya!/TheGreenBush/status/24253153799


2) The Inaugural Singapore Global Dialogue by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU!/TheGreenBush/status/25383243056!/TheGreenBush/status/25387992518


3) The HAZE cometh… again!

In terms of catching a flight back to Singapore, turned out that Paris strikes was not the only thing to be anxious about.!/TheGreenBush/status/28392075066!/thejakartaglobe/status/28578499385!/thejakartaglobe/status/28719842267!/eco_singapore/status/28906478981


4) Finally made my way to Green Drinks after months!!/TheGreenBush/status/29003171869

Great conversation, and so looking forward to working with Olivia on a Green Drinks session on spirituality. Akan datang!

A lot more to look forward to and definitely a life that is far from boring. Kids who suggest that they don’t have anything to look forward to in Singapore, or are just so fixated on grades, clearly have not learned to live life to the fullest. A simple act of getting out of their comfort zone, would be a great start of doing them (and society in general) a whole lot of good.

Good luck Kids, the real world awaits you, whether you’re prepared or not.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak on the “Going Green” Panel during the Young Leaders Forum at the 6th World Islamic Economic Forum on 18th May 2010 in Kuala Lumpur. Below is the text of my presentation during the session.

Good Afternoon, everyone. The title of my presentation today is “Curbing a Culture of Careless Consumption”. I would like to start off with a few words by Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review on Climate Change. In a recent blog post, Stern noted that

“the two great challenges of the 21st century are the battle against poverty and [not just climate change but] the management of climate change… If we fail on either one of them, we will fail on the other.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think you would agree with me that Poverty and Environmental issues such as natural disasters and resource scarcity have all existed even before we realised what climate change was all about. But the important difference here is that the effects of climate change and the superficial responses taken to address it, exacerbate the risk of environmental disasters and thereby strengthen the feedback loop between poverty and environmental degradation.

As mentioned earlier by Andrew, multi-stakeholder cooperation – amongst governments, businesses, civil society groups and communities – is vital to address such issues. But this is often easier said than done, as various parties bring to the discussion table their own pre-dispositions and interests. Formulating a consensus on issues then becomes difficult because they don’t understand each other (and sometimes refuse to understand each other). What multi-stakeholder cooperation really needs is a common foundation based on holistic understanding and commitment to responses that are needed for long term success.

This common foundation I think can be found in the theme of consumption, which affects all  parties right down to the level of the individual. Consumption (and in turn the production) of goods and resources are part and parcel of economic growth and development, which is of course what many developing countries aspire to achieve to alleviate poverty. Higher level of economic development corresponds with higher  consumption levels. However, it has come to the point where much of this consumption is just careless. Careless consumption is excessive and selfish. It is careless towards the environment, and careless towards the future of communities.

Some of us here are fortunate enough to have our basic utilities bill subsidized ( or in some cases given for free) by our governments.  And there are others in this room whose governments have engaged in what has come to be termed as “land grabbing”. In a bid to sustain current levels of economic growth and consumption patterns, many developed and industrialising countries have resorted to land acquisition in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia to produce resources to meet their domestic demands of goods. – in other words, poor countries with their already limited resources,  are helping to sustain the economies and consumption patterns of their wealthier counterparts, rather than their own.

Cheap mass-produced goods have also allowed lower income stratas of society to partake consumerism –for example, the Sachet product industry. Instead of buy a big bottle of branded shampoo, less well-to-do folks can buy them in small amounts in plastic sachets. This phenomenon has actually contributed to an increased amount of thrash.

Andrew also mentioned the increasing population in urban areas. While cities such as Jakarta and Manila are centres of increasing economic growth, they are also the sites for increasing economic inequalities, and coincidentally the regions’ most vulnerable areas to climate change. This picture shows a row of slum houses along the Ciliwung River in Jakarta. The lack of proper waste disposal, most of which has ended up in the rivers (including those plastic sachets), has actually been cited as a contributing factor to the disastrous floods in Jakarta in recent years, and also the damage caused by Typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines – wherein the thrash clogs up the drainage system.

I’m not saying that we should stop people from consuming more, but rather its about getting them to consume more sustainably. And this feeds into the extensive literature available on changing your habits, doing simple things like reduce, reuse and recycle;  reducing your carbon footprint, getting out there to appreciate nature, etc.. (by the way, for those of you that haven’t checked out, I suggest you do as it gives a quick overview on consumption and how the materials economy works).

But here’s the thing, environmentalists have been saying this over and over…but why is there still this massive inertia to make the change?

My answer to this, is the lack of engagement. Specifically there is a need to engage those that remain apathetic towards environmental issues, but also groups of ppl you would conventionally not consider to be environmental advocates. I’m thinking particularly, influential local community leaders, and in many Muslim countries and communities, this includes your Islamic clerics and scholars.

Another hat which I wear, is being part of the Young Association of Muslim Professionals in Singapore. Last year, we published a book on Muslim Youths in Singapore. In the chapter I contributed, I had conducted a simple survey amongst a group of about 200 youths to get their perspectives on environment. What was interesting from the survey was that 90% of them said they would like to see more action taken by religious leaders and scholars in promoting environmental awareness.

The good news is that people have started to talk about it. Environmental advocacy amongst Muslims has taken off pretty well in the US and in the UK (as mentioned by Omar) as well as some pilot projects in Indonesia. But overall, we are far from reaching that critical mass amongst Muslims.

I’d just like to end with reasons why it is important that we achieve this critical mass.

  • Firstly, Globalisation and all its complexities have demonstrated to us that environmental issues are just as important as the bread and butter issues such as employment and education
  • Secondly, Curbing Consumption is not alien to Islam. In fact it’s not alien to any of the other major religions like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism. The environment is the world’s shared resource, and this only serves as an important base for greater intercultural and interfaith collaboration and cooperation.
  • And thirdly, and I think most importantly – It’s about having foresight. We often hear the talk of the Muslim world as being lagging behind with regards to development, and always having to play catch-up. It is therefore vital for us to be thinking about contemporary issues such as the environment (which is what the rest of the world is already talking about). And if we’re going to just stick to the business as usual model, and disregard sustainability, it might very well be the case that once we’ve reached those higher levels of development, the rest of the world would have probably already naturalised sustainability into their everyday lives and moved on to other issues. If this is the case, then we’re back to square one where we’re still playing catch up but without any option to save our planet.

And with that, I thank you.

After close to a year, the pioneer batch of USIE (United States Institute on the Environment) were reunited in Malaysia from 22-26 April 2010! Participants from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Malaysia gathered in Kuala Lumpur for 2 days before heading to Trengganu for more hands-on activities.

Downtown KL

The KL leg of the trip was hosted by the Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE), coincidentally on Earth Day! The follow-on workshop was a chance for USIE participants to take stock of how far they had come with their action plans, which they had formulated in the US. It was great to hear the developments thus far – from garnering support and planning activities at the community level (eg. schools, sporting events, organic farming) to participating in global events such as COP15,’s day of action on 24th Oct 2009. But USIE folks aren’t just event organisers. Indeed, many have been able to take on leadership positions as well as provide support and inspiration to others in furthering the need to protect our environment. From gaining opportunities to speak at international events to simply providing constant reiteration of environmental awareness to young students, USIE alumnus are indeed diverse in their professions and skills in catering to various audiences. What was also clear from the experiences of the USIE alumnus, their 6 weeks in the US in 2009 was an inspiration and primary motivation for their action plans…. or as USIE participant, Chow Geh Tsung, would put it…. “FIRE!!”


This was followed by roundtable sessions with invited speakers based in Malaysia to share their thoughts on the environment, namely – Mr Steve McCoy (Managing Director, Counterpoint), Mr Thiaga Nedeson (Senior Manager, Formal Education System, WWF-Malaysia), Mr Kris Kvols (Economic Officer, Environment, Science, Technology & Health, US Embassy in Malaysia) and Miss Eio Er Jin (Programme Officer, Global Environment Centre).  These sessions were fruitful as it allowed USIE participants to compare the issues and opinions of environmental practicioners from the  US in 2009 and Malaysia in 2010.

Jom, pergi Trengganu!

Mangrove Planting at Setiu
Trengganu offered a clearly different scenario vis-a-vis Kuala Lumpur. Away for the hustle and bustle of urban life, the serene quiet little town life in Kuala Trengganu was perhaps slightly different from what the Singaporeans were used to, but indeed a  familiar feeling for the Pacific Islanders. Dr Siti and UMT (Universiti Malaysia Trengganu) folks were wonderful hosts during this leg of the trip, from the time we landed close to 11pm (due to flight delays) to our departure at 6.30am.

Mangrove planting at Setiu was a worthwhile experience. The importance of mangroves as natural defense systems should not be understated. According to Assoc Prof Sulong Ibrahim, the Malaysian government chanelled more funding to mangrove rehabilitation in the post-2004 Asian tsunami period. He also elaborated on the role played by locals in the area in maintaining the mangroves as well as contirbutions by visitors (a form of Eco-Tourism for Trengganu). Prof Sulong along with a team of locals in Setiu then demonstratedto us  how mangrove planting was done. After a couple of hours of getting wet and muddy in the mangrove, USIEians successfully planted 300 young shoots of Rhizophora apiculata.

The warm hospitality of UMT culminated with a dinner hosted by the Vice-Chancellor of the University. USIEians had the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences with several members (primarily) from the maritime and marine studies faculty…. while tucking into BBQ-ed seafood fresh off Trengganu’s coast! Mmmm….

It was unfortunate, however due to choppy sea conditions, that we were unable to set out to Redang Island to explore the Chagar Hutang Turtle Sanctuary. It would have been a wonderful experience and a good comparison with USIE’s turtle watching experience off the island of Molokini in Maui, Hawaii. Nevertheless, we were able to explore the UMT campus and its various research capabilities in Marine Sciences. What was indeed commendable in UMT was the breadth of knowledge and opportunity that undergraduates had for their final year projects (i.e. access to resources that for most universities would be largelylimited to post-graduate students).

Some USIE advice to SUSI

The last night together was spent collating ideas on what lessons and advise could be given to the following batches of  USIE participants (officially known as SUSI on Global Environmental Issues). In doing so, several common themes arose, including:-

  • Being practical and sensible in whatever action/task is to be performed
  • Being open to new or alternative ideas
  • The power of networking and strengthening weak ties
  • Not being afraid to get out of one’s comfort zone

While the entire trip was only 6 days, it certainly brought back many memories of USIE’s 6 weeks in the US. USIEians have expressed feeling much more recharged knowing that our action plans are moving along – albeit with occassional difficulties – and that we are all doing our part in fostering greater environmental protection via our various fields. Indeed, the USIE fire will carry on burning.

Media coverage on USIE’s trip to Malaysia

US Embassy in Malaysia’s Press Release