Conservation & governance from a naive perspective

Disclaimer: Just want to say before I go on, that this is just based on the limited life experience and perhaps, naive and idealistic perspective of a youth who has yet to understand how reality really works maybe. Or perhaps don’t want to find out yet.

Singapore's green cover in 2007. Image taken from Butterfly Circle blog

I used to wonder, why was NParks under the Ministry of National Development (MND) and not the Ministry of Environment & Water Resources (MEWR)? After all, the Nature Parks and Reserves and biodiversity matters are all considered the “environment” and not really national development… National development tends to bring to mind the Housing Development Board (HDB), Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) etc. Well I eventually found out that it was because historically speaking, NParks was meant more for botanical stuff and gardens and manicured parks for the people’s leisure and enjoyment (and perhaps still is mainly associated with those), than for conservation of our natural heritage. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing I guess, being under MND. (I think Minister Of State (MOS) for MND & MOM Tan Chuan-Jin is awesome!) And also working directly with other relevant statutory boards.

Me talking to MOS about Cyrene Reef and seagrasses during the Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium last year. Image taken from Raffles Museum blog.

But probably the best way to find out how things really work in the Government is to join it, and thankfully I managed to, even though just as a temporary staff dealing with a very safe subject-matter.

I just find it kind of strange how NParks is part of the government (a statutory board), yet when we talk about The Government (when dealing with certain issues), we don’t really mean NParks. I don’t know how much say NParks has when it comes to handling certain issues (like land use), but I’m quite sure the ultimate decision doesn’t rest with NParks.

Singapore Concept Plan 2001 (the 2011 one doesn't seem to be out. On Google at least). Image taken from URA website

Land use in Singapore is always a major issue, just like water issues. After all, as we’ve all known from the years of National Education, Singapore is a small, resource-scarce country. Everyone is fighting for land, whether for more houses (to ease housing woes), more roads/expressways (to ease congestion woes),  or for more shopping centres (to boost the local economy or to ease depression and provide leisure/entertainment or something). Land has to be, and is being cleared for whatever reasons triumph. We have to understand, of course, that we have to come to a compromise, it’s not possible to conserve everything. I don’t know though, we’re already doing so much land reclamation (How many people know though, exactly how much land we reclaim and what was lost in the process? Even if it’s a necessary evil, should we as citizens of this country not know about what exactly is at stake?), is it not enough?

Land reclamation in Singapore. Not the most updated I think, but this came up in Google search Images. Image taken from Land Supplyyy 😀 blog (I think as part of a school project)

One thing though, as our land size increases, our forest cover percentage decreases, even if none of it is cleared. (Our green cover is more than 50%, but green cover =/= forest cover.)

Conservation in Singapore does have to fight a tough battle, because we are largely a very economy-centric country, and it is probably prosecutable under the National Security Act to do/suggest anything that threatens our country’s economy (just kidding. I hope.). People working in this conservation field have to pick battles, and choose between what is more worth it, and which to give up. Perhaps because we don’t know what goes on behind the government’s doors, and there’s all this privacy and swearing to secrecy and all that kind of stuff, that there’s this information gap that causes the “outside” people to think that the people “inside” aren’t doing anything. And of course, nothing in Singapore is ever cast in stone. There is always potential for anything to happen.

Singapore Public Service pledge. Image taken from the government's virtual directory.

It is a lot harder to fight from inside than outside though, I think. After all, when you’re inside, you’re tied down by so many things. Politics, bureaucracy, and perhaps even inertia. After all, you just need to do your job and you get a decent pay, why bother doing more? Why poke your nose into something that could cost you your job (or something like that)? Maybe a major reason why I might not join the government in the future is because I’m afraid of apathy, inertia and comfort, that I’ll be sucked into this dark hole where I’ve lost my passion and drive to do something positive and change things for the better. You could probably do more things outside; yet the government is ultimately the one who makes the decision, which will affect everyone.

I just find that most of the people now just follow the status quo, parrot beliefs, and don’t really try to change things for the better. Of course, there are also increasingly more youths supporting the opposition, but I mean from within. It seems like in the past, they were all very inspirational, wanting to make a difference, striving for the best. They wanted to change things, because things at that point in time were in really bad shape. However now, it seems like they’re just following the official stand of the government and not really fighting to change things for the better. After all, years of National Education have succeeded to the extent that most people my age (and perhaps especially from my school?) are able to tell you the “perfect” answer, the politically-correct (PC) one. We know exactly what the government’s stand is on everything, so we can give the “right” answer.

When asked "Would you rather work for change, or just complain?" 81% of the respondents replied, "Do I have to pick? This is hard." Image taken from Idea Champions website (no idea about the background of the survey). Comic from Toothpaste for Dinner ( - Thanks Grace Chua for the heads up!

But is that what we want? Why not change the education system to teach more important things in life, that is actually applicable in real life, instead of just examinable subjects? Almost everyone I talk to agrees that studying in my school is like being in a bubble, and is not at all a reflection of reality. Of course, not that exams should be abolished. We need a tangible, quantifiable way of identifying those who are good at studies. And why not make conservation a key focus instead of always economics? (Yeah I know this is close to impossible in pragmatic Singapore)

"Ah Pogo, the beauty of the forest primeval gets me in the heart." "It gets me in the feet, Porkypine." "It is hard walkin' on this stuff." "Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us." Image taken from: The Vanishing Book of Life on Earth

Perhaps we’ll never have enough. Resources are finite though. We’ve got to find a way to innovate and adapt. I know this won’t work in reality because there are many factors to consider, but I think I’d rather every family be entitled to own only one house and one car than have all that is natural and important disappear.

Of course, there is still hope, and change is still going on. People are fighting for the change they want to see, and they have not given up, which gives me lots of hope (: Change here is slow, but it is happening. I just wonder though, when will our society be sufficiently engaged in civil issues (and not trivial ones :/) that change starts to pick up speed? Or perhaps the wheel is already in motion?

Be the Change you want to see in this world - Mahatma Gandhi. Image taken from: Bends Towards Justice blog

Not once have I regretted taking my gap year and working in places, to understand issues better.

Related articles:
Biodiversity Conservation in Singapore
How much mangroves are left in Singapore now? 
Land Needs in Singapore
Inspiration for this post:
Discussion with colleagues from the National Biodiversity Centre, NParks
The United Nation’s Happiness Project
Why We Need to Talk About the Birds & the Bees by Otterman

“Well, we need imaginative people in government and the private sector, thinking about better and more sustainable ideas in the design and management of cities and their needs. It’s hard difficult to restore loss of this sort, which does not occur in isolation but is accompanied with extensive ramification. And we’ll need an increasingly active community, aware of the issues and willing to engage and energetic enough to do so.”
– N. Sivasothi a.k.a. Otterman  from Why We Need To Talk About the Birds & the Bees

About Jocelyne Sze

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
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8 Responses to Conservation & governance from a naive perspective

  1. magicalweb says:

    A nice read (:
    Yeah i agree we have to be careful not to get into a situation where we are so stuck in a comfort zone we fail to seek progress from there, either because of inertia or because we lose vision. Also, this begs the question – why is there a portal for silly news like Stomp!, and no portal for issues that really matter??

    • Jocelyne Sze says:

      Ahh great question, but one that I can’t answer… We always have so many questions, but no one to answer them. Else answers given don’t help much.

  2. yenfilia says:

    Hi Jocelyn, I think it’s a matter of priority of the nation and I think there is no such perfect nation that can have everything in once. My point of view of perfect nature balance maybe has to be in global scale among the countries. So, for the earth there must be equal like “heat in = heat out”, no matter which is the nation. because after all, we are all global citizen. But in this seems perfect equation, who can count this for real? hehe…

    • Jocelyne Sze says:

      Hey, haha yes of course, priorities of the nation. Ours is clearly economic. And of course, no such thing as a perfect nation. Personally I have no idea what my “ideal Singapore” is… Running a country is no easy task :/
      Haha yeah, if we could do that, we wouldn’t be having so much problems now…

  3. YK says:

    Hi Jocelyn, it’s heartening to know that there are young people like you who are concerned about the future of our biodiversity. I believe, as you gained more work and life experience, you will have a better understanding of how things work and how you can play a part in making things happen and pushing things ahead. Conservation changes don’t come about over a short period of time though and for young people who wanted to see fast results, they will probably think that not much is being achieved, whether they are “inside” and “outside” govt. I wish you all the best in the remaining of your gap year.

    • Jocelyne Sze says:

      Hello! Haha thanks, and I’m glad that I’m not the only one as well!
      Yes, over time I’m sure I will understand issues better, and hopefully, be able to make things happen…
      Haha we are the generation of ‘instant gratification’… But I do see changes happening, though slowly, I just hope that it will keep up and not lose momentum!
      Thanks for dropping by and the well-wishes! (:

  4. Pingback: What’s the future of Nature and biodiversity (and us who love them) in Singapore? | Nature rambles.

  5. Pingback: To ‘protect’ our planet earth, we need to pursue degrowth – Jocelyne Shimin Sze

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