Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Climate change

I spent some time over a weekend skimming Climate Change and the Global Harvest as part of my ongoing reading project on climate change.

I call it skimming because I have neither the time nor the inclination to delve too deeply into the subject; I read enough technical papers and reports in the course of my day job. Just the broad brushstrokes on climate change will do, I don’t need to understand all the nuances.

So why am I reading climate change research in my spare time? Sounds dull. I could be doing more fun things like shopping, trying out new restaurants, or bar-hopping and club-crawling.

Because climate change and sustainability will be the two greatest challenges facing the human race in this century, and like it or not, everyone on this planet is going to be affected to some extent (probably negatively). Some more than others.

Knowing and understanding more about climate change will allow one to make better, more informed decisions, or to guard against its harsher effects. One of the more unfortunate ironies about climate change is that the countries most responsible for it are the rich industrialized nations, while the ones likely to suffer disproportionately more from climate change are the poorer ones who are least responsible. More strikingly, there has been more research and research funding to study the effects and impacts of climate change on rich industrialized nations than on poor countries, poor countries who ironically most need that research.

Singapore happens to fall into Southeast Asia, a region likely to suffer disproportionately from climate change. And yet we know so little about the possible impacts of climate change on our island. For example, doesn’t anyone worry about rising sea levels on this little island of ours? You should, if you’re paying through the nose for an apartment and like many Singaporeans, you’re asset-rich and cash-poor. The last thing you need is a collapse of property prices just when you’re ready to retire.

And mark my words, a country won’t need to experience the deleterious physical effects of climate change to actually suffer from climate change. All that’s needed is a change in perceptions of risk. If a place is deemed at risk from climate change, and there will be a reckoning of such risk in business decisions in the future, foreign direct investment will dry up, property prices will plummet, and the domestic currency will falter.

Our government has commissioned a study on the impact of climate change here in Singapore, but I think I will still do a little reading of my own. Like any government commissioned study, sometimes political considerations and agendas cloud the picture of what is truly being presented. Spin is always something I can do without.

It is a mistake to ignore or dismiss climate change. It is also a mistake to think that nothing can be done about it and that we’re all doomed. Nonetheless, judging by how poorly the world has responded to climate change so far, how global sustainability conflicts with global consumption, and how affluence and consumerism is rising in China and India, I’m veering towards being pessimistic. And that is precisely why I am reading more to find out what are the important things I need to know.

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