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The Great Global Warming Swindle? 3 May , 2007

Posted by eugene in 2 Improve Awareness & Knowledge.
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The Great Global Warming Swindle is a documentary produced by UK’s Channel 4, which casts doubts that global warming is man-made. The documentary was mentioned in Mr Andy Ho’s article in The Straits Times that was covered in my earlier post. You can watch the documentary below.

Several people have commented on the documentary, I would recommend reading comments by RealClimate and George Monbiot. There are also substantial information at Wikipedia for reference. Watch the documentary, read the comments and references, and then judge for yourself. Who is being swindled?


Who Or What Is The Real Culprit? 1 May , 2007

Posted by eugene in 6 Use Rights as Citizens & Consumers.
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Mr Andy Ho, Senior Writer for The Straits Times, wrote an article today in the Review section titled, “Who or what is the real culprit?“, to debunk man-made global warming. I wrote a letter to the ST Forum on my views to explain why I disagree with him. I think my letter will not be published as it is too long, so I’m sharing the contents of my unpublished letter that I submitted.

I’m not an expert on global warming and my explanations are based on my limited knowledge. Most of the global warming science that I read comes from the IPCC report, RealClimate, and some published papers.


Man is the real culprit 

I refer to the article, ‘Who or what is the real culprit?’ by Mr Andy Ho (ST, May 1). 

Mr Ho discussed three main points to debunk man-made global warming. One, there is no scientific consensus. Two, there is contradictory evidence and other causes. Three, it is caused by the sun. He is entitled to his views but I will offer my views to explain why I disagree with him. 

In my opinion, there are two ways in which people reach consensus on global warming – after looking at the evidence or after hearing what other people say. To show that there is no consensus, Mr Ho quotes three scientists – Richard Lindzen, John Christy and Paul Reiter. Through their quotes in the press and the documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, Mr Ho suggests that there is no consensus among scientists and even within the IPCC.  

On the other hand, I can show scientific consensus by listing national science academies that agree with man-made global warming and they include: National Academy of Sciences (United States of America); Science Council of Japan; Russian Academy of Sciences; Australian Academy of Sciences; Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts; Brazilian Academy of Sciences; Royal Society of Canada; Caribbean Academy of Sciences; Chinese Academy of Sciences; French Academy of Sciences; German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina; Indian National Science Academy; Indonesian Academy of Sciences; Royal Irish Academy; Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy); Academy of Sciences Malaysia; Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand; Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; and Royal Society (UK). 

Incidentally, the documentary has received complaints of being misleading and one-sided. In addition, a professor of physical oceanography at MIT who gave comments in the documentary, is considering legal action against the producers after saying his comments were taken out of context to mislead people that man-made global warming is not real. He believes that climate change is real, a major threat, and almost surely has a major human-induced component”. 

So who is right? People have different views on issues, therefore, consensus should not be based on who is saying what but should be based on scientific evidence. This brings me to Mr Ho’s second point. 

The evidence that Mr Ho presented says that temperature rise precede carbon rise by 800 years. Carbon dioxide is not causing global warming and the culprit could likely be water vapour, methane or nitrous oxide. Mr Ho’s point is that carbon dioxide is not causing higher temperatures, therefore humans are not the cause of global warming. 

What causes global warming? To answer that, we need to first understand the concept of radiative forcing and that carbon dioxide is not the only cause of global warming. According to the IPCC report, radiative forcing is “a measure of the influence that a factor has in altering the balance of incoming and outgoing energy in the Earth-atmosphere system and is an index of the importance of the factor as a potential climate change mechanism. Positive forcing tends to warm the surface while negative forcing tends to cool it”.

Different radiative forcing sources include carbon dioxide, mehane, nitrous oxide, ozone, surface albedo, aerosols and solar irradiance. Warming or cooling periods in the past are affected by the contribution from each forcing source, and is decided by the forcings that dominate or is amplified. Carbon dioxide is the dominant contribution to positive radiative forcing in recent times due to emissions from human activities, which is why it contributes mainly to global warming.  

The idea that temperature rise precede carbon rise is not new and can be found in several published papers. In a paper published in Science magazine by Caillon et al. (2003), it was stated that “the 800-year time lag is short in comparison with the total duration of the temperature and CO2 increases (~5000 years)”. It takes about 5000 years for glacial-interglacial warming to happen and if the first 800 years of temperature rise is not caused by carbon rise, we cannot conclude that the remaining 4,200 years is not caused by carbon rise. The first 800 years of warming could be due to one or more of the other radiative forces besides carbon dioxide, and then amplified by the radiative forcing due to carbon dioxide for the other 4,200 years. Therefore, the 800-year lag cannot conclude that carbon dioxide is not causing global warming.                                                                                                                                

Mr Ho suggest that the global warming culprit could be other gases because methane is 27 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and water vapour and nitrous oxide are each 380 times more powerful. According to the IPCC report, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in 2005 is 379ppm, methane is 1.774ppm, and nitrous oxide is 0.319ppm. Carbon dioxide still exerts greater radiative forcing than methane and nitrous oxide because it is in higher concentrations.                            

The IPCC includes water vapour in its climate models, although not as a radiative forcing but as a feedback. Although water vapour makes up the bulk of greenhouse gases, it is considered as a feedback because it has conflicting feedbacks on the greenhouse effect, and it also does not stay in the atmosphere for a long time. Water vapour has a positive feedback by acting as a greenhouse gas and causing warming but it also has a negative feedback when it becomes clouds and reflecting solar radiation, thus causing cooling.     

The third point by Mr Ho is that global warming is caused by the sun. He is partly right, global warming is caused by the sun and the associated water vapour and clouds, but they are not the dominant culprit. The Earth is warmed by the sun and has an effect on climate. According to the IPCC report, “changes in solar irradiance since 1750 are estimated to cause a radiative forcing of +0.12 W/m2”, compared to total net anthropogenic radiative forcing of +1.6 W/m2. Human activities still play a bigger role than the Sun. In addition, a review paper in Nature by Foukal et al. (2006) concluded that “brightening of the Sun is unlikely to have had a significant influence on global warming since the seventeenth century”.                                                                                             

The existing evidence and explanations available is sufficient to convince myself that recent global warming is caused by human activities. I hope that Mr Ho and other readers will not accept everything I say but to look at the scientific evidence and explanations, and then make up their mind on whether recent global warming is man-made and what actions to take.

Read Apr 07 26 April , 2007

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Some books that I read this month:

A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World by Peter Tertzakian

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte

Future Energy: How the New Oil Industry Will Change People, Politics and Portfolios by Bill Paul

Dancing with the Tiger: Learning Sustainability Step by Natural Step by Brian Nattrass and Mary Altomare

Global Warming Scenarios 19 April , 2007

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Global Warming




On The Back


Ever After

Reap And Sow

For those who do not believe in global warming, is it possible for them to still take action? What if we don’t presume that global warming is happening? Can we take action by looking at different scenarios and then decide what to do?

Let us imagine four scenarios in the future as shown in the table above. The horizontal axis indicate whether global warming is happening in the future and the vertical axis indicate whether early action was taken to mitigate the effects of global warming.

Scenario One is called “Happily Ever After” where there is no global warming and no action taken. The skeptics were right and there is no global warming. No money was spent to implement useless plans to tackle climate change. Everyone lived happily ever after.

Scenario Two is called “Pat On The Back” where there is global warming and action was taken. Global warming is happening but with less impact because we took early preventive actions. Money was spent but it turned out to be a good investment. We are able to cope with climate changes and make necessary adjustments to our lifestyles. We gave ourselves a pat on the back for doing what was necessary and right. It was not easy but we managed to pull through.

Scenario Three is called “No Regrets” where there is no global warming and action was taken. The scientists were wrong and global warming did not threaten us. Money was spent to implement preventive plans which was not needed. Skeptics lambasted, “We told you so, money was wasted. The money could be used to save lives in developing countries”.

But believers of global warming retorted, “Yes, you’re right on hindsight that there is no global warming. Money was spent but that did not go to waste. The money was spent on making our buildings and transportation system more effective and efficient. The money was spent on developing alternative energy and reliance on oil was reduced. The money was spent on protecting trees and natural habitats.”

According to the Stern Review Report, the annual global cost of reducing total greenhouse gases emissions to three quarters of current levels is estimated at $134 billion per year in 2015 or $930 billion per year in 2050 (1% of GDP in 2050). According to the UN Millennium Development Goals, the estimated total cost of meeting all the millennium development goals in all countries is $189 billion in 2015.

The world GDP in 2005 is $44,384 billion (World Bank). According to Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs: the world military expenditures in 2004 is $1,024 billion; the global advertising expenditures is $570 billion in 2005. There is money to help the people in developing countries and also reduce the impacts of global warming. We are not short of money, we are short of political willpower, foresight and spending the money in the right areas.

Scenario Four is called “Reap And Sow” where there is global warming and no action was taken. We see the impacts of global warming and climate change, now everyone believes. But it’s too late, we reap what we sow.

So, which scenarios would happen? Let’s forget about whether global warming is real for the time being. If we take action, we either have no regrets or we can pat ourselves on the back in the future. Nothing much to lose or everything to gain. If we don’t take action, we either live happily ever after or reap what we sow. Everything to gain or everything to lose. What’s your choice?

TED Talks 17 April , 2007

Posted by eugene in 2 Improve Awareness & Knowledge.
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TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an annual conference that brings together the best thinkers and ideas. The talks given at TED are available online and showcase some of the best speakers and their ideas. The following are some speakers who are green visionaries and also my personal heroes. Watch the videos of the talks, enjoy and be inspired.

William McDonough: The wisdom of designing Cradle to Cradle

Jane Goodall: What separates us from the apes?

Janine Benyus: 12 sustainable design ideas from nature

Alex Steffen: Inspired ideas for a sustainable future

E.O. Wilson: TED Prize wish – Help build the Encyclopedia of Life

Al Gore: 15 ways to avert a climate crisis

Green Ocean Strategy 7 April , 2007

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More companies are starting to be environmentally conscious. I’m not only referring to companies implementing an environmental managment system and getting itself ISO 14001 certified, it’s about companies planning and doing their business with the environment in mind first. I refer to companies doing that as adopting the “Green Ocean Strategy”, rephrasing from the popular book, Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. The blue ocean strategy is about creating opportunities from unexplored markets and making the competition irrelevant.

The green ocean strategy (GOS) refers to creating opportunities from environmental risks and pressures, environmental awareness among consumers, and environmental design, marketing and technologies. It is not just about companies carrying on with their business and taking care of the environment, it is more about companies taking care of the environment as their business and making profits along the way. As Starbucks would say, it is not serving coffee to customers, it is serving customers with coffee. Or Sam Walton of Wal-Mart would say, profits are a by-product of good service. Some examples of GOS include General Electric’s Ecomagination and Honda’s Environmentology.

Singapore will be hosting the Global Business Summit for the Environment (B4E) from 19 – 20 April. B4E is an international conference on business and the environment, and “aims to highlight the environmental challenges facing global business today and share strategies and best practices for corporate environmental responsibility”. Hope that companies will gain insights from this conference and exercise their environmental responsibility. If companies don’t adopt the GOS, they would likely become irrelevant in the near future.

Green my Apple 5 April , 2007

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Greenpeace’s recent report, Guide to Greener Electronics, ranks electronic manufacturers based on their policy and practice for chemicals used in the products, and on producer responsibility for taking back discarded products and recycling. Companies ranked include Lenovo, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Dell, Samsung, Motorola, Fujitsu-Siemens, HP, Acer, Toshiba, Sony, LG Electronics, Panasonic and Apple. Apple stays in last place since the guide was launched in Dec 06. Read more at Greenpeace’s website.

To get Apple to go green, Greenpeace organised the “Green my Apple” campaign. The campaign encourages Apple fans to voice their views to Apple so that they can improve their environmental record. It is hoped that Apple would remove the worst toxic chemicals from their products, and offer take-back for their products everywhere they are sold.

If you are an Apple fan and own a Mac, iPod or iBook, do help to voice your concerns to Apple on their poor environmental performance and suggest that they do something about it. I personally know of many greenies who use Macs. You know who you are and what to do.

ABN Amro Climate Change and Environment Index 28 March , 2007

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Finally, an investment product based on the environmental sector is available to Singaporean investors. ABN Amro launched its Climate Change and Environment Index covering companies in renewable energy, water, waste management and biofuel. It plans to list its tracker certificates on the Index with the SGX next month. This is the first time I heard of tracking certificates, supposed to be similar to exchange traded funds (ETFs).

Will this attract local investors to invest money in environmental companies? I think it will, looking at the past popularity of water-related stocks on the SGX. Also, investors have seen increasing reports on climate change in the local newspapers, and the government going full swing into environmental R&D, funding and industry development. Green is the IN colour.


ABN AMRO launches environment-based index, seeks SGX listing

by Jeana Wong, Channel NewsAsia

27 March 2007

SINGAPORE: Singapore retail investors may soon be able to invest in socially responsible companies.ABN AMRO is launching a new equity index that tracks the stock performance of listed companies involved in addressing climate change and environmental needs.The bank said demand for investment products related to businesses in water, renewable energy and biofuels is on the rise.Growing awareness of environmental issues and government legislation will help to drive growth in the environment sector.

Click here to read the full article

Read Mar 07 27 March , 2007

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Some books that I read this month:

The End of the Wild by Stephen M. Meyer

Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America by Giles Slade

Trash by John Knechtel

Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis by Jeremy Leggett

Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century by Alex Steffen

What’s Inside Your Laptop? 23 March , 2007

Posted by eugene in 2 Improve Awareness & Knowledge, 6 Use Rights as Citizens & Consumers.
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Read this interesting article, “What’s Inside Your Laptop?“, by PC Magazine. It explores the world inside the laptop, including the toxic chemicals and the different countries involved in making parts of the laptop.

One concern is the release of the toxic chemicals when the laptops are not disposed properly or when laptops are exported illegally to developing countries and manually “recycled”.

Another concern is the transportation involved in shipping different parts of the laptop across countries. Globalisation has enabled the shipment of parts from any country that can produced them at the lowest costs. The shipment of parts across countries just to make one laptop may cause more carbon dioxide emssions, as it is reported that emissions from shipping are twice that of airlines.

Climate Change and Singapore 22 March , 2007

Posted by eugene in 2 Improve Awareness & Knowledge, 6 Use Rights as Citizens & Consumers.
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Bob Sargent, President of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), gave a seminar at NTU’s Environmental Engineering Research Centre this afternoon. His seminar is on “Water Resources in a Changing Climate – What are the implications of climate change for Singapore’s water infrastructure?”.

In his seminar, he summarised the findings from the recent IPCC report and the Stern Review report. He also gave a summary of what might happen to the region around Singapore in the 21st century, including reduced total rainfall, increased variability of rainfall and sea level rise of about 50 cm. He concluded with the consequences on Singapore’s water infrastructure, including the need to cater for variable rainfall, greater provision for storm runoff, and some low level reservoirs threatened by sea level rise.

In the Q&A session, he asked the audience what Singapore is doing to mitigate climate change but there was no response (although some PUB officers were present in the audience). Is Singapore doing something?

Read the National Climate Change Strategy consultation paper for Singapore’s plans to tackle climate change. Below are four suggestions that I submitted during the consultation process:

1) Using reduction in absolute CO2 emissions as a target instead of carbon intensity
A reduction in carbon intensity does not necessary mean a reduction in the amount of CO2 emissions. The problem of climate change is one of absolute concentration of CO2 and each country must reduce its CO2 emissions. Singapore’s per capita emission is one of the highest in Asia and is similar to some developed countries. Most developed countries (Annex 1 countries) under the Kyoto Protocol are required to reduce absolute emissions by about 5% below 1990 levels. Likewise, we should set a target of reducing our absolute CO2 emissions by 5%. I’m not aware of other countries that use carbon intensity as a national target.

2) Setting up of decentralised power stations using renewable source
The current centralised power generation and distribution of electricity is not that efficient as electricity need to be transferred at long distances to users. Decentralised power stations at selected locations could be set up using renewable sources to generate electricity. These power stations would serve localised users and increase energy efficiency due to shorter electricity transfer.

3) Ramping up the use of alternative energy
More alterantive sources of energy such as solar, wind, tidal and biomass should be researched and developed. The intention is not to completely replace oil and natural gas but to reduce our dependence on energy imports. We have our 4 national taps (from water import, reservoirs, Newater and desalination), similarly, we should aim for our 4 national switches (oil, natural gas, and 2 other sources). The cost of alternative energy might be higher now but we should also take into account the future price of oil given the security and climate change concerns. Besides considering the cost of doing something, we should also consider the cost of not doing it.

4) More emphasis on reducing energy consumption and wastage in buildings
There are 2 approaches to reduce energy usage and wastage in a building. One is by changing the System, eg. conducting energy audit, switching to energy efficient equipment, using motion sensors, etc. The other is by changing the Culture, eg. switching off lights when leaving the office, switching off computers and printers when not in use or when leaving the office, etc. Both the System and Culture must be done together to achieve a reduction in energy usage.

Some of my wishes have already been answered as the government recently announced plans to focus on clean energy research and also consider legislating Green Mark requirements on buildings. I hope that the government can also consider using reduction in absolute CO2 emissions as a target instead of carbon intensity.

E-Waste 13 March , 2007

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ban.jpg                                                        © Basel Action Network 2006

According to Today, the recent IT Show broke records with 718,000 visitors and sales of $48 million. We are buying more electronic products, whether we need them or not. Consumers nowadays are caught in a cycle where we try to keep up with the latest electronic gadgets. As companies come up with new products with more functions or upgrades, we change our electronic gadgets faster than we change clothes. Do we need the new gadgets in the first place? Are we buying the products because we actually need it or because the product advertisement says we should have it? It would be wise to consider the idea of sufficiency before buying. Sufficiency is about what needs to be done; enough and not too much.

As we buy more electrical and electronic products, it also mean that more such products are discarded. This is becoming a global waste problem, also known as the e-waste problem. E-waste contain toxic chemicals that will pollute the environment if not disposed properly. The export of e-waste from developed countries to developing countries on the pretext of recycling also poses environmental and health problems. Learn more about the e-waste problem from Greenpeace and Basel Action Network (BAN). The following video is a trailer of the documentary, The Digital Dump: Exporting Re-Use and Abuse to Africa, filmed by BAN.

Recently, a United Nations initiative, StEP – Solving the E-Waste Problem, was launched to develop a sustainable approach to e-waste. There are 5 task forces that focuses on policies, design for end-of-life, reuse and recycling infrastructure, and capacity building. The international initiative involves UN organisations, governments, universities and research institutes, and also industry players such as Cisco, Dell, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft.

Next time, think twice before buying another electronic product. Do you need it?

Singapore’s Splendour 7 March , 2007

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Chua Ee Kiam’s new book, Singapore’s Splendour: Life on the Edge, explores marine life in the intertidal zones, something that urban Singaporeans do not see often. Be surprised by the multitude and diversity of flora and fauna on our shores. Be inspired to see for yourself, go for a walk to those intertidal shores and learn.

” I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir

This book should be on the shelves of those people involved in the development of our coastal areas and southern islands. They need to realise that there is life out there, and the delicate marine life and habitats need urgent conservation, not destruction.

Endangered Species-Friendly TCM Labelling Scheme 2 March , 2007

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A voluntary labelling scheme was launched yesterday by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) and the Singapore TCM Organisations Committee (STOC). The “Endangered Species-Friendly TCM Label” will cover three endangered species – bears, rhinoceroses and tigers. By placing the red-coloured label at their shop entrance, TCM companies committ to not sell such products. Great work by Acres!


What’s that red label in the TCM shop?
Todayonline March 2, 2007
by Gracia Chiang

BY THE end of this month, the public will be able to tell if a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shop is selling endangered species products. Under a new voluntary labelling scheme launched yesterday, shops committed to not selling such products will place the red-coloured label (picture) at their entrance.

Click here to read the full article


Read Feb 07 27 February , 2007

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Some books that I read this month:

I Count: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Climate Bliss by Stop Climate Chaos

How We Can Save the Planet by Mayer Hillman

Five Regions of the Future: Preparing Your Business for Tomorrow’s Technology Revolution by Joel Barker and Scott Erickson

An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It by Al Gore

The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization by  Thomas Homer-Dixon

Green Oscars 26 February , 2007

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This year’s Oscars has gone green, announced earlier by Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio. With the help of the Natural Resources Defense Council(NRDC), the 79th Annual Academy Awards has included several environmental initiatives such as offsetting carbon emissions, promoting recycling and reducing waste, and using recycled materials. Read the details here.

In addition, Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, won the Best Documentary Feature and Best Music (Song) awards. This reflect the growing momentum of the climate change issue and its acceptance by the mainstream and not just the greens.

design: e2 25 February , 2007

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design: e2 (the economies of being environmentally conscious) is a six-part series narrated by Brad Pitt, that explores green design and how we can live greener with the future in mind. Podcasts and details of the series are found at the companion website.

The first episode, The Green Apple, was shown yesterday at 9:30pm on Channel NewsAsia with repeats on Sunday. It talks about how sustainable design can be implemented in buildings and architecture. Watch the short video podcast below for an idea of what was shown in the episode.

The Three Laws of Corporate Responsibility 23 February , 2007

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Some skeptics might be doubtful of a company’s self-proclaim corporate responsibility because a company’s responsibility is to seek maximum profits for its shareholders. If the company spends some of its budget or profits on social or environmental responsibility, does that mean that the company is not being responsible to its shareholders?  

The company is justified in spending on social and environmental responsibility only if it helps to improve the bottom line in whatever way. A company then spends on that not because it is being altruistic but because it hopes to gain something, which will improve their profits in the long run. There is no free lunch in this world.  

When a company does not practise environmental sustainability or pollutes the environment, it is not wrong because the company is an institution created by humans that does not take into account the environment. It is only concerned with making profits; it was created to do so. In his book, The Corporation, Joel Bakan described a company or corporation:

“As a psychopathic creature, the corporation can neither recognise nor act upon moral reasons to refrain from harming others. Nothing in its legal makeup limits what it can do to others in pursuit of its selfish ends, and it is compelled to cause harm when the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs. Only pragmatic concern for its own interests and the laws of the land constrain the corporation’s predatory instincts, and often that is not enough to stop it from destroying lives, damaging communities, and endangering the planet as a whole.”

Therefore, while we are getting more companies to embrace corporate social and environmental responsibility, we also need to examine how we define and regulate the company. Perhaps there should be some rules for companies on corporate responsibility, similar to the Three Laws of Robotics that robots have to obey in Issac Asimov’s science fiction books. The Three Laws of Corporate Responsibility could be:

1. A corporation may not harm the society and environment, or, through inaction, allow the society and environment to come to harm.

2. A corporation must practise corporate social and environmental responsibility, except where such practice would conflict with the First Law.

3. A corporation must maximise its profits, as long as such profit undertakings does not conflict with the First or Second Law. 

One of Two Possibilities 13 February , 2007

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This Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is one of my favourite. In just a few words, it points out what we are facing. Do we become smarter and take action to solve environmental problems in time? Or do we continue our ‘business as usual’ way and face the consequences?

These questions are especially true regarding climate change. The Kyoto Protocol is useless in tackling climate change and a post-Kyoto treaty is urgently needed. We have to be smarter and realise that the Kyoto Protocol is ineffective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions such that runaway global warming is prevented. Maybe British PM, Tony Blair, is able to push for the post-Kyoto treaty before he steps down. Like Hobbes, I’m holding my breath…

Developing Green Universities 8 February , 2007

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Would like to share an essay that I wrote for the Asia and Pacific Student Essay Competition on Sustainable Development.

“The first aim of education should not be to prepare young people for careers, but to enable them to develop a respect for life.” – Norman Cousin 

To develop sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific, there is a need to engage the public (government), private (companies), and people (public, students and non-governmental organisations) sectors. As a university student, I feel that universities can play a major role in developing sustainable development and doing its part for the environment. In my essay, I will explore how we should develop green universities. Let me begin with some questions. 

What is a green university? To be green is to develop a respect for life and to protect the environment as described in The Earth Charter – “Recognize that all beings are interdependent and every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings” and “Accept that with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and to protect the rights of people”. My idea of a green university is an environmentally friendly university with a strong green culture where management, staff, undergraduates, postgraduates and alumni are environmentally aware and do their best to reduce their impact on the environment, whether it is on campus or in their daily lives. After graduating, the alumni would still keep the environment in mind when making decisions at work and ensure that any projects would have no or minimal impact on the environment. 

Why should the university be green? Universities produce graduates such as government officials, architects, engineers, scientists, lawyers, businessmen and teachers. They hold key positions in society and their actions or behaviours influence more than others. Their decisions could affect the environment whether it is directly or indirectly, positive or negative, big or small. Furthermore, a university itself is a large institution with a big ecological footprint. Imagine its water and energy usage, the waste it generates, and the number of vehicles travelling through the campus. Therefore, the influence and impact of a university, its occupants and graduates on the environment are tremendous and far-reaching. As such, universities have a responsibility to be green. 

What are the benefits to the university? The obvious benefit is of course to the environment. For example, the university is able to reduce its consumption and wastage of resources, thus reducing its impact on the environment. Besides that, being a green university would enhance the reputation of the university and attract more foreign students. Also, the conscious use of resources would help to cut costs and keep expenses low. 

How does a university become green? To be a green university is not a simple task, the following are some recommendations that I hope would make the task easier. The recommendations should involve students playing a major role in the efforts to be a green university.  

First, develop an environmental policy in the context of a green university. The scope should identify all aspects of the university and the environmental impacts in terms of water and energy usage, and waste generated, and how to measure these impacts. This could be done through an environmental audit by existing staff in the environmental field or by students as a final-year project. This review process should aim to involve all the stakeholders where possible, including top management, staff, student representatives, alumni, suppliers, canteen and stall operators, etc. The draft policy after the review should be circulated to staff and students, and their feedback taken into consideration before finalising the environmental policy. The environmental policy is important in setting the direction and targets for the university. 

Second, ensure that the campus is environmentally friendly. The environmental audit done earlier would serve as a guide to identify aspects of the university that need to be rectified to ensure a more environmentally friendly campus. A good approach is to follow the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (in order of sequence). Reduce by not creating the waste in the first place. This means good planning to prevent wastage, switching to more efficient equipment, using durable materials to prevent frequent wastage, etc. Reuse by using resources several times or for another purpose. This means buying reusable materials, sharing of equipment, etc. Recycle by not disposing the waste. This means setting up recycling bins for depositing waste such as paper, cans and printer cartridges or selling them to used item traders so that the waste can be sent for recycling. In addition, the university should encourage the use of innovative green technology and green design on campus. It could also be the first adopter of green technology and serve as a test-bedding site for new technologies that would benefit the environment. 

Third, build a green culture by spreading the green message such that everyone is aware of it. This is one of the hardest steps in building a green university. Students should play a main role in spreading the green message. In the book, The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, he explores how a message can be spread and then tipped so that everyone is aware of it. There are some lessons that could be learned from his book – The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and The Power of Context. 

The Law of the Few says that a selected group of people are essential to spread a message. Students could be recruited to spread the green message but not just any student. We want students who know lots of people such as those involved in student groups or staying in hostels (Connectors); students who have good knowledge of environmental issues such as those in the environmental engineering, environmental management and geography courses (Mavens); and students who can promote and persuade others to adopt the green message such as those in the marketing and law courses (Salesmen). These selected groups of students would be in-charge of spreading the green message to their fellow students. With the support of the university management and staff, the students would organise innovative activities to spread the green message. 

The Stickiness Factor says that the content of a message should be personal and practical so that it can be remembered. The environmental policy should be made available to all students, and the green message should have clear, relevant and practical advices on what the students can do. For example, using both sides of the paper, recycling used paper and drink cans, switching off lights when leaving tutorial and lecture rooms, etc. State the benefits of a green university in terms of how the students can reduce impacts on the environment and cut costs, and the possible reduction in school fees, increased subsidies or more student welfare resulting from the cost reduction. It should be made clear to the students what they can do, how they can do it, and what benefits they can gain from their actions. 

The Power of Context says that a message may be tipped by small changes in context. Awareness on environmental issues and efforts to spread the green message can be incorporated into the context of the university education, which helps student understand that the environment is not something abstract and may be relevant to their daily lives or what they do in their future work. To increase environmental awareness, there could be compulsory courses on environmental awareness for first-year students, increased talks and seminars on the environment, and competitions for students to give suggestions on reducing wastage.  

Students could also be involved in spreading the green message through projects and case studies during their coursework. For example, Business students could be involved in projects to market the green message. Engineering students could be involved in projects to explore new environmental technology or improve the efficiency of existing equipment on campus. Science students could be involved in monitoring the ecology on campus and conducting surveys on environmental awareness. Arts and Social Sciences students could be involved in studies on the behaviour and psychology of green students, and how to increase participation in the green message. 

My last recommendation is for the university management to provide regular updates on the progress towards a green university and celebrate any success along the way with students and staff. This would help students and staff understand that their efforts can and will make a difference in improving the environment, and helping the university achieve the green university status. 

My vision is for universities in Asia and the Pacific to go green with environmentally friendly campuses, use of innovative green technologies and design, and a green culture apparent in its management, staff, students and alumni. Universities can and should go green because it is the responsibility of everyone to protect and improve the environment. 

“We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.” – Buckminster Fuller