Our Hazy Future

I guess I’m wrong.  I tell people in America that Singapore is a boring place.  We never have earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, or volcanoes.  We have no snow, ice or hail, and the only bad weather we have to deal with is humidity.  We enjoy good boring weather.

I forget that from time to time, we get overwhelmed by the weather changing activities of our neighboring country. Of course, our complaints are “childish”, all we have to do is to give them the money to fight the fires and all will be well, right? If you believe it, I have a piece of swamp land I like to sell you!

As Singaporeans scramble to get face masks, our national leaders scramble to persuade our neighbors to more neighborly behavior.  Singapore is a small country. We are incapable of strong action.  Let’s be realistic about this.  The pledge of our leaders express their good intention rather than actual ability to effect change in the behavior of our much larger neighbor.

The smoke we face is bad, for sure.  I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but I would like to suggest we put things in perspective and see that there is a greater threat than smoke from forest fires.

I am not an alarmist by nature.  I did not rush out to buy gold for security.  I did not think year 2000 would plunge us into chaos. I did not think the Kohoutek comet or the Hale-Bopp comet would end the world. And more recently, I was totally unconvinced that a sequestration of spending by the American government would be a fiscal cliff, and it was not even a bump. But I am concerned about the effects of global warming.

Projections is that the world will be warmer by 1.5 to 5.3 Celsius (or more).  The sea level is expected to rise from a few centimeters to 25 meters (and of course some predict even higher). From what I read, it appears Singapore is prepared for a rise of up to 59 cm.  If the sea rises 25 meters, we will be in big trouble! It is difficult for any nation to build sea walls or raise it’s land to compensate a rise in sea level by 25 meters.

I wish I were more knowledgeable on what to expect.  Would it be a sea level rise of less than 60 cm or 25 meters? If it will be 25 meters, many countries will disappear.  There will be a global refugee problem.  There will be wars fought over land and freshwater.

Again, I am not an alarmist.  I am just very limited in my knowledge, and I would suggest that experts can also be sensationalistic.  For instance, I will assume the global warming will be at the scale that is predicted, that is, up to about 6 degrees Celsius.  One scenario will be the melting ice at the polar caps, water expanding in volume when heated, etc, and the sea level rise by 25 meters. A different scenario is that the currents carrying warm and cold water will cease, and beyond a certain time, the hot temperature will cause the Atlantic heat conveyor (Thermohaline Circulation) to slow or stop, bring about a new ice age, or extreme cold and heat.

The options we have before us are: (1) a fundamentally similar world that is hotter by up to 6 degrees Celsius with a rise of sea level that is less than 60 cm.  (2) The same temperature rise resulting in a sea level rise of 25 meters. (3) A temperature rise leading to a global cooling that follows. (4) A temperature rise that leads to cooler poles and a hotter equator.

Perhaps the only scenario Singapore is incapable of handling is #2, a dramatic rise of the sea level. According to some even scarier estimates, the whole of Singapore will be under water. Will Singapore be rebuilt to survive below sea level?  Will Singapore relocate (like the people of Kiribati who are in the process of relocating)? Will there be global and local conflict over land and freshwater?

Now think of our haze.  There is no denying the haze is highly disruptive.  But our future is truly hazy.  Our current haze will pass.  Let us pray for wisdom to discern the truth from the false assurances or the alarmist scares about our future as a nation in light of global warming.

One persistent question folks ask is why there is so much suffering in the world, and so much evil.  “Why doesn’t God stop the evil people?” While it is not right to place our incendiary neighbors in the category of people who do great evil, the principle is the same.  One important reason why people suffer is the free choice other people exercise that result in suffering.

Some jihadists decided to kill innocent bystanders because they chose to do so.  Their free choice resulted in the suffering of the innocent.  The Japanese invaded many countries in Asia in WW2 and caused widespread death and destruction with untold suffering.  They were exercising their free choice to do evil. A drunk chose to drink and drive and in the process struck and paralyzed a teenager for life.

Much (not all) of our suffering result from our God-given privilege of free choice. This is a right he has given humankind, and does not retract it when it is abused.  God does not retract the free choice of Indonesians because we don’t like the pollution they cause.

Where we stand as Christians is to recognize that we too have the free choice to address the problem. We can choose to equip ourselves better to handle the haze.  I notice the barely effective masks most Singaporeans wear.  Can we not protect ourselves better? I also notice that our air-conditioning does not handle pollution.  We need to consider air purifiers in our homes.

Peter Eng

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