Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Environment vs. Development - USA vs. Singapore

I couldn't believe that we were back in Newport again last night (even before I'm done writing about our trip)!

RG and I were there to attend a public forum regarding the proposal by a major energy company to build a big berthing and offloading structure for LNG tankers in the middle of the bay area.

There was a heavy downpour last night and we were half-expecting the turnout to be poor. To our surprise, the entire auditorium (of at least 300 seating capacity) was packed!

The speaker line-up was interesting. We had the CEO of the energy company, an environment advocate and a Newport tourism personnel. So, it was a 2-against-1 debate...which I felt was kind of a lopsided presentation of the issue. It would've been nice to bring in someone more neutral who could provide a much more objective view of the situation.

The audience too was lopsided. A poll was done and I'd say 95% of all who were present were in support of NOT having the LNG facilities build. Flyers were distributed which accused the energy company of profiting with total disregard of the environment (ok, the exact words on the flyer was "this company's middle name is GREED") and the quality of life of Rhode Islanders. There were people in bright orange t-shirts & stickers that read "Boycott (name of energy company)". I only wished I had brought my camera along with me to capture all these.

All the speakers spoke eloquently and passionately....of course, it was much harder to convince an already biased crowd of the economic benefits of the project. Whereas it was easy to tug at the heart strings of the audience by highlighting how potential environmental degradation can affect Rhode Islanders' quality of life, access to recreational resources and also of the need to protect the natural habitats of marine life.

While on very opposing sides, the discussions were kept very civil. No one raised their voices or pounded their fists (which was kind of unfortunate! =P) or start beating up one another, like what you'd often see at Taiwan governmental meetings.

I can go into a long discussion of the issue - environment vs development (I was a Geog & Econs double-major and I was very much into Environmental Geog/Economics!) but that's not what I want to do here.

I just want to point out several observations:

(1) How often have we come across open forum discussions in Singapore? And especially a forum discussion with such a speaker line-up (CEO pitched against environmental advocates or citizens of the country). For example, when our gahmen decided on Jurong Island....did anyone attend any forums or were allowed to have a say?

(2) Even if there are such forums to discuss environmental impacts on developmental projects....would we have a full house turnout on an extremely stormy night with no food/drinks for the attendees? I had been to forums with good turnouts in Singapore but they were mainly related to public transportation/housing/CPF issues which are much more pertinent subjects....I doubt the same big turnout would apply to forums related to environmental issues. Are Singaporeans/SG gahmen too lopsided on this Environment vs Economic Development issue? A clean environment does not necessarily equate to a GREEN environment.

(3) Last night's forum was to start at 7pm...and despite the heavy rain, no one was late! Majority of the audience were already seated between 6.30-6.45pm. In Singapore....if starting time is at 7pm, attendees will only start trickling in at 6.58pm as most of them are probably still woofing down their sandwiches and sipping coffee at the reception area. And even after the forum has commenced for a good half an hour or so, there'll still be people arriving - way late and causing disruptions to the proceedings. That was one of my pet peeves when I was doing event management many years ago (organising conferences/seminars for professionals/executives and TEACHERS!).

(4) Oh....and during the entire forum last night, not a single cellphone rang....and the MC didn't even have to remind the audience to turn off their cellphones!!!

(5) Many of the Americans are passionate about their beliefs and their hometown/country. And they'd go to great extend to demonstrate that. I saw T-shirts/flyers/stickers/banners being made to support their cause even though those things cost time/effort/money. And they'd stand for hours in the rain/cold/heat to rally for their beliefs. Would we ever see Singaporeans doing that in the very near future?

No comments:

Post a Comment