It’s been 4 years since I left home to further my studies in the UK, and if I’m honest, I can feel the emotional connection to the place I call home getting weaker every year. In spite of advances in technology, emotional connections are still best forged physically, in person, in situ. (The photos, videos and blogposts that appear on my radar do help maintain some connection, but they’re dredging up memories rather than firing up my passion). The value of places for forging a sense of belonging and building relationships was something I realized years ago, back when I was in RI/RJC during EcoLit sessions when we talked about Place-Based Learning. Yet every year, I hear of places back home disappearing in the name of development, a further weakening of the things that tie me home.
The latest issue to stir the nature community back home into a storm is the proposed alignment of the new Cross Island Line (CRL) under our Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR). It has been continually appearing on my social media and chat lines since the announcement of the publication of the Environmental Impact Assessment, suffused with articles from people inside and outside the nature community about why the alternative alignment skirting around the reserve would be better (or not).
Speaking up for our nature reserves is not just for ‘green group minorities’, cos the benefits of keeping our forest undisturbed (or at least, not more disturbed than it already is) extend far beyond. Perhaps this highlights how much more work we have to do in terms of public environmental education. Our forest reserves are not just home to various plants and animals, they also provide us with an easy avenue for environmental education, for people to unwind after a hectic day.
To those who say that it’s underground and won’t affect the trees, I don’t think anyone knows that for sure. Underground structures do and have caused problems on the surface before (think the Nicoll Highway collapse in 2004; though of course we don’t want the same to happen anywhere else either). I won’t go into the effects of building an MRT line underground on the forest aboveground here, cos all that is pretty well documented here and here. There will definitely be some impact, and there is no reason why we should be going for minimal impact instead of zero impact. We have so precious little left, why are we even considering risking it?
We’re all about urban biodiversity and urban greening and sustainable cities. In public, on the international stage at least. But if we want to be a truly sustainable, green city, then surely respecting our own laws for nature reserves would be a start. What we have is truly uniquely Singapore, a bustling metropolis with a natural primary forest at the heart of the island, without having to build artificial gardens.
You would never hear of the UK or Germany or the Netherlands, for example, proposing to build any infrastructure through a legally protected reserve – public outcry aside, it is simply unthinkable. As my friend said, it would never get past planning stage.
To those who are resigned to the proposed alignment under the reserve going ahead because ‘gahmen say do then like that lor, bo pian. Nothing we say will change their mind.’, that will be precisely why it happens. But as Margaret Mead said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The success of Chek Jawa in 2003 has showed us that our government will listen to us if we speak up. If we don’t, we might have started ourselves on a path of slippery slope, and we’ll not hear the end of various development projects encroaching on our legally protected areas – something that happens usually in developing countries with weak institutions. Which Singapore prides itself on NOT being.
If the only reason we’re even discussing this is because it was a path of least resistance, then for our principles, posterity, and progress, can we show that it is not so?
You can sign the petition for re-routing the CRL around CCNR here. You can also write to LTA, or to your MP, or to any news agency to speak up.
Thanks to fellow Singaporean nature lovers in the UK for the motivation to write this post and for putting thoughts into words. Some stuff written here was poached directly off them.