The People in Crisis: SG Climate Rally 2021 Recap
Two years after Singapore’s first climate rally at Hong Lim Park, which saw a turnout of 2,000 people, the national conversation on climate change has significantly improved, but not much has changed in terms of actual policies.
Our world is still on track for a 2.4℃ warming, while COVID-19 has only exacerbated and highlighted the inequality and poverty faced by millions across the world. Global leaders and politicians have continued making meagre promises to avert the climate emergency while ignoring the voices of the most vulnerable, as demonstrated by the recent COP26 conference that took place in Glasgow, Scotland.
But as the climate crisis persists, so do the people.
SG Climate Rally 2021: The People in Crisis was held over Zoom and broadcast live on Facebook on the afternoon of Sunday, 5 December. Despite it being a virtual event, attendees held up their placards that bore messages such as “Just Futures For All” and “We must put Planet over Profit”. The two-hour rally saw speakers from a diverse range of communities, and heard speeches on the following topics: Health, Housing and Climate, Communities and Climate, Labour and Climate and Arts and Climate. There were also interactive open-mic segments where members of the audience stepped up to share their responses to the speeches and their thoughts on the climate emergency. In addition, the rally featured performances from singer-songwriter duo Benedict Tan and Sam Driscoll, rapper-producer Ash (aka. ashisdead) and local band Subsonic Eye.
If there was one takeaway from the rally, it would be this: The climate crisis isn’t just an environmental issue. It is an economic, political and social one, and it requires a solution involving the voices of the entire nation.
A Just Transition
To understand a simple concept of environmental justice — one of the main themes discussed during the rally — we can look at the subject of air conditioners.
To some, these are a basic necessity — switched on when it gets hot at home, present in the places they go to for leisure. We’re in Singapore, after all, located in the sweltering, one-seasonal equator. But for others such as Marlina, a rental flat resident and speaker at the rally on Sunday, it’s a luxury she cannot afford. As the world warms, she and others in her neighbourhood risk increased chances of skin diseases, respiratory issues and a higher water and electricity bill.
Meanwhile, wealthy industrialists and rich businessmen travel above the clouds in their air-conditioned private jets, making plans for the next big oil drilling escapade or deforestation project. Or, they could be sitting in their offices in Singapore, investing in projects that further the environmental degradation in Myanmar even while the political crisis is going on. Bianca, an energy and sustainability researcher and member of the Burmese diaspora in Singapore, cites this as a clear example of “profit over people”.
Marlina and Bianca’s communities are only two among the many distressed by environmental destruction. Liyana, who spoke at the rally about her past experience with homelessness, shared about how she and her family would occasionally take longer bus rides in the effort of escaping the burgeoning heat waves in Singapore. Only later on did she realise that the harsh conditions she braved were a product of global warming.
And it is only expected to get worse. Experts predict that Singapore could experience its first 40℃ day somewhere in between 2045 and 2065. For those whose work may require them to be outdoors, the rising temperature poses serious threats to their wellbeing. Migrant workers such as Zakir, who spoke as a member of his community on Sunday, are an example of those who would be made vulnerable by the warming atmosphere.
The consequences of global warming extend beyond healthcare-related issues, as Firdaus, a fourth generation Orang Laut, expressed in his speech. For indigenous communities, the climate crisis could destroy not only their livelihoods, but also their cultures and traditions.
Clearly, the climate crisis is a social problem in addition to being an environmental one. It disproportionately impacts low-income groups, indigenous people and workers — including those who, ironically, work in hydrocarbon industries. K Karthikeyan, Executive Secretary of the United Workers of Petroleum Industry, shared that while the union recognises a need to shift away from fossil fuels, it must be done so in a way tat ensures successful transitions to greener jobs, so that workers can continue supporting themselves and their families.
As Liyana had earlier asserted, “We must ensure that vulnerable communities are empowered [and] well-protected” in the fight against climate change.
Not only that, these groups of ordinary citizens must be seated at the table — listened to, consulted and actively involved — during the decision-making process tackling the climate emergency. And so should you.
No More Top Down
“This is your fight as much as it is mine, as much as it is ours. Zakir is the people, Liyana is the people, you are the people and we are the people,” our closing speaker, Kristian, announced in his speech for the rally on Sunday.
The climate crisis is the defining event of our time, and it will affect everybody living on this earth. Perhaps you may not be too aware of it now, apart from some unusually hot days, weeks of heavy rain, or the increasing number of news headlines reporting global natural disasters in recent years. It would be wise to remember, though, that your air-con cannot save you forever.
Just look at the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Paul Ananth Tambyah, an infectious diseases physician and professor of Medicine, linked the bat-transmitted disease to deforestation and wildlife habitat loss. The threat of emerging infectious diseases is only expected to grow as urbanisation and economic development progress. To quote Fiachra Ross, a participant of the rally who spoke during the open mic segment, “the climate crisis is at the apex of a series of compounding issues rooted in capitalism”.
So come the necessary questions posed by Terese, who represented NTU Divest in her speech at the rally: “What happens when the systems we are in reward maximum consumption, profit hungry production and hence planetary destruction? What happens when the system is complicit in driving one of the world's greatest crises?”
The answer: People Power.
“It is only when we stand together. It is only when we collectively say enough is enough, that our institutions will feel compelled to take action,” said Kristian in his speech. He cited the 1959 general election, in which the support of the masses brought the PAP to become Singapore’s first truly Singaporean government. Moreover, the 2019 Hong Lim Park rally organised by SG Climate Rally, with its massive turnout of 2,000 Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, led to a heightened focus on the topic of climate change during the 2020 general elections. Jeanette, who spoke on behalf of LepakInSG during the rally, also pointed to the recent successful petitions to protect the Clementi and Dover forest as an example of people power and its effectiveness.
For a just future, conversations and solutions must come from the bottom up, centred around the diverse communities and individuals that make up Singapore. In fact, Dr Wan Rizal from the People’s Action Party recommended us to “come forward and share with [the town council sustainability champions]” our ideas for taking action against the climate crisis “so that [they] can bring them up for [us] and influence policies”. Louis Chua from the Workers’ Party also urged us to “keep up the good fight, and continue to hold [our] leaders accountable”.
“The climate crisis is not a crisis of the future. It is the crisis of the here and now,” said Fiachra Ross in his open mic speech. Indeed, only one question remains: Which side of history do you want to be on? The people, or the profit?
If you missed the rally and would like to receive a live transcript of it, or if you wish to help continue expanding the movement, please fill in your details in this google form. We have also drafted an open letter summarising the key demands from the rally. Please help to write to our ministers with an urgent call for a bold, multi-ministry response to the climate crisis. You may view the recording of the rally here.
Our work does not stop here. We will continue to build a broader and more inclusive movement that bridges multiple communities, and push our government to truly address the multiple challenges of the climate crisis in a fair and equitable manner.