Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Build the IR, but Spare the Few Plants

I was appalled when I read this on the Straits Times on 11 Mar 2007 - a "practical" comment (not sure if he was misquoted though) given by a prominent local zoologist on the Sentosa forest:

...there 'isn't much of the original vegetation left' after intense utilisation of the site. 'Conservation is important, but - to be blunt - I feel this isn't one of the most important nature spots in Singapore,' he says. 'We can't just say, 'Don't build the IR there', because of a few plants. We should work around it.'

Isn't it precisely because there 'isn't much of the original vegetation left', whatever that's left becomes more valuable, and hence all the more we should try to preserve it???!!???

And since there's not much left, doesn't it also mean that it will be easier to preserve, since it will be small?

And how can we say that this is not one of the most important nature spot in Singapore??!!??? Every nature spot is important, since we have so few of them left. Some how this reminds me of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" - "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Imagine this scenario: Assume we have 10 nature spots, so someone may say the last five are not the most important ones, so they can be destroyed. And so when we are left with only 5 nature spots, someone else will say the last 2 are not the most important spots, so they can be destroyed. And when we are left with only 3 nature spots, someone else will say, nature spots 2 and 3 are not the most important nature spots, so they can be destroyed. And when we are left with only 1 nature spot, someone else will say, there isn't much of the original vegetation left anyway, so might as well use the land for something else.

Frankly speaking, it's not about what is more important or less important. Every nature spot is unique. It's about preserving whatever miserably few nature spots that we have left. Imagine if you are broke and you have 5 kids, will you immediately say that one particular child is not as important as the others and should be abandoned? Rather than thinking about who to abandon, you will probably first try to think of a way to feed all the kids. And I think that should really be the approach to all development plans. Right at the beginning, we should explore all possible solutions, instead of assuming that the nature spot has to go whenever we have a development plan.

And seriously, nobody is saying that we should not build the IR in order to keep the forest. Surely there is a way to include the forest in the IR landscape design. Thus, I do appreciate Sentosa's effort to hold a discussion with the various interest groups, so at least the latter can provide some feedback, and hopefully the designer will explore the feasibility of including the forest in the IR landscape design.

Really, conservation is not inversely related to development. It's possible for them to go hand in hand. It's all about proper planning right at the beginning.

Quoting the dodos from "Ice Age" - "If you weren't smart enough to plan ahead, then DOOM ON YOU!"

With global warming and other environmental problems looming ahead, it's really time for us Homo sapiens to stop taking Mother Nature for granted, and start acknowledging conservation as part of development.



This reminds me of the situation between the OLD National Library and THAT Tunnel. Hopefully, the forest will not follow the fate of the OLD National Library. :O(

Ron Yeo said...

Yah... really hope so too...

juanicths said...

to clarify things, he wasn't mis-quoted. he basically said the same thing in class before, though the whole thing may be a little out of context. what he is getting at is that we should know when the battle is lost and use watever resources we have more wisely and not waste effort on something that is very clearly doomed/gone. even with the vegetation and wildlife on Sentosa, most of it's a little fragmented to be really useful and the life that is there are more or less artifacts, only useful to illustrate the plight of wildlife in Singapore.

Ron Yeo said...

Perhaps I'm not a scientist, that's why my definition of usefulness tends to be a little broader. Imagine if you are a tree at Sentosa, and now people are saying that you are not really scientifically useful, and they are going to cut you down. And really, perhaps we shouldn't be thinking of it as a battle. If you have a battle, then you must have an enemy. Not exactly very healthy to see other fellow Homo sapiens as enemies. Perhaps we should see it as a rescue mission. Every survivor counts. And every survivor has the potential to reproduce. And that, to me, is being useful. And of course, the forest will be yet another nice nature spot for a relaxing and enriching walk. Personally, I don't think the efforts are wasted. Not like it takes a lot of effort anyway - attending discussions, organising walks etc - I'll rather do these than idling around or hanging out at pubs. Until the last tree is felled or the last animal is extinct, I guess I'll never say that our nature spots are doomed :)

juanicths said...

here's my attempt in making his point of view a little more in context (just hope i don't jumble this up)

ideally we all wanna conserve everything and anything we can but in reality, the whole thing about conservation in singapore is a give-and-take situation with the govt. there's also a shortage of land and a whole bunch of other probs... we just have to reach a middle ground and some things just hafta go lor... the way i see it, the ultimate conservation plan is to just exterminate all humans from the face of the earth and let nature do her own thing...humans are just destructive..

Unknown said...

I feel strongly to what you feel, Ron. It's a sad reality that the nature has to make way for development.

But in reality, I guess the developers will not give much though to try and modify the plan in such a way to accomodate the nature because it may be time or money consuming on their side.

As what you said, we tend to think of the short term benefits which is mainly $$. But if we were to think long term and also the ecosystem values and services in many ways to us, it is indeed worthwhile to spend more effort to conserve whatever little we have left. That is why there is a need to spread the awareness of conservation and why we are doing it.

Though land is sarce, and its a big problem but we are Singaporeans we are used to doing the "impossibles". We can take up the challenge and conserve, only we really and everyone wants to :)

Ron Yeo said...

No worries, Juanhui. I do get what you mean, and I also agree there is a middle ground. But the thing is, nobody is really sure where the middle ground is. We just have to test water every now and then. And most of the time, it doesn't really require much effort to test water. Things are certainly improving these days. 20 years ago, we probably wouldn't even dream of Chek Jawa's survival, nor will the necessary environmental measures be placed during the development of Semakau Landfill. One key thing I feel is perhaps to stop thinking that we are fighting a battle, but rather, we need to see ourselves as collaborating with the various authorities to enrich the lives of fellow Singaporeans, and to retain the natural heritage for the benefit of the greater community, not just for a small group of nature lovers or biologists. Btw, when are you going to sign up for a Semakau OJT? Hmmm...

And thanks, Kok Sheng, for sharing your views :)

Dai Jiao said...

Haha..Jian Hui.. I agree with you.. humans are the biggest problem.. this earth has too many humans... and took up space of other creatures.. But wonder how many people out there see it as a problem.. hmm..since often see news reporting on countries worried about facing ageing problem and ask people to give birth to more human.....hmm..

juanicths said...


let me finish up my thesis before I go for any OJT... Meaning the earliest you would see me on the walks wld be in Apr or May ^^ Don't worry, am still in!!

Unknown said...

Whether something is worth saving depends on its value, and also what has to be given up to save it.

To say that this forest is not very valuable economically or scientifically is too narrow a definition of value. The forest may have social or recreational value (which cannot be substituted with a landscaped garden). Then there is the intrinsic worth of the forest ecosystem - regardless of its usefulness to humans, all lives and ecosystems are intrinsically valuable and should not be carelessly discarded. In this regard, I wish scientists and science students, and for that matter, economists and economics students, could be made to attend environmental ethics classes to broaden their minds.

What does it take to save the forest? Some of you seem to assume that there is no way to save the forest without compromising the IR. Unless you have insider knowledge that you would like to share, I would say we should not assume that the Sentosa developers have considered all the alternatives and mitigation measures. There may therefore yet be a way to have the IR without clearing the forest, or additional ways of mitigating loss that the Sentosa developers have not considered, and concerned members of the public should be roped in to help in this regard. The concerned public want to help, but this is provided the developers are willing to be open about their plans and are genuine about public participation. The preliminary indications so far are that this development is proceeding under a cloak of secrecy (as though we were building a military base) and any public or semi-public consultation is merely a PR exercise intended to convince the public that all is well rather than a genuine attempt to learn about public concerns and work together towards the making the IR one we can ALL be proud of. I know public participation is messy, but what's a little mess if we can pull off a more sustainable development?

shenjiaqing said...

This in fact reminds me of the destroyed Orchard Road green lung beside of the train station.
It is just like, Orchard is lacked of shopping mall and in need of another shopping centre.
There is a need of an IR (or more) to make Singapore even more Uniquely Singapore, for whatever it costs!