I had the opportunity to listen in to this online discussion with Singapore’s leaders in conservation at both the governmental (NParks) and non-governmental (ACRES & Nature Society Singapore), mediated by past BFF committee members.
I gained a lot of insight from the discussion, learning a brief history about how Singapore’s conservation scene and society has grown. We had a peek into the flow of how development projects are proposed, evaluated and passed on to different governmental agencies and how Nature groups are involved in the process, ensuring the wellbeing of our Nature companions. Some good news is that this collaboration has improved since the past! Still, improvements can be made.
One of my largest takeaways was this “mitigation mindset” that many unknowingly have. Many of us don’t hate Nature. We wouldn’t mind having it around, but because Singapore is just so small, so bopian (no choice), Nature has got to go to give way for development. The danger with this defeated mindset is that we’ll always give up Nature over development, our perceived only choice is to mitigate the damage. Such thinking doesn’t only to apply in Singapore, it can be said at any scale and context – the Amazon forest, the Great Barrier Reef, we can always find a constraint that opposes conservation. I think this struck me because it underpins how Nature needs to be a priority. I understand if it’s not everyone’s top priority, but I believe some must champion it, especially at the parliamentary level, where many major development decisions are made. If I may quote one speaker,
Nature is not a good to have, but a need to have. Not as scraps, but as connected and big, functioning ecosystems.
It’s not easy to balance conservation and development. Singapore is so small and the recent Covid-19 crisis has affected our economy, spurring on the need for development to re-gain our competitive edge. This trade-off (economic growth) makes it hard for us to choose conservation over development. Still, I don’t believe we should throw in the towel. Perhaps we could develop existing spaces, instead of untouched green and ecologically important areas. I can foresee that this would require a lot of effort, involving private organisations that may own the land, but to me, that’s what conservation is all about! It’s not a one-man effort but a united one, and it should include private corporations too. On top of working with existing spaces, we could also work on making them efficient, so that they can serve many needs. Although this might need more creativity and innovation, Singapore has shown to be capable of that, weaving together a pre-school, nursing home and farm into the premises of the former Henderson Secondary School.
In short, it was a highly eye-opening discussion that covered many interesting topics, and I learnt a lot from the different perspectives of each speaker. A heartfelt thanks to the youth panel who made the discussion so exciting and the speakers for their open sharing!