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Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

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

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Anyone involved in conservation will know that poaching is a severe issue that has yet to be addressed in many countries. Animals made into commodities, perpetuated through their use as medicine, artefacts for display, or hunting enjoyment, is something that goes on still.

The first innovative approach to catch poachers I have heard of is taken by the company, Custom Robotic Wildlife.


Photo source: Wired.com

Creating remote-controlled animal decoys, they use a tag team of four-person sting operations to catch poachers in the act. One controls the robot animal, one videotapes the poaching, and the last two tackle the hunters, who then find themselves with fines, or jail time.

Are these decoys actually convincing?

Taxidermy is used to good effect here – corpses of the desired animal robot are taken and stuffed, with the wired devices hidden in parts of the animal least likely to be shot at by poachers.

Not that I could find any statistics on how successful these operations have been, but noting that they make coyotes, deer, elk, antelope and bears, it sure seems like more people are giving them a try. Of course, they also make these robots for people who just simply want to chase off annoying geese on their lawn, or to law-abiding hunters as decoys.

Interesting approach. I’m skeptical, but well, we could use all the creative approaches we can think of.

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Email today brought a piece of interesting news – greenpost is an integrated billing system designed to rid ourselves of paper billing, by going digital.

Here’s a screenshot:

Googling the company only got me as far as their greenpost page again, and their facebook group. I’d have thought its an effective way to spread the message, at least by just facebooking it, but I had not heard of this, and it has been around since 2005 (the idea). GreenBills Pte Ltd is the startup firm who has gotten this going, and has four billers in its system now: Starhub, M1, Singtel and Singapore Power.

The three major telcos in Singapore have already signed up, and I think that’s a great step. Moving on to registering, I found it really easy to get myself an account. This is how it looks like at my homepage:

Now, as you can see, I don’t have anything billed to my name because they’re under my parents’ names, so here you see there’s N.A. for all the four billers. Of course, when I get back and when I start renewing my contracts and stuff, I’d eventually add the billers to my account. What I’m going to do next is to get my parents to sign up for this.

So do I need to go online every time I want to view my bill? Well here’s the great part: bills can be downloaded to your computer, so you can have an unlimited archive of all previous downloaded bills in pdf format stored in your computer. It makes me wonder if they have tied up with any company that provides programmes for budgeting and handling financial accounts – now that would be a cool system to get into. Imagine yourself being able to check your accounts on your blackberry/PDA whenever, wherever, that’s convenience at its peak.

But before I digress, I was thinking: there must be some catch, right? Turns out that this is a free system; no one is going to have to pay, and the site seems secure. Seeing how I got this email via NUS sources, I pretty much trust it already. So searching some more gave me this article reported in October 2009 by WILDSingapore.

If you search the site, and go to the FAQs, you’d also notice this little thing saying: earn credits while you save paper! Or something to that effect. Point is, they’re talking about carbon credits here. Every time you get a new bill online, they also tell you how much paper you would have saved. If greenpost can save 2 million sheets of pages per month, it can enable itself and its billers (its companies) to earn carbon credits.

That to me, is tough territory here. Carbon trading has been in talks since about 20 years ago, and carbon credits, carbon offsets, carbon neutrality, carbon taxes, all threaten to propagate the perception that pollution is OKAY, and instead give licenses for polluting companies to carry on. While I give it credit (pun intended) that this is a new field, we should be cautious about the assumptions it makes, and perceptions it perpetuates.

It doesn’t remove the source of pollution, but instead allows it carry on under a facade, a guise that they are somehow compensating and so do not need to cease their polluting ways. It’s the same as how Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is used by countries as an index of economic development – initially conceptualised to quantify social progress by the United Nations in 1945 – but does not really measure social progress, and instead becomes a larger value even when pollution increases, traffic accidents increase, and hospitalisation rates increase -> because GDP per capita increases whenever there is a monetary transaction, in other words, whenever money exchanges hands. As a result, industrialised nations increase their GDP per capita, but at what cost? That topic however, is for another time.

Carbon credits don’t weed out the source, but mediate symptoms instead. For information on carbon trading and its history, Larry Lohmann writes sharply, and his book is available here.

Back to the topic. While there are great advantages to a system such as this, tech-UN-savvy users who are not connected to the internet or don’t even have computers will be left out of the system. It addresses the majority of users yes, but we should be careful not to make certain factions of our society become passée. It doesn’t mean we don’t go ahead with these plans, but it means we should take steps to incorporate these people.

I applaud GreenBills on its commitment to its mission for a paperless billing system nationwide by 2012 – now remember to click on “Stop Envelope” when you sign up and add the billers to your account, because that tells the billers their customer’s demand to stop paper billing. It doesn’t mean you immediately stop getting paper bills – your biller will tell you when they are going to stop it – but it means you’re letting them know you want this.

Lastly with the money that companies are saving from not sending customers their bills by post, we should also insist that whatever polluting ways they have should stop. Corporations should channel this money responsibly, not into more pollution or more technology that brings pollution. Otherwise what we have done is not offset our increasing usage of the environment, but further increase resources used instead.

Onward!

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Yes, if you don’t already know this, you read right! I was just messing around with my computer system when I stumbled upon this: Ecological Corridor for Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

REALLY??

And this is recent too! Oh, how I wish I subscribed to newspapers here in Toronto, and that they were free. I don’t visit news webpages enough, it seems.

So back to this. Finally! Some people would diss the building of an ecological corridor, because being a relatively new field (the concept is not that new, it dates back to beyond 1986), coupled with the fact that ecological experiments and results take years and decades to show, they’d say it’s doesn’t work. Of course, there’s a lot of theoretical work.

How the width and nature of different corridors are suited to different functional groups (ie. predators, prey groups); how vegetation types planted there affect movement of these animals; whether to build above ground or below ground corridors, so on and so forth. Most of the time the conclusion ends up with: what corridor is constructed is specific to what species it is directed towards, and that affects the success of the corridor. And the funny thing is that we just went through this in class last week (again, because in Community Ecology we’re studying the theory of Island Biogeography and patchiness, etc).

So how do we justify building one?

Well it seems that in systems where we cannot afford to lose something, the precautionary approach is one that should be taken (read: we should build it if predicted benefits > costs). In this case, perhaps some would say building one is better than having none at all. For Bukit Timah however, it may prove a case of “too little, too late”. Let’s hope that won’t come true.

Supposedly the link will be done by 2013, if all goes to prediction. Taking into account that the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) was built in 1986, that’s some 27 years of physical isolation between the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR). Will behaviour and migration patterns of local animals have changed? Will animals, used to a relatively ‘quiet’ habitat within the forest (especially of the CCNR that is >3000ha large), move to the BTNR, and vice versa, over cars and vehicles zooming past below them? Noise and lights are a significant disturbance to many animals, and enough to induce behavioural changes.

So many more questions could arise regarding the specifics of the corridor. Is 50m at its narrowest enough? How strong do you build it? Of course, these questions should not promote inaction, but they should be tackled so that we think critically about our actions, and their consequences.

Grace Chua writes in the Straits Times: “..[the corridor will be] planted with dense trees resembling a forest habitat, could help populations of animals like the critically-endangered banded leaf monkey to recover”.

Banded-leaf monkeys are extremely shy, arboreal creatures, hardly seen by people because they live so high up, avoiding noise and disturbance. The media has an important role in education, and should moderate the public’s expectation of a result like this. Should their movement patterns not include the eco-corridor in a couple of years, critics may claim eco-corridors don’t work after all, when in fact there are many things we have yet to learn not only about eco-corridor functionality, but also about even the banded-leaf monkey life history and characteristics.

Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada has been a leader in eco-corridors (refer: wildlife crossings) and they are in a similar state with BTNR-CCNR road bisection by the BKE. They have been successful in promoting the movement of many animals, but one should note that different animals have different characteristics and functionalities. While concepts such as learning curves and infrastructure to improve corridors can be generalised for application, we should take note not to promote high expectations of corridors that might eventually lead to a ‘perceived failure’ of them when they do not deliver within a given timespan.

Again, because of generational times of animals and plants, their population dynamics and disturbances, results of building the corridor may be difficult to predict, or discern even after a decade. As Navjot Sodhi of the Conservation Ecology Lab at NUS says, “only time will tell.”. Meanwhile, as we wait, we should continue our efforts to preserve biodiversity, educate the masses and re-tune attitudes of today towards making an effort for the environment we live in, if not for the environment/animals, then for ourselves.

It is heartening then, to note that the National Parks has come up with a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. As a citizen and as a human being, we all have a stake in what surrounds us. Sacrificing nature for pure concrete buildings without a thought for leaving the same or more capital and environmental wealth for the next generation to carry on is not mature, it is not smart. We are fortunate to be living in Singapore, where majority of us can afford to address our basic necessities and focus on other interests such as culture, arts, etc – so in this day and age, let us not only learn more, but take action for our lives and for the generations to come.

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I know, I know. Many weeks have passed since the last post, and its mostly due to converting all of my time to studying, researching or re-activating my social life now and then with friends.

So here’s a quick one.

To save animals, put a price on them – its an article on a radical idea, which is actually so crazy its the kind of idea that gets people (especially me) thinking and puts my mind out of the box so I can actually think radically too. Read it here. I love this kind of stuff. Not that I agree with the idea, I think there’s some serious flaws with it, but I like that the idea makes me think. Hope it does for you too.

Having taken classes on Tropical Conservation, many issues have also been brought up with regards to conservation. Just a quick post on certain concepts and ideas off the top of my head that have to be kept in mind when we are talking about conservation and leading lives with conservation at our core.

There is an article called “When swordfish conservationists eat swordfish“. It’s a good read. You might be able to get it by googling.

So the general idea is when a conservationist doesn’t practice what he preaches, and doesn’t do what he advocates – its like an environmental activist who pollutes the earth and doesn’t bother to save water or electricity. Think about your footprint – calculate it with an online calculator. Think about your lifestyle, and if and how that is aligned with what you believe in.

Next.

That conservation is not a pure subject, like many other things in the world. Pure meaning it only consists of one category of subject, of course. Call it science, call it social science, call it environmental or even philosophy related. It is all of, and much more than these things.

Keep in mind that conservation, without a social, environmental, political component, cannot work.

It’s interesting. People have to have their basic needs taken care of before they can move on to other things. It’s Maslow’s pyramid, period. Culture, environmental activists, choices even, only come when we have our basic necessities met.

So don’t question humanity’s selfishness in wanting to secure our future first – the thing you should question is why we think that economics should be mutually exclusive with the environment? We are slowly being proven wrong on that one, and that is, I believe, the way to go.

Después.

Zoos are temporary. They are not an alternate habitat, they are conservation centres, and Noah’s Arks at best. Look, no one’s disputing that they are great for education here. They are fantastic tools – but that’s all they are. A tool, a mechanism for education and awareness, but never, ever a replacement for what belongs in our natural environment, for what has been there before we removed them from it with our influence.

Nächster.

Cryo banks and seed banks, where sperm and egg of animals and seeds of plants are stored to ‘secure’ its future are great ideas. But like zoos, its dangerous if we think they’re going to be our future. They can’t be.

Think: if animals cannot mate naturally any more, and we have to do fertilisation for them, is that natural? If an animal’s habitat is no longer around, and cannot be resurrected, so what if we can artificially produce more of these animals?

Berikutnya.

Beware of crunching numbers. Telling the public that we have 100 hectares (ha) of land designated for nature is only meaningful if that land is not fragmented. If they are taking 100 patches of 1 ha land ‘polka-dots’ and adding them together to produce 100 ha of land, that’s not meaningful at all.

It’s blips of land that not only reduce the integrity of the land, it also brings in accessibility by humans which can mean poaching, besides having the famous edge effect that alters conditions of the fragment such that environment of the fragment starts to degrade.

Made small enough, don’t be surprised if it degrades to nothingness. All while we say we have 100 ha of land set aside of nature.

其次.

Again, like how conservation is a weaving of many subjects and many characters, the change in food chains/webs, ecosystems and environment is compounded.

Think about what animal/plant is affected. How its life history is changed. Does it migrate? What breeding pattern does it have? What does it eat, and what does it get eaten by?

For example. Parasites have primary, and secondary hosts. Bacteria, they’re bad or good in our eyes, just harmful or not to the animal. Migratory birds and fishes, and their prey, be it crustaceans or caterpillars. Climate changes and pollution affecting breeding times, seasons, development – mozzies breed faster or slower, some frogs and molluscs are starting to have pseudo penises and weird number of limbs and development.

Lastly.

Though I’m not done talking about it, I’ll continue another day. Don’t let all of this frighten you into a state of inertia and shock.

Instead, take this as a sign, a challenge for us, the current generation to rise up to and take action. What’s most important, is that we take action. We can sit on our butts the whole day and talk all about the climate change and how animals are dying around the world – but without action, nothing really will get done.

Start simple. Use less things. Then you need to reuse less of them, and recycle even less of them. So start with reducing.

Spread. Blog. Talk to people. Write to your MP, if you’re in Singapore, and your mayor or city council if you’re elsewhere. Highlight issues you think are pertinent, important.

Learn more about whatever it is YOU are interested in. You don’t have to be interested in the environment just because everyone else is – go find out about what’s interesting to you. Knowing about the environment is good – learning about something you have  a passion for, is sustainable. Mebbe you like amphibians. I met a 13 year old girl today who likes rodents, and learnt only today that squirrels, beavers and capibara, saying ‘Cooool’ as she heard it.

We have a choice. Always. And putting yourself in the seat of choice and responsibility means you have power – it means you are the driver, and you decide today, right now, where we go.

Your actions affect someone and something else. You are powerful. You choose. Believe that, and do something good with it.

The world will be better off. (:

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