My environmentalism has always been an anthropocentric one. And surprisingly, it is through this understanding of the human function of nature that I developed alertness towards my behaviour, preventing me from eating beef or taking long showers. Occasionally, I wonder if the disconnect between my actions and motivations are a result of close-mindedness or perhaps an inherent selfishness. However, I realize that the superficial, human exceptionalist paradigm I hold true does not remove from the authenticity of my actions.
My childhood was filled with gardens and swimming pools, rather than parks, mountains or sea. Singapore is great at ‘planting’ artificial nature, nature wrapped in a bow. Neat rows of trees line every street and tourist attractions include our iconic supertrees– vertical gardens that come alive with light and sound, not to mention the Singapore zoo, bird park and aquarium. Nature is only palatable when it can be contained and monetized off. As a kid till now, I only enjoy nature in its most ordered, tame, sanitary forms.
Here’s a fun fact: our resort island, Sentosa, which translates as ‘peace and tranquillity’ in Malay, was formerly known as Pulau Blakang Mati or ‘Island of Death Behind’. In WW2, the island was a British military base and a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Now, Sentosa packs over 20 million visitors yearly, contains the country’s most expensive property and boasts beautiful artificial beaches. All these years sun bathing on reclaimed sand, I never knew Sentosa as Pulau Blaking Mati and never really cared. Nobody talks about Pulau Blaking Mati. Singapore’s approach to Sentosa has shaped my understanding of nature itself – as a pathway to growth. Ecological modernization (Scanu, 2015) can be a true economic, political and environmental win-win-win. Singapore used ‘Garden City’ rhetoric to fabricate a new urban identity, clean beginning, and a built solution to our Nation’s conflict-filled past.
In Singapore, students are taught about climate change from primary school. While we learn about the geography of climate change, we also learn about our responsibilities to nature through Social Studies classes, which frames sustainable living through a nationalist lens. Good Singaporeans don’t litter, recycle often, and conserve energy. A specific environmental mentality is inherent to my national identity, and at the same time, there is a national and cultural logic behind my environmental identity.
My generation’s environmental consciousness matured with the increasing scale of our environmental problem. Compared to our parents, the planet we know is an injured, deteriorating one, and a passion towards our planetary health shapes our environmental identities. I feel this anger and call to action. Simultaneously, I am starkly aware of the human function of nature, as a pathway to growth, an identity and an understood concept rather than a felt thing. I have justified this internal contradiction of mine with teleology. The environment has its natural functions and human functions, and the realist in me believes that it doesn’t matter which we subscribe to as long as we show care through our behaviours and actions.
En.wikipedia.org. (2018). 1 sentosa aerial panorama 2016 from south.jpg. [online][Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].
Gardensbythebay.com.sg. (2018). Visitor Information. [online] Available at: http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/attractions/supertree-grove/visitor-information.html [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].
Scanu, E. (2015). Climate governance in the post-industrial city: the urban side of ecological modernisation. Environmental Sociology, 1(2), pp.102-115.