Enough soul-searching over what we lost in 2016, it’s time to lift the chin and face that bright sun of 2017.
In the words of the dearly departed, George Michael “I gotta have “faith” . . ”faith” ….”faith”. So with a gloomy political climate giving Europe and the US a chill and a Trumponian setback in the wider movement for a better world what’s there to look forward to?
Winning the battle. It’s as simple as that. We really can do it, no war was ever won without losing the occasional battle, so let’s not get disheartened with a few losses.
Alongside British-Cypriot crooner George Michael, another man with a message was lost on 23rd December with slightly less a fanfare. Dr Piers Sellers OBE, an astronaut and NASA scientist, head of the Earth Sciences division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
Though he passed away from pancreatic cancer in Houston just as we begun to celebrate Christmas, he did leave us with a gift. A remarkable one at that, considering his odds- the gift of boundless optimism.
If you haven’t yet seen the new documentary “Before the Flood” from National Geographic and Leonardo DiCaprio, I urge you to do so. Check out the trailer here.
Though there is much to worry us about the state of our environment and indeed the approaching end of his own life, Dr Sellers unintentionally became one of the stars of the documentary. “The odds are I won’t be around for very long,” he states matter of factly to DiCaprio. “That’s really motivated me to think about what’s important to do, and what can I contribute in the time I have left.” Amazingly, Sellers is incredibly optimistic. “I have faith in people. I really do have faith in people,” he says. “Let’s be realistic. Let’s find a way out of it. And there are ways out of it,” Sellers tells DiCaprio in the film “You know, if we stopped burning fossil fuel right now, the planet would still keep warming for a little while before cooling off again.”
His message is simple, don’t lose heart, keep the faith and follow the science. He’s not saying it’ll be easy but he’s giving us the shot in the arm we need. And you know what? He’s right. We’ve done it before. I recall as a young boy when CFC’s were the great threat of the day, back in 1985 the discovery of a hole in the ozone over Antarctica was a deadly reminder of our potential to cause environmental harm. But we met that challenge head on, in 1987 the UN led Montreal Protocol phased out ozone-destroying chemicals from everyday products. Since then researchers have found remarkable evidence of healing, since 2000, the hole has shrunk by 4 million sq kilometers.
Closer to home in Singapore, there is evidence we can meet seemingly impossible environmental tasks too. Singapore is famed the world over now for being clean, safe and a “fine” city but it wasn’t always that way, it used to stink like many an Indian city riverside at it’s most pungent. Realistically it took an entire generation under the tutelage of Lee Kuan Yew to change this.
Looking at the Singapore River as a case in practice, it used to be foul as recently as 1977. An estimated 44,000 squatters were living in unsanitary conditions in the vicinity of the rivers, both liquid and solid wastes from the food hawkers and 5000 vegetable vendors & markets poured into the river. In addition, 610 pig farms and 500 duck farms were still draining untreated wastes into the Kallang Basin.
But in the space of just 10 years more than 26,000 families were relocated from slums to high-rise public housing and all 4,926 food hawkers were relocated into the now famous food centres marking an entirely new episode of environmentally cleanliness.
You really wouldn’t recognize that story today amongst the gleaming bars, chiseled concrete and laboratory- like sterility of the place.
So yes, the challenge is big and yes, we have much to do but the feature is bright, because we have endless ingenuity, gut and resolve to meet our biggest tasks head on.
Cheers to 2017 and building a better world.
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy for the river clean up vital statistics:
Science mag for the stats on the ozone: