The Role of Culture in Conservation

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Culture can be utilized to further conservation efforts. Cultural information evolves and shapes our behaviours which transcends across generations. If we have a culture that increasingly emphasizes ecologically-friendly values and behaviours, it could possibly lead to a sustainable future. The store of knowledge that we have can be increased to accommodate sustainable development that both meets our needs for today as well as future generations. This idea is taken from the World Commission on Environmen and Development (WCED, 1987) which conceptualized “sustainable development” as:

“…paths of human progress which meet the needs and aspirations of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

According to Gardner and Stern (2002), several scholars argue that there is a “discrepancy between human Stone Age genetic predisposition and limits and space-age conditions of life may be playing a major role in the environmental problems that new threaten human survival”. Hence, it is seen that we are on one hand being influenced by our genetic/evolutionary make up on certain behaviours and on the other we possess great knowledge to conquer our environment.

Perhaps, a possible solution is to reshape our culture to enhance the value in which we place on sustaining our environment that moves away from anthropocentrism.

The Green Corridor suggests that we are indeed in the process of this shift where it highlights how people attempt to revert development and human interference back towards the preservation of nature. While this may seem small, its actions and attempts is a huge leap forward in terms of conservation of natural environments. Education, knowledge and activism have to be active to change the mind-set of the majority.

I firmly believe that it is a good start and change towards adopting sustainable development. As once of my professor at NTU once mention to me “It only takes a few people to change the world and always have been”.

References:
Gardner G.T. & Stern P.C. (2002). Environmental Problems and Human Behavior. Boston, MA. Pearson.
Estes, Richard J. (1993). Toward sustainable Development: From Theory to Praxis. Social Development Issues. 15(3): 1-29.
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Hierarchy of Causes

tree-hugger
(Image Credit: fistfuloftalent.com)

Is there a hierarchy of causes? Yes I firmly believe so and people do perceive thus as well. I used to intern for an NGO which dealt with Tuberculosis in Cambodia and I met numerous expats there during my stay. I met one person with whom I mentioned that I worked for an NGO, he immediately said “you’re some tree hugger?”  I felt a sense of indignation (although that notion is intentionally degradatory – and somehow this word is not in the dictionary but I swear it exists {to me at least}) but I realised that the notion of fighting for an environmental cause may not be valued equally to (for example) pandemics.

There is a perceived hierarchy of causes even though it may not be substantial; as who to place a value on life, be it human, animal or even plant? Nonetheless, if we can place it on a hierarchical plane, we will be able to unanimously come to the same conclusion. Conservation today seems to be the least urgent matter is a reality of today when we have the outbreak of Ebola, or long-standing pandemics such as HIV-AIDS, Tuberculosis, Cholera and so on that plagues society.

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Ethnography of a Residential Neighbourhood: Toa Payoh Town Park

I am sharing this paper that I have conducted with a friend of mine at Toa Payoh Town Park which will be good to highlight the ways in which parks in Singapore are being used.

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This article investigates the importance of green spaces in urban cities. Access to green spaces or nature is identified as a fundamental human need (Thompson, 2002) where these parks also functions as a public space contributing to the quality of life (Chiesura, 2004). Inhabitants of urban cities are seen to have benefitted from ‘nature’, attaining wellbeing in both emotional and psychological dimensions. This study is conducted in Singapore should be deemed essential due to its overwhelming urban areas coupled with active government initiative to include green spaces. The allocations of some land for community parks are merely to justify the government’s ‘conquest’ of the environment (Savage, 1997). A survey conducted locally indicated that both beaches and green spaces were identified as important features for quality urban living (Henderson, 2013). People living in Singapore will have to make do with the little ‘nature’ that they have, which is man-made.

This article has 3 primary goals, related to the usage of parks and its essentiality to quality of human life. (1) Identify the activities within the park and the demography of the users; (2) to look at the interactions within the physical settings and study the patterns of the usage; (3) learning from the microinteraction and patterns, we will attempt to draw links between the importance of ‘nature’ parks and urban areas that interacts with city-dwellers in their daily lives.

Setting and Methods

Our site of ethnographic investigation is based in Toa Payoh Town Park (TTTP), a central place that is flanked by residential flats and the Toa Payoh Stadium. The demography of Toa Payoh as compared to other districts has nothing in peculiar with only a relatively larger elderly population. Visits were conducted on three separate occasions varying across different timing, capturing a good spread of differences in TTTP’s usage.

Participant-observation and interviews were conducted within the premises of the park. Upon entering the premises, we locate ourselves by the sidewalk enables us to view the network of interactions in the parks and take notes on the demographical and physical layouts before conducting deeper investigation. After gaining exposure to the site, we looked at the varying groups and small pockets of participants, writing on our notepads the types of interactions, relationships and activities that were taking place. On one occasion, we ventured around the premises of TTTP towards the stadium to gather additional information on the choices made between exercising in the park and stadium tracks.

Alex and Edson approximately carried out 10 to 15 interviews, requesting additional information from participants. Numerous unstructured interviews were conducted, but this report will only present some interviews relevant for the purpose of this research. Interviews were recorded in secrecy as private information was not inquired. Recordings were taken to ensure that note-taking will not pose as an intrusion to the interview process.

Using ethnographical understandings of the physical setting, body language and interviews, we will discharge our analytical considerations for our given objectives; exploring green spaces as a place for human well-being, interactions and activities.

 

Research

The utility of TTTP varies across the different days and time but nonetheless, certain consistency can be observed. Across the three visits there are always people utilizing the park, consuming food, conversing and exercising. Group interaction usually numbers around of 2-10 people. Those alone are usually there solely to exercise. Many other users are seen to be merely passing through the park, on foot and bicycles. A variety of different ethnicity and age-groups are present but also taking into account higher ratios of foreigners to locals relative to national average. Interactions across the varying groups of people were non-existent. Most kept to their groups as the layout of the park enables personal spaces that was non-communal.

Foreigners were usually gathered in groups and were for social interactions such as dating or gathering. Activities of the foreign workers centred on consumption of food and conversing amongst friends. They are sparsely spread out across the parks based on the locations of sheltered areas. Particularly, some were seen seated on mats under shaded areas. Many of these foreign workers were also seen to be taking pictures at more scenic spots of the park. Locals on the other hand were more likely to be engaged in activities such as cycling, jogging and organised activity groups rather than treating TTTP as a place to converse and interact.

The following section will show excerpts from two interviews that were conducted in TTTP to illustrate the differing views and utility of the parks and user frequency. Interviewing a Singaporean male jogger in his fifties about his usage of the park:
“Yes, I come here at least 3 times a week for a run. There is nothing to do at home except to watch television; it is good to come out here once in a while for some fresh air.”

“Do you feel closer to nature when you are using the park?”

“Yes I do, that is why I come here but this is not really good as compared to the older days. But this is the best there is around now. No choice.”

From the short exchange as seen from the interview above, we note that he comes to the park for some “fresh air” and to feel “closer to nature” yet noting that he makes a comparison to the past which was seen to be better. From the words “no choice”, he resigns to the fact that parks are the closest option to nature which he has to accept as there are no alternatives. The park can be seen as a venue to gain fresh air, away from offices, home and malls which dominate the lives of Singaporeans. When we asked a local male in his thirties why was he alone in the park taking pictures, he explained:
“Oh, actually this is my first time here. I just dropped off my son for some classes and I have some time to burn, I usually spend my time in the HDB Hub but last week I drove pass and saw this place, quite pretty that is why I came here to take some photos.”

“How long have you been sending your son for classes in this area?”

“The last 6 months.”

Our exchange with him shows that the park may be a site of interest only if one has the “time to burn”. This is also further supported by the occupancy of parks as associated with the differences between weekends and weekdays. There are considerably more people on the weekends and during off-work hours. Furthermore, we can understand that the park may only serve as an alternative to the commercial areas and town centers for the second interviewee since it is only after 6 months that he decides to explore the park.

The initiations made towards these individuals have come to elucidate the differing conceptions about green spaces in Singapore. Some utilize the parks as it is the closet option easily available to them, while others see it as a form of alternative which is secondary to their daily lives, relegated time-fillers that they had. Many foreigners utilize the park as space to demarcate a private space for friends to interact without disturbances and pressures to spend. An interview with a Malaysian male in his twenties seated alone in the park revealed that he was there mainly to avoid interaction at his rented apartment, thereby showing that the park may also serve as a place of anti-interaction.

Extending beyond active users of the park, we observed many just passing through the park, using the shortest distance to get to the Town Center. Taking the shortest route implies that it is only by necessity that they in the park. In the afternoon, some of these passer-by were carrying umbrellas, where the weather is too hot to enjoy nature comfortably.

 

Analysis

Our investigation reveals that green spaces are to be conceptualized as an alternative place from the usual trappings of urban life. The interactions that take place in the parks are therefore not in any way interactional across groups, but are only confined within already existing groups. We posit that the park is merely a replication of the structures of society that continues to breed the segregated interactions between social groups. The relegation of foreign workers towards public spaces like TTTP could also be due to the lack of spaces in Singapore to experience facilities that does not intrinsically force one to spend. Therefore, parks remain as one of the few public places to escape the consumerist lifestyles that are all-pervasive in Singapore.

Nature can be seen to be secondary to commercial zones that dominate the landscape of the island. Many have contended that it is a nice change from the daily affairs wherein it implies that ‘nature’ as we normally see it may have been reversed with urban centers. We posit that ‘nature’ in its normal conception is to be no longer associated with green landscapes but towards commercial towns. This association of the inverse relations of ‘nature’ seems to penetrate more towards locals based on the ratio between foreigners and locals within the premises of TTTP and the activity-type. In today’s world, many younger generations of people are born surrounded by urban landscapes where access to nature may be minimal. This notion will force us to rethink about the way in which nature plays a part in our daily lives. Perhaps the ‘need’ for nature can be fulfilled by small parks with synthetic ponds which will require further research into the shifting attitudes of urbanites towards nature.

Bibliography
Chiesura, A. 2004. “The Role of Urban Parks for the Sustainable City”: Landscape and Urban Planning,68, 129–138.
Joan C. Henderson. 2013. “Urban parks and green spaces in Singapore”: Managing Leisure, 18:3, 213-225
Savage, V.R., 1997. “Singapore’s Garden City”: translating environmental possibilism. In: G.L. Ooi and
K. Kwok, eds. City & the state: Singapore’s built environment revisited. Singapore: Oxford
University Press, 187–202.
Tan, Leon a. H. N. 2009. ““Community in Bloom”: local participation of community gardens in Urban Singapore.” Local Environment 14(6):529-539.
Thompson, C.W., 2002. “Urban open space in the 21st century”: Landscape and Urban Planning,
60 (2), 59–72.
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Types of Parks in Singapore

Parks in Singapore
(Image Credit: GoogleMaps)

There are various categories Singapore categorizes its parks which can be classified according to:

  1. City and Heritage Parks
  2. Community Parks
  3. Coastal Parks
  4. HortPark and Southern Ridges
  5. Nature Parks
  6. Offshore islands
  7. Riverine Parks
  8. Singapore Botanic Gardens

While there are many types of parks all across Singapore as seen in the image above, are Singaporeans really utilizing it? I did an ethnographic research a year ago in collaboration with a course mate on Toa Payoh Town Park (Community Park) which revealed the usage of parks.

If you are interested to know more about local usage of parks, do follow the post entitled: “Ethnography of Residential Neighbourhood: A Case Study of Toa Payoh Town Park”.

 

 

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Altruism vs Egocentrism

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(Image Credit: theoneinpink.com)

Does altruism pay? Pro-environmental behaviours are said to be offering a lack of advantage to oneself or own kin and hence, such behaviours of personal sacrifice likewise offers no comparative advantage (Gardner and Stern, 2002). Although situations are best when everyone acts altruistically, individuals who act egoistically will gain and because of that, an individual will logically act egoistically despite the fact that it may cause everyone to suffer as a result of egocentric behaviours (Axelrod, 1984).

This idea seems highly true today where we act daily (despite our knowledge) without much concern of our environment. I believe all of us lie in a spectrum of unnecessary wastage and not-so-environmentally behaviours. Undeniably, in our society of high mass consumption, people are actually rewarded by consuming resources. The larger engine capacity of our cars is pride and awed upon as opposed to a green car. The high capacity for spending and consumption is what we strive for. This to me is a major dilemma for today and the disjuncture between consumption and conservation is probably the biggest challenge and the very first step towards a substantive approach to protect the planet. An inversion of value could bring about a change in the way we value our material world.

References:
Axelrod, Robert (1984). The evolution of Cooperation. United States. Basic Books.
Gardner G.T. & Stern P.C. (2002). Environmental Problems and Human Behaviour. Boston, MA. Pearson.
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Zizek on Green Capitalism

Yet another post my favourite critical theorist Slavoj Zizek who speaks of Green Capitalism, which is the trend of capitalism today. Below are some excerpts from the 4 minute video:

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Zizek – “What is really difficult for us to accept is that we are reduced to the purely passive role, sometimes, of an impotent observer who can only sit back and watch what his fate will be. To avoid such a situation, we are prone to engage in frantic obsessive activities, recycling paper, buying organic food, or whatever just so that we can be sure that we are doing something…I cannot resist the urge to do something even if I know it is ultimately meaningless…When we are consuming a product, we are simultaneously doing something meaningful, demonstrating our capacity for care and global awareness, participating in a noble large collective project.” 

*The Starbucks Logic*- while Starbuck’s coffee are more expensive, the idea is that parts of the profits goes to various causes worldwide. 

Zizek – “In other words, the logic is the following one and in a perverse way I like it. The logic is, in the old days, we were consumerists and then we felt bad and if you wanted to pretend to be an ethical being you had to do something to counteract it. But the offer here is we make it simpler for you. We make the product, you can remain just the consumerist because your altruistic nature, solidarity is included in the price.”  

Hence, Zizek highlights notions of a person’s psychology and capitalism. Embedded within Capitalism today is the idea that it can alleviate the divergent notions of being an altruistic pro-environmental (or other issues) person to a consumer. Hence, this also highlights that although education may provide awareness of environmental issues, it nonetheless may be difficult to operate within the consumerist culture or within capitalism. Human activities are centred upon consumption which has evolved to enable us to feel altruistic or pro-environment by buying a green car or recycle. Yet, nonetheless, we are still consumers but consumers with a conscience despite the fact that it could be baseless and that our clear conscience which could actually be more environmentally harmful.   

Video Link for Slavoj Zizek “The Delusion of Green Capitalism”:

Image URL:
http://www.losefectos.com.ar/zizek-con-subtitulos/

 

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Local Singapore Gags Post about Environmentally –Friendly Behaviours

 

Eco Sgag 

I just chanced upon a post on Facebook by Sgag and decided to pen some thoughts down. This post is somehow telling about environmental consciousness in Singapore society. A remark made by a following person, Kim said this: 

 Opinion on Sgag

It is an interesting take Kim has on the issue and I would have to agree with him that social/community sense of belonging to the environment needs to be improved over here. We often see recycling bins around neighbourhoods being underused. Singapore lacks pro-environmental habits when have already began to be enforced in other countries. Well, for example paying for plastic bags in some European countries. Nonetheless, the willingness to make a small individual sacrifice or inconvenience in itself may be an even greater barrier. As noted by Kim above, “…but at least so it when it is not going to cause any inconvenience to you” also further illustrates that Singapore society will have to improve and take on environmentally friendly behaviours more pro-actively. Notwithstanding, I am also highly guilty myself. Perhaps a more systematic change to societal norms and values could help to shape individual actions in the future. 

References and Image Credits: 
https://www.facebook.com/sgag.sg/photos/pb.378167172198277.-2207520000.1414599797./1040621885952799/?type=1&theater

 

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On Ecology by Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek is one of my favourite contemporary philosophers where he is known as the “Elvis Presley” of philosophy. He often brings new and radical insights to various problems in the world today. Below is a link to Zizek’s documentary “Examined Life” where it shows a 10 minute clip about Zizek’s opinions about ecology.

In the short clip, Zizek firstly contends that the idea of ‘nature’ does not exist where ‘nature’ is seen as organic, balanced, harmonious and reproducing; almost like an organism, which is then disturbed by human interference. ‘Nature’ to Zizek is on the contrary, a series of catastrophe.  

Secondly, ecology today has become the new opium of the masses. Zizek draws links between ecology and religion whereby ecology takes over the role of conservative ideology which is a general distrust of change, such as issues regarding biogenetic developments, DNA which is deemed as ‘too much’ for it will disrupt nature. That, he contends is ecology today. 

Third, in our technological and artificial environments are alienated from natural environments and that we should keep to our roots with nature and not merely exploit it. The paradox Zizek then raises is that we all understand the problems of the environment today with global warming and climate change et cetera but yet we do not act upon the impending disasters. He claims that there is a disavowal; which means “I know every well but I act as if I don’t know”. Yet despite knowing that the things around us are in danger, we are not able to believe in it as we are not evolutionary to image a catastrophe in that magnitude. As such, Zizek being his radical self, states that the solution here is to cut off even more of our roots in nature and we need more alienation from nature and become more artificial. 

“The difficult thing here is to develop poetry and spirituality in this dimension; the love for trash itself. Love is not to idealize but rather, to accept it with all the failures and nonetheless it is still absolute for us. Seeing perfection in imperfection itself; that is how we should love the world. 

Till ecologists love all of this”: 

Vis-trash
(Image Credits: http://www.visibletrash.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Vis-trash.jpg)

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Naturally Green: Harnessing Stone Age Psychological Biases to Foster Environmental Behaviour: Summary and Thoughts

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(Image Credit: www.intellectualtakeout.org

A few months back I read a journal paper “Naturally Green: Harnessing Stone Age Psychological Biases to Foster Environmental Behaviour” by Mark van Vugt, Cladas Griskevicus and P. Wesley Schultz which highlights the efficacy and the vast potential of utilizing evolutionary psychology to motivate behaviour change and apply it to the range of our current environmental problems. By applying psychological knowledge, it will bring about closer associations between the behavioural sciences and natural/environmental sciences to solve contemporary environmental issues. The evolutional approach as proposed in the paper highlights two main notions; firstly, evolutionary mismatches and “stone age” adaptive psychological biases and secondly, ways to manage self-interest for the common good.  With these concepts of evolved human nature, we are able to better conceptualize responses that effectively cultivate behavioural changes to enhance adaptive responses and therefore alleviate environmental problems. 

The paper highlights 5 Stone Age biases which aided human survival needs such as; self-interest, immediate rewards, relative status, social imitation, disregards imperceptible consequences. Empirical evidences have anchored these biases as having strong influences on decision-making, it is related to how we evolved as a species, and it is important to understand environmental behaviours which will also provide opportunities for intervention on environmental issues. 

Based on the above knowledge foundation, intervention for environmental issues should adopt those principles and counter it with a set of policies and guidelines which is more effective in attaining environmentally sustainable behaviours. Ultimately, the evolutionary perspective suggests interventions that will utilize human evolved sensory mechanisms to motivate and change current environmental behaviours. After all, the human species were never once the ecological noble savage as previously believed. 

The insight gathered from the paper is not without its limitations as acknowledged. Critics of behavioural sciences often cite these notions of “patterned” behaviour reduce man to the level of a conditioned animal. While behavioural sciences like these are empirically sound, and may alter behaviours on an aggregate scale, I will contend that there is nonetheless a need to develop a dimension of providing an ideological dimension; to propel society to develop environmentally-friendly habits.  This idea is anchored on the notion of sustainability. To be sustainable, the system needs to reproduce itself and ideology is more apt in its ability to reproduce behaviours and actions; arguably better than policies or regulations. It is no contention that targeting and manipulating behaviours is effective in alleviating some environmental problems. However, it may not drastically alter the way in which we perceive and consume within our contemporary capitalist global economy. 

Despite the philosophical thought, I nonetheless firmly believe that our current environmental problem requires a multi-disciplinary approach, which tackles both individual actions and institutional changes. We need to rethink the way we relate to our environments; to perceive ourselves as part of the eco-system and not merely viewing the environment as a resource. 

References:
Vugt, Mark van, Vladas Griskevicius and P. Westley Schultz (2014). Naturally Green: Harnessing Stone Age Psychological Biases to Foster Environmental Behaviour. Social Issues and Policy Review. 8(1): 1-32. 
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The Last Train

 What interested me initially to my topic of The Green Corridor was because it attempts to revert human impact and direct attention towards the natural environment while preserving history. I was not going to view the relationship between nature and human activity as a dichotomous relationship and The Green Corridor was a great exemplification as such. It shows that if we can change the view that nature is a resource and adapt to include nature in our living choices a more sustainable future may be possible. 

The Last KTM Train
(People bidding farewell to the last KTM Train: Image Credit to: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/st5iXWVvDmA/0.jpg


“The Last Train” refers to the last train for the KTM line in Singapore and is adapted from a short video by Ryan Jafarzadeh. 

Video Link for “The Last Train”:

The video shows people gathered along the railway tracks to view the last KTM train pass through. It was a significant end to a part of history for Singapore which began its operations in 1903. While it may have heralded in the end of the track’s operations, it began a whole new different life. Since the tracks closed, a surged of interest in the railways began. Efforts were made for its preservation as a moment in history and for its rustic natural feel. 

Readapting the KTM line to The Green Corridor shows how it is possible to redevelop nature back into human landscapes. While there have been instances of massive tree logging activities related to the construction of roads and railways in the past, perhaps situations like The Green Corridor in Singapore could possibly be a way re-adaptation of human developments back again with nature. This is definitely a positive trajectory to take and hopefully, future developments for human activities will always take into account the natural environment that we are also a part of. 

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