Crowd power for a green Singapore

This Sunday, tens of thousands of Singaporeans will rally to join the largest green awareness event the Republic has seen to date. From four different starting points dotted around eastern Singapore, citizens will show their concern for the environment by walking and cycling on meandering routes that converge simultaneously at the Singapore G1 2012 live green event at Marina Barrage.

For an island nation of five million where grassroots efforts are sparse, this meeting of the proactive masses is a big deal.

The government here has implemented numerous green initiatives – including on water, energy, and green buildings – that are designed to keep Singapore thriving despite a chronic lack of space and natural resources. However, with the exception of a few dedicated environmental groups and corporate CSR programmes, the public has been content to go about its business and let the government take care of the planning. The people-powered grassroots movements that have driven environmental movements elsewhere are just not here.

Historically, environmental movements have sprung up in other regions when people felt that threats to their health, safety or quality of life – such as tainted water, excessive natural resource exploitation or air pollution - were being ignored.

Is the lack of public noise in Singapore a sign that the Republic addresses environmental problems quickly enough that people do not feel the need to take matters into their own hands? Or does it show apathy?

As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Strong environmental policies and a relatively corruption-free culture have kept Singapore safe from the most flagrant environmental and safety violations – such as China’s much publicized cases of tainted infant formula – and urban planners have carefully cultivated the Republic’s garden-city atmosphere. So, in that sense, good living conditions have averted any need for urgent action that might mobilize the masses.

On the other hand, interviews with local residents and businesses show that people do not feel the need to take individual responsibility for Singapore’s environment because the government seems to have things well in hand.

The problem with this outlook is that the scale of today’s environmental challenges requires action from every sector. Businesses and individuals have to move beyond being compliant to being proactive.

This is the point of the National Climate Change Secretariat’s (NCCS) nationwide climate change exhibition, “Our Green Home”, which will be launched at Sunday’s event. NCCS will take the Our Green Home exhibit on a roadshow to community centres and schools in an attempt to bring home the message that everyone must take ownership of environmental and climate change issues.

Are Singaporeans ready to take responsibility?

Grace Chua of the Straits Times wrote in a recent article that Singapore’s citizens are showing signs of greater public engagement. Faced with the loss of beloved bits of nature (and also, as Ms Chua noted, the possibility of lower property values), they’ve decided to make their voices count through petitions and other campaigns concerning land use planning.

While such activities indicate that people see a role for individuals in shaping a sustainable Singapore, they tend to be local neighbourhood issues. They fail to capture the groundswell of support that could inspire the greater public’s imagination.

For that, Singapore needs the buzz of excitement that can only come from a crowd. And this is why Sunday’s event, which organisers expect will draw anywhere from 20,000 to 35,000 people, is so exciting.

Singapore G1 is hardly crowd-sourced as the title of this blog optimistically claims (this text contains forward-looking statements, etc…). Hosted by the NGO Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and attended by guest of honour Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, the event will combine several different events and projects under a single, meticulously orchestrated umbrella.

These include The New Paper’s annual five kilometre “Big Walk”, a 25km cycling tour from local cycling advocates LovecyclingSG, a test-drive area for Nissan’s Leaf electric vehicle and NCCS’s new climate exhibition. Singapore G1 will also have a wide range of green-themed competitions, performances and festivities.

Unlike a traditional grassroots campaign, this event will feature plenty of corporate sponsors, including - for the foodies out there - vendors from the F&B industry.

Yet, maybe as an event that cuts across the public and private sectors, Singapore G1 is more fitting than the hard-core environmental movements many people think of when they imagine green activism. Today’s environmental threats are less tangible (at least for Singapore, which imports most of what it needs for consumption) than those that have historically sparked environmental campaigns elsewhere. But they are also far bigger and more menacing.

The issues of climate change and the end of seemingly unlimited natural resources require people to look inward – to examine their own lifestyle choices and habits – rather than point fingers at faceless corporate bad guys.

And so Sunday’s event will demonstrate the power of a crowd, not to agitate, but to prove that Singaporeans are ready to share responsibility for keeping their home healthy for the future.

But only if we all get out there and take action.

For details on how to participate, go to www.singaporeg1.sg.

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