Japan’s energy crisis gave us a number of lessons. It showed us how dependent we can be on energy, and especially so on the much hated nuclear energy. Environmentalists all over the world scream in chorus of the anti-nuke chants as Fukushima Daiichi laid in ruins. But more importantly, the destruction upon the city showed us how much energy we waste on beautifying our cityscapes. The colorful lights that run all over the signboards and buildings, the huge LED panels with music blaring in the background, the spotlights cast upon the magnificent towers to make them seem even more impressive.
Some time ago, I had the opportunity to meet the permanent secretary of the National Climate Change Secretariat, an agency under the Prime Ministers’ Office. While most participants of the dialog session were interested in how NCCS could help them to help the community, I was more interested in the policies that would shape the future of our Green economy in the country. I wanted to know the stance that Singapore has on fighting climate change.
I fully agree that we should not let fighting change affect our competitiveness, in fact, I believe we should make it our competitive advantage. What bothers me more about the Kyoto Protocol and COP15 are the complicated formulas that nations have come up with to mitigate their unwillingness to adopt green policies. The figures circling around the “business-as-usual” operations only put the common folk into more confusion.
Big time international policies aside, I also wanted to find out what other motion has the government put forth to clear the puff around us. So at the end of the dialog session when the permanent secretary, Mr. Tan came over to my group and asked if we had any more questions, I jumped to the gun and asked, “Sir, I used to live in Buffalo where the responsibility of being sustainable didn’t just lie in the hands of the people, but also that of the city council. Besides the policies and campaigns to be environmentally friendly, the city breathes sustainability. You don’t get the light pollution we have here, and even street lights turn off in an alternate fashion, traffic lights go into the flashing amber mode, on roads where traffic is not as heavy. Will Singapore consider doing something similar?”. He thought for a moment and replied that it is not possible for Singapore as a city to take similar measures, our buildings have to be lit, our streets have to be lit, and our traffic lights have to be lit. These lightings provide the night scene that we have, as well as safety and security of our streets. To that, I couldn’t fully agree.
Yes it is important that we create a landscape that we can be proud of, but at what cost? Is it so important that as we brighten our streets for the Formula 1 race downtown, we have to further brighten the buildings in the vicinity for them to look good? Are the street and traffic lights being sufficiently utilized? The park behind my house used to operate on a schedule that shuts it off at 12 midnight and comes back on at 5.30am for about an hour or so. Few years after the park was built, the lights were changed to dimmer ones and started operating through the night. I believe the rationale for this move is to allow the park to be used through the night, but seriously, no one does. The dimmer lights were not bright enough to provide the security one will need while walking through the park past 12 midnight, and they are better off taking on the streets in front of my house (the row of houses separates the park and the street). So is this really essential? Aren’t we saving to waste?
Similarly, Mr. Tan mentioned that it is impossible to turn off any traffic light in Singapore. I am sure most Singaporean drivers, especially those who have accustomed to 4-way stops can attest that this is not true. The only exit from my estate on to the main road is a perfect example. The main road outside the estate is one of the most used roads linking 2 towns, and during peak hours, traffic congestion on the main road is a norm. However, off peak traffic couldn’t be more different. Even during the day, stretches of the road can be empty for 10-15 seconds, yet cars are kept waiting for 2 minutes for the lights to change, and I’ve seen on numerous occasions when drivers simply ignore the lights and move out. Keep in mind that this is the only exit in a fairly large and growing estate with an average of 2-3 cars per household, yet the presence of traffic signals is of no importance at certain times of the day, what about the many under utilized junctions around the island?
Our government is known to introduce campaigns and policies to get the people working on an initiative, but it is high time that the government itself walk the talk. Have our senior civil servants and ministers really walked the grounds to understand the problems? Plainly dismissing suggestions based on numbers from their statistical sheets will do no better good than claiming that a meal at the hawker center costs S$1. “Listen” has become the new buzzword in parliament, and let’s hope it brings about the necessary changes to make Singapore a better place.
Are we far too bright?