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I’ve noticed an undertaking recently, back towards civility.

ci·vil·i·ty/səˈvilitē/ Noun

1. Formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.
2. Polite remarks used in formal conversation

China launched campaigns to discourage spitting and and littering in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics – this has now been upscaled to nationwide classes to instill table manners and courtesy in the young, emphasizing a return to the traditional ‘Chinese roots’. I thought it was interesting and good – and then I noticed that Baghdad also ran similar classes, except through a private school, the Academy for Peace through Art. Not only is it a respite from the war and violence around people living there, good manners goes a long way, especially when they involve conversational respect.

But they are not the only ones; The City Academy, Hackney, in East London, is slowly making waves through raising standards for people interaction through the way they run their school. Children are encouraged to interact by serving each other food at the dinner table, and taught to practise social etiquette and more. See, classes on civility need not be run – just inculcate it into the system of the school, enforce it, and it will automate itself.

Which brings me back to the main point I am writing about this. Subscribing to Twitter has made me more connected to what’s going on in the world out there, through following certain subscribers. TED’s Chris Anderson posted a link to Civility Please, a new website set up to remind people about the unnecessary rudeness we go through every day in every area of life – and that we can choose, to go back to encouraging civility. With letters from the public exclaiming that “Civilization can only exist when its members are civil to each other.”, I thought, wow, this is really starting to add to the trend – because I’m sure there’s more groups about civility out there for every group I discover. Watch their clever video:

Civility Please Launch from Civility Please on Vimeo.

Elizabeth Lesser in TED goes one step further in her bid to get us to speak civily with “The Other”. Who exactly is the other? For all you environmentalists, biologists or conservationists out there, The Other is that person we all label negatively to be ignorant about climate change, the person who denies evolution, that fellow across the street who only believes in economic power. Get the picture?

She’s disturbed by how in every culture we live in, there is a tendency to demonize The Other. She draws examples from popular book titles today that demonstrate this, and then illustrates clearly that in human history, this tendency has morphed, and resulted in The Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and more. And it can happen again.

So she’s launching an initiative.

For every Other we label negatively, Lesser encourages, and even challenges us to have real sharing sessions with these people. “Start local”, she says – with your neighbour, classmate, hawker. Why do this? The goal can be: To get to know one person from a group you have negatively stereotyped. Recognising the business that infiltrates our lives, she says, bring The Other to lunch.

She shares her own bring-The-Other-to-lunch story.

Before you get together, agree on some groundrules. For her and her tea party-mate, it was “Don’t persuade, defend, or interrupt. Be curious, be conversational, be real – and listen.”

Then, use 3 guidelines to ensure a discussion of learning:

* Share some of your life experiences
* What are the issues that deeply concern you?
* What have you always wanted to ask someone from “the other side”?

If we put aside our ideas of us being know-it-alls, and brought forth our childlike curiosity, with no intention to harm, imagine what we would learn! Mother Theresa once said: “The problem of the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small”. Imagine if we widened this circle, if more people were real to each other, if people cared about each other, and the environment around them?

With a brilliant quote to end off, I echo Lesser’s words:

Here’s how the great Persian poet Rumi put it: “Out beyond the ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

So, who’s The Other you’ll bring to lunch?

PS: What’s this doing on a nature blog, you ask? Well, think of the big picture. Our blatant repetitive behaviour in harming the environment stems from attitude and thought – if we can systemically change this by starting in this area, and sharing our ideas, the world would be a better place – at home, at work, and overseas.

First GreenDrinks session attended just a few hours ago (see Jan 4 post here), and I was frankly overwhelmed with the number of people! Clearly over-capacity, the show went on with a blast. Interactive session was not burdened by poor acoustics, and instead people were shooting out comments, questions and random ideas. Here’s a summary:

Sivasothi aka Otterman went on to give his usual biodiversity speech, aimed at informing the layman that Singapore does have wildlife, more so than one thinks! First on forest cover – that our proudly acclaimed 48% of forest cover is really, broken down into many ‘green spaces’, of which only 0.2% is primary forest. We have leopard cats, banded leaf monkeys (shy and arboreal, unlike the long tailed macaques clearly visible and waiting to pounce on your plastic bag), pangolins (see pangolin conservation issues), wild boars, mousedeer, dugongs (rare), moniter lizards, otters, and then some. Roadkill pictures added to double shock effect on audience who 1. never knew we shared land with these animals, 2. didn’t expect gore. Am leaving them out here.

Mammal sightings? Help us keep a record at mammal.sivasothi.com. No man can work alone in recording all these sightings, and crowd sourcing not only gives a sense of ownership but pride as well! Similarly, the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore – another crowd effort - is still going strong as ever, with 2009’s haul of more than 13 tonnes of waste from our coasts. Most of which, surprisingly or not, turned out to be cigarettes. This event, FYI, happens worldwide annually, and 2010 was the 25th anniversary since the start of the event – and the 20th year for Singapore. Wanna know more? Check here for a site near you, globally.

But what about things going on with the government? Concerned about our precious land use? Well, the URA Concept Plan 2011 is still open and sourcing for feedback, so all you concerned residents in Singapore, do go take a look and give some feedback!

For the biology community out there, it’s heartening to know that after the initiation of Blue Plan 2009 comes the Mega Marine Survey of Singapore. Exciting line-up! Launched by NParks, this mega-project targets mudflats, coral reefs, sea beds and all coastal areas of Singapore! No need for rocket scientists, anyone interested can volunteer to play a part in recognising our biodiversity! Simply click here to register your interest, receive information and take part!

Then came an interesting switch to the Green Corridors proposal, a combined effort between Nature Society Singapore, Singapore Heritage Society, and groups of architects and cycling enthusiasts. Addressing use of land left by the railway track once the railway service relocates to Woodlands, they propose a Green Corridor to enable connection of communities of people and wildlife alike.

Promoting recreation and exercise through appropriate garden and plant cultivation, cycling and pedestrian paths, they also make a case for keeping existing railway tracks for certain parts to preserve heritage, history and at the same time, enable use of clean energy trams as a form of leisure locomotion. Not only a scenic tourist destination, but possible marathon and commuter routes, as they emphasize its potential to serve the 1.2 million people living adjacent to these tracks. Some people have sentimental attachment to these tracks, and others haven’t yet discovered this beautiful treasure of Singapore.

Take a ride from the Tanjong Pagar Railway station to nearby Johor Bahru (remember your passport!) today to enjoy the scenery – and perhaps see for yourself the rail real beauty of these tracks, before the service retires to Woodlands in July 2011. Support the green corridor on facebook! More into twitter? Join here! Not sure what’s really going on with the rails? Read this and this for background.
Lastly, a huge bunch of thanks and appreciation going out to Olivia Choong, who started this whole thing going in Singapore. :D

It’s mid-January and Annie Ang is back from her impromptu trip to the Tasikoki Wildlife Centre! With the aim of stopping the illegal wildlife trade, the centre was strategically set up in North Sulawesi, the centre and crucial trading point for animals such as the orangutans, tasiers, sunbears, pangolins and even gibbons through the region.

Tasikoki has become part of the Masarang Foundation since 2010 – and you may have heard of MF if you have followed Willie Smits’ websites before. Say who?

Why, Willie Smits is the guy who showed us his efforts in restoring a rainforest! Video here (somehow video couldn’t be embedded).

In October last year I brought Annie and a few other friends to a talk Willie Smits was giving at the National Geographic store in Vivocity – a “Think and Drink” organised by the Singapore International Foundation and Syinc. And what I heard from him astounded me.

His efforts for the past 30 years have been extraordinary – and this man just keeps going, and going. An avid protector of organutans and the forests they live in, he brings to life all kinds of action plans dedicated to resolving the root causes of deforestation, supports local governors and initiatives, and resynthesizes the way people deal with these problems.

Annie met with the man himself – and she’ll have a guest post or two to share her experience on this trip, at the centre and actually seeing all these ‘problems’ we learn in class face to face.

Keep close!

WOW. Nearly a year since my last post – probably an indicator on how busy things have gotten! However, I’ve also gotten messages via this blog from people, and more than a hundred people read this blog every month – I’m pleasantly surprised and very grateful! Thank you very much, readers – and have a brilliant rest of 2011!

So quickly, some updates: I got back in May last year, and have been doing my final year project ever since. Am also working on another publication with some colleages, hopefully that works out. Grad school awaits when the articles have been published! (:

Pulled together like-minded people yesterday for a ‘green’ meeting yesterday – would have to say it was not only fruitful but also an eye-opener! Will be going for Green Drinks meeting this month for it’s biodiversity double-bill, where one of the speakers is the ever-charming Sivasothi aka otterman!

Green Drinks in a nutshell:
+ non-profit, environmental group
+ connecting and informing
+ targetting community, business, activitists, academia, government
+ informal talks every last Thursday of the month

Started in London, Green Drinks has now spread to more than 710 cities. Great stuff eh! Check out some past green drinks sessions and their speakers here.

They’re treating January as the month of Biodiversity - know anyone who is curious about the green scene in Singapore? How about those who have environmental-business inclinations but don’t have the connections? Need to network but don’t have the platform? Come to Green Drinks and start from there.

Support the local Green Drinks!

More soon.

So I’m bouncing back from a hectic schedule involving various deadlines and due dates with travel trips in between. Will try to keep you updated with stuff I’ve picked up from class that I think is interesting (: For now though, here’s an interesting and entertaining video!

If you know me, I’m not usually one to ask for people to sign petitions. So I hope this will have you stop and take a look – and then take action.

If I could sign only one petition, this would be it. It is much more than just a signature.

SIGN HERE.

Click the link, and it will explain the situation much more clearly and concisely than I can.

Courtesy of YJ. Informationisbeautiful does audiences worldwide a huge favour by visualising information in clear, concise ways. Here is one of the visualisations, that is applicable to science. Click here for more.

What’s best about this ‘map’, is that this is what the author managed to get ONLINE, using websites publicly available, without actually talking to climate scientists. It’s what would happen to me, or you, or anyone else who isn’t a climate scientist and is trying to find out what is happening. And it was “a mammoth task” – so please, climate change scientists, this what I’m talking about when I say scientists should learn to communicate, otherwise their research loses meaning.

This blog, realclimate.org, linked from informationisbeautiful, is done up by climate scientists, and even so is claimed to be too technical for the author. Still, I think it’s a good source at least.

It’s pretty sad nowadays to watch climate scientists get shot down by people who don’t know their facts – most of these people who hear about stuff from others, are influenced by politicians, and are not actually suffering the wrath of climate change themselves.

That said, I am in no way endorsing what the author of informationisbeautiful has placed on the map. It is simply a tool to look at things. I myself am not educated enough about climate change to claim any of these details as truths in research.

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