Saturday, November 17, 2007

Air Pollution hits the news

Finally, the unequivocal truth about air pollution in Singapore hits the news.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit 83 – within the moderate range – at 4pm on Thursday. Residents from Bukit Panjang, Ang Mo Kio and Bishan called the Channel NewsAsia hotline to say that the sky was hazy. The National Environment Agency (NEA) said it was due to the poor dispersion of air pollutants. The pollutants accumulate because of light wind conditions during the current Inter-Monsoon period. NEA added that the haze should clear when the wind conditions improve.
Dear friends and countrymen, air pollution is an issue in Singapore!

In June 2007, I encountered this horrific scene [above] of a layer of smog overhanging our southern islands and the west of Singapore. At the time, my climatologist friend explains that this is due to the fact that we were in inter-monsoon period where there is no wind to carry the smog away. Usually the haze brings pollutants from other countries to Singapore for finally, Singaporeans are seeing our nifty handicraft in our own country.

I do very much feel like gloating but does it take a large number of people to call the news before such things would be addressed? If we continue to not respond, then would the government continue to not address the issue?

Then again, they blame it on the weather. Oh it's because there are poor wind circulation now therefore you are experiencing the pollutants our factories are producing.

[Unspoken: We'll have fresh air as soon as the wind starts moving again and blow the air pollutant else where to other countries so you would not notice or remember that we actually are producing more and more SO2 every year]

Source: MEWR Key Environmental Statistics 2007 [pdf]. Click on image for full size

Let's not focus on the poor air circulation for a moment and ask why in the world do we have air pollutants in Singapore? We-have-the-best-air-quality-in-region Singapore? Where is it coming from? In fact we shouldn't be calling this the haze so as not to confuse ourselves with the transboundary haze. Call a smog... a smog.

Poor wind conditions cannot be the reason why we are experiencing the haze! People in Mexico and Los Angeles live in perpetual smog because of poor air circulation! Their cities are in a bowl where the smog cannot escape from the valley. That is what I called poor air circulation. But because of that, people wake up to the idea that they are creating the problem because they cannot run away from it. I'm not even going to talk about particulate matter pollution in Singapore. According to MEWR we haven't even met the US EPA standards but apparently most of it comes from diesel vehicles and they aim to reduce by 2014.

Source: MEWR State of Env Report 2005

Please, let's stop running away from the truth. We have air pollution problems. We produce air pollutants in Singapore. What can we do about it? While most of the problems are produced by industries, it would do us all good to be aware of the problem. We cannot run away from it. It will be back.

Forgive me for this utterly angst-filled post but perhaps this monkey is simply tired of hearing about our wonderful air quality. We have the utter belief that Singapore is perfect-o. Not a blemish. Do we need to see severe symptoms before people will wake up to the truth? I rather not! What will awareness do for us? More awareness could mean more people calling the news, calling the government out on the fact. More awareness could also mean more fatalistic resignation like how I am when I see the scene captured in photos above. But it also means I am writing about it now.

The government is not hiding the fact that we have pollution. In the State of Environment reports, and the environmental statistics publications, it is clearly written. However, how many of us read them? But should we resign ourselves to the fact that we need those industries and therefore we must have the accompanying air pollution? How about being more selective in our choice of industries or greening our industries even more? How about tapping into the alternative energy or environmental technologies sector? As they love to say, "we have the abilities to become leaders in the region in this field".

Should we question why we have such excellent air quality if not for our fantastic geography? Where is our pollutant going to normally? Indonesia? Riau Province? Sumatra? Johor? Or just dissipated?

Yes I admit that Singapore government works very hard at controlling air pollution in Singapore. But let's not rest on our laurels. Low crime does not mean no crime! In the 2005 MEWR State of Environment report, it says that one of the challenges for Singapore is the rapid increase in industries. In fact, it writes that the key contributors of Sulphur Dioxide in Singapore is the oil refinery sector and guess what? We just got ExxonMobil to start a massive new petrochemical project on Jurong Island. For the uninitiated, Sulphur Dioxide is one of the key ingredient for photochemical smog and acid rain!

Let's not even talk about global warming and climate change. Rest assured, we can't run away from that either.
"[PM Lee] says: "We contribute less than 0.2 percent of all the carbon emission what we do in Singapore is not going to change the world. It is not possible for us to solve this problem on our own but we cannot say therefore we will ignore it. We will do our fair share as part of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gases." - Source: CNA
The prime minister thinks that because we contribute such a pittance of greenhouse gases to the climate change problem therefore the responsibilities should not rest on our shoulders. Well forget how it impacts the world! How about looking at how it would affect us? Climate change is a problem because it affects EVERYBODY. The little islands in the pacific ocean doesn't produce much problem but gets affected the worst! Little islands, ocean, sounds familiar? And we do produce problems. How are we changing the weather and climate over our own heads?

Meanwhile, the Minister for Trade and Industry said in an official press release:
"Singapore is a price taker for energy. We only account for about 0.15 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. As a small country, our efforts alone will not have much impact on climate change. We cannot volunteer to reduce emissions on our own, at the expense of economic growth. Nevertheless, as a responsible international citizen, we will do our fair share as part of the global effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions." - Source: MTI
What is with this sentiments that "Singapore will do its part to mitigate climate change but the country cannot afford to do so at the cost of its economic growth"? That is precisely why USA and Australia has not signed the Kyoto Protocol! Likewise, Singapore cannot afford to stop our economic growth therefore we'll have to live with the increase in Sulphur Dioxide as part of the necessary sacrifice for economic growth?

Meanwhile Singaporeans only get temporarily inconvenienced by this "haze". Does that mean people only face the truth when the smog gets stuck with us 365 days a year?

Talk about the "inconvenient truth".

Related Posts:
Is there Air Pollution in Singapore?, Midnight Monkey Monitor
Is there Air Pollution in Singapore?, Singapore Metroblogging
Smog - Now coming to the air near you!, Singapore Metroblogging


Mik & Mac said...

Thank you for your information and insight into our global warming problems. I enjoy your blog and also have recently returned from a 2 month stay in Mexico. While I did not stay directly in Mexico City, I did pass through and the layer of smog and nastiness resting above the city was awful. I even took pictures of it from the plane! I hope through word of mouth and action, we can find a solution to this global issue!

Monkey said...

i am glad you enjoy the blog :) do share your photos! :) and yes hopefully we can all move progressively towards a more harmonious existence on earth

Qywyntyna said...

You speak the truth. We are all of us, on a global level, metaphorically burying our heads in the sand. We need to do better, even going beyond the standards and protocol that the U.S. and Australia refuse to sign for economic reasons. As a SoCal native, who has lived in areas that do not suffer from heavy smog and other pollution, I can tell you that when I have lived in places that were heavily polluted I have found myself often getting sick with bronchitis, asthma, and severe allergic reactions. None of these problems occur on a regular basis in nonpolluted regions and I certainly never get bronchitis outside the polluted zones.

Everymatter said...

very good write up about environment. Whole world must learn from it.

keep it up.


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