Monday, 19 August 2019

Coping with Climate Change in Singapore

[I began drafting this post some months ago, maybe even since late 2018 after the IPCC released its report of October 2018 for policy makers. What I got from the report and other commentaries on it, was that Climate Change was coming, all the talk and discussion about ameliorating or moderating the impact of climate change was just wishful and wistful thinking: Climate Change was happening, and NOTHING humans can do would avert it. Hoping SOMETHING we do MIGHT avert or just moderate the impact of climate change was wishful optimism not based on reality.

So, do we just roll over and die? 

Of course not. 

But what would Singapore need to do?

This was what this post was supposed to address. 

There was a lot to cover. I was... ambitious.

Then the National Day Rally 2019 happened. 

And PM Lee addressed some of the more immediate issues. 

Anyway, this was what I had drafted before I heard the NDR 2019:

So, Singapore is taking notice of Climate Change. Now.

There are, I think, three ways to deal with Climate Change.

First, DENY. DENY. DENY. Then you don't have to do anything.

Second, REPENT. REPENT. REPENT. Then you do everything to try to make up for the indulgent and wasteful lifestyles we have been living in an effort to arrest or reverse Climate Change - Give up Meat! Stop using Plastic! Drive Electric Cars! Install Solar Panels! Turn off your Air-con! Recycle! Recyle! Recycle!

At the end of it all, the world may still go to hell, but at least you will be saved... or at least feel morally superior. And smug.

Third, accept that climate change is... like Thanos, inevitable. Well, by now it is inevitable, it is coming. So, how shall we deal with it?

But *IS* Climate Change irreversible? Is there really nothing we can do to stop it?

Here is a video explaining why it is too late:

But let the IPCC report speak for itself:
"Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air."
NET carbon dioxide emissions must FALL BY 45% by 2030. Cut our emissions by almost half? In just over 10 years from now? So think about your daily life. Everything you do that has carbon emission or a carbon footprint, just reduce it by half.


If you say yes, you are... optimistic.

Here's why it's not likely or even possible.

There are about 1.4 BILLION people in China. China produced over 9000 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2015. That's a lot. but divided by their population, the per capita emission is 6.6 tonnes per person. USA with about 330 million people emitted almost 5000 tonnes of CO2. Or over 15.5 tonnes per person. 

China with over a billion people are just beginning to enter middle-class and to enjoy the comfort and luxuries it brings. When they do, they will be using electric heaters, hot water, air-conditioning, air purifiers, the internet, and private vehicles. LOTS of private vehicles.
[There are} 260 million or so US... vehicles... China has over 300 million motor vehicles since 2017.
[or] over 900 cars per 1000 population [in the US]. China only has 231 cars per 1000 population. [Now.]
They have room to grow. In 1990, there were less than 6 million vehicles. This grew to 16 million in 2000, 90 million in 2010, and now 300 million.
How many will China have by 2030? If they were to keep to just half the US per capita ratio of 900 vehicles per 1000 people, it would still be about double the numbers today. Or over 600 million vehicles. The US could give up ALL 260 million vehicles they own, and it would not make a difference to the Earth. In fact it would be worse.
And even if by some miracle, the Chinese stopped buying cars, they still need electricity for their TVs, refrigerators, computers, internet, washing machines, etc. The rising middle class will need energy to run their modern conveniences.

So, how to half our emissions by 2030?

There has already been too much CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. Even if we STOP emitting CO2 COMPLETELY. TODAY. The climate will still change. Because Feedback loops (or cascading effects) (watch the video below).

Which makes the next question interesting, but largely irrelevant.

The above video ("Who should pay to fix climate change?") assumes (optimistically) that climate change is "fixable" or can still be reversed, or at least stopped or slowed.

The first video shows evidence that it is irreversible (or some degree of climate change is already irreversible), and inevitable.

Of course, you can disagree. Or hope that this is not true. Or hope that things can still be fixed.

Good luck with the hoping!

(Because, "hope" is not a strategy.)

If, however, you accept that Climate Change is irreversible, then what should we do?

[I was trying to make the point that Climate Change is a Tragedy of the Commons issue. It is EVERYBODY'S PROBLEM. So everybody should try to solve it, but everybody have their own priorities and pressing issues and addressing climate change is not completely within any single person (or group of persons') control. Say every Singaporean recycles, reduces their carbon emission, and more than meet our commitments to the Paris Accords. But China doesn't. It wouldn't make a difference. We would have suffered the inconvenience and made the sacrifice to reduce carbon emissions, with no discernible impact n climate change because others did not meet their commitment.]


That's one option.

But Singaporeans are pragmatic people.

First, problem analysis.

What is the problem with Climate Change?

1) Temperature rises. By about 3 C. Maybe more.
2) Sea level rises. Some estimates, by as much as 4 m. Maybe more.
3) Shortages of various critical supplies - water, food, and energy

So what should we do?

Well, to adapt to rising temperature, we will need resources, and one resource that we absolutely will need in abundance, is energy.


A major cause of greenhouse gas emission is the generation of power. About 2/3 of the global emission is due to energy generation using fossil fuel.

Singapore is energy challenged. We use Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to generate about 95% of our energy (electrical) needs. While LNG is less polluting than other fossil fuels, it still emits CO2. If we want to significantly reduce our CO2 emissions, we need a cleaner process of generating power.

No. Not solar or any of the other renewables.

Short answer, solar and wind are too diffused to be viable energy sources. We'll need an unacceptably large amount of land (estimated at about 300 sq km) for solar or wind farms to generate the power we require.

No. The cleanest and most feasible solution is Nuclear Power Plants.

And yes, your conditioned fear of Nuclear already have you reflexively rejecting this solution.

Thomas Friedman in his book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" points out that the world is addicted to the Dirty Fuel System - i.e. Petroleum and other fossil fuels (coal).

What the world needs is a clean fuel system.

Solar and Wind just does not have the energy density to meet our needs. It is unreliable, and it usually harms the environment.

And Nuclear Fusion is still decades away. Some say 30 years. Then they snicker.

Nuclear Fusion will be the ultimate clean energy. It would be solar power in a box. It would produce 4 times as much power as Nuclear Fission Power Generator, and would have almost no radioactive nuclear waste.

But we haven't got the technology yet.

So for now, what we have is Nuclear Fission Power.

The strategy is to switch to Nuclear Fission Generators for the next 30 - 50 years. By then scientist and private enterprise may well have worked out the secrets of Fusion power.

But if in 30 years, Fusion Energy is still 30 years away, Thorium Molten Salt Reactors should be commercially available from the Chinese. That should keep us going for the foreseeable future or until Fusion really arrives.

Another approach is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR).

As for Nuclear waste, Thorium reactors will burn their fuel more efficiently and produce less waste and the waste that is produced will only need to be stored for 300 years. In any case, Nuclear energy production is the only form of energy production where all the waste is contained. All other forms of energy production vents gases into the environment.

There are some promising innovation (or potential innovation in Small Modular Reactors (SMR, see video below). These are fully self-contained, turn-key modular nuclear power generators with passive (walk-away) safety features. Passive safety means in the event of an accident and there is no power, the nuclear power plant will safely and automatically wind down. Instead of requiring intervention to stop the nuclear reaction, the new generation power plants will be designed to require intervention to keep the reactor going, and in the absence of human intervention, the plant will safely shut down.

SMRs can also desalinate water and that would be pertinent to SG, now and in the future. Being smaller (300 MW capacity),  we may need quite a few modules, probably on a satellite town basis (e.g. one for Ang Mo Kio, one for Clementi, Bedok, Sembawang, etc.). The video suggests that the first commercially viable SMR may be ready by 2026. But then again, there are many predictions that SMRs would be ready within a few years... a few years ago. So who knows.

The problem with nuclear power is Nuclear Fear. We have been conditioned to fear nuclear power, and accidents like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima reinforces these fears. Which is addressed in the next video.

And a Clean Energy System is necessary to 1) stop emitting carbon into the atmosphere and so stop contributing to climate change and global warming; and 2) power all the systems we will need to survive a warmer Earth.

We need Nuclear Power. But the problem is not the safety of nuclear power. The problem is the reputation (undeserved) and fear of nuclear power. The problem is how to change people's perception and fear of nuclear power.

Put the nuclear power plants on water?

Nuclear power on ships is nothing new. The US navy has nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers. The Russians have nuclear powered submarines too.

And in the video above, China is building a nuclear power plant on a ship (non-military) that will be ready by 2021.

For land scarce Singapore, a floating nuclear power plant may be the answer. And also in case the sea level rises.

[The first problem is not to make the problem worse. And the biggest source of carbon pollution is the combustion of fossil fuel for energy generation, transport, and travel. There has been a lot of hope place on Renewables. But Renewables are a Scam. They make promises like politicians. Renewable Energy (Solar, Wind, etc) have other hidden issues and problems. The most feasible solution is one that has a PR issue: Nuclear Power. PM Lee did not mention this in part because it is not yet a viable solution. But it will be and then the issue would be overcoming public fear and misconception of nuclear power.]


Even before our water agreement with Malaysia ends in 2061, it may be that the Johor River would no longer be able to supply raw water to us. Climate change has lead to the Linggiu Reservoir running dangerously low on water several times in the last decade. This is almost certainly going to get worse as Johor's demand rises even as supplies are reduced due to climate change.

And if sea levels rise, some of our reservoirs may be compromised.

Our water security has been purchased with our energy security. NEWater and desalinated water are both energy intensive. We can treat these sources to potability because we have the energy to spare. If some of our local catchment (reservoirs) are compromised, we would have to rely more on NEWater and Desalinated water.

Which is why we need Nuclear power. The Thorium MSR can also be used to help desalinate water.

On a related note, for a country that has tap water that surpasses all health standards, we are ridiculously "addicted" to bottled water. In 2015, we spent $134 million on bottled water. Of which more than half were sourced from Malaysia. And not from some natural springs. Most are just filtered tap water.

The problems with bottled water are
1) They are 1000 times more expensive than tap water.
2) They come in a disposable plastic bottle. If each bottle of 500 ml bottle costs just 50 cents, the $134m we spent would be equal to about 260 million bottles.
3) The bottled water needs to be transported, most likely by trucks (lorries if you prefer), from Malaysia to Singapore. This adds to their carbon footprint. In contrast, tap water comes from your tap and has just a fraction of a percent of the carbon footprint of bottled water.
But back to our need to replace the water from Johor, and perhaps some of our reservoirs if rising sea levels compromise them. What this means is that we will need to rely on energy-intensive process - water-reclamation (NEWater), and desalination.

If sea level rises by 13 m, the Johor River Water Works would also be at risk if not actually compromised.

[The point is if we have to rely on recycled and desalinated water, we will need a reliable and clean source of energy. Which is Nuclear.]


Singapore is already trying out polders at Pulau Tekong. This way of reclaiming land from the sea using less sand and may be more viable, as sea level rises.

However, the other issue is acutally whether sea level rises will threaten our coasts and land. We have spent the last 50 years reclaiming land from the sea. But now, the sea may reclaim land from us.

There are several possible scenarios and options.

The first is to build polders/dykes/and seawalls to hold the seas back and keep our island dry. How feasible is this? I cannot say. If the sea levels rise is only moderate (say, less than 2 metres?) polders may be viable and feasible.

Is this possible? Can so much of a country's land be poldered? Well, the Netherlands did it.

Another possibility is to put new buildings on stilts. Which would be great for new buildings. But what about existing buildings? The Seattle option may be applicable for existing buildings. As the waters rise, what is now the ground floor, will be abandoned to the waters, and the level (2nd or greater) that is above the water level will be the new "ground floor".

Lower levels of buildings will need to be "water-proofed" or prepared to be submerged on a permanent basis.

A third option is to designed buildings to float. They can then be anchored like an oil rig and Singapore has experience building oil rigs. However, I am not sure how viable this option is. Another option is to build floating platforms. We have been using one for years, though it is rather small. We would need to scale it up to the size of a neighbourhood or precinct.

[I was surprised and glad that PM Lee addressed this issue and explained the various means by which SG would tackle flooding/sea water rise in various parts of SG. The need for a second pump building at Marina Barrage for example is a simple and elegant solution, but those pumps will need power to run. 

It was also informative to learn that polders will need to be continuously drained/pumped dry. This may be a way to introduce Small Modular Reactors to power the polder pumps. Solar power would be too unreliable for such a critical purpose. So we would have to use SMRs which would be able to power the polder pumps as well as households in the area.]


Climate change will affect crops and food production. Regions ideal for certain crops may no longer be suitable for those crops, though the region may still be used for other crops. But it would be likely that as the agricultural landscape changes, there will be turmoil and shortages as crops fail and farms try to adapt to new climate conditions, and "secured" sources of food are unable to meet their obligations to SG. Also crop failures and shortages would affect other countries and they may turn to areas which are still productive, and demand for food would raise prices.

[I had only drafted this post up to this point. What follows was drafted after NDR 2019.]

Singapore thus needs to produce our own food. We already produce about 27% of our eggs. Can we produce more?

We currently provide about 10% of the vegetables we consume. There is a push to make that 30% by 2030 ("30 by 30") by using vertical farming, hydroponics, and other technology to raise yields.

We have frog farms, some fish farms, and I believe a crab farm, however, all these are very small contributors. Farming for animal protein is problematic for land scarce Singapore. We have fish farms and the provides about 9% of the fish we consume. Quite a ways from being self-sufficient.

I doubt that we would ever have a cattle-beef ranching industry. And chicken (and poultry) rearing in HDB flats are disallowed. One idea is rabbit farming, but we don't have a culture of eating rabbits. (Rabbits are quite, clean, doesn't require a lot of space and so are deemed suitable for urban farming. Also it has a low carbon footprint.)

But it's meat is very lean, so I don't see rabbit Char Siu on the menu in future.

Heat and Humidity

Tropical Singapore is already Hot and Humid. And with climate change, it will get hotter.

And we are already facing Urban Heat Island effect. This would make Singapore unbearable to live in (or on).

Without air-conditioning.

But air-conditioning makes humidity and heat (outside) worse!

Well, if we have clean energy (Nuclear), at least using the AC wouldn't lead to more carbon emission. however, the air-conditioning process produces heat. And adds to the Urban Heat Island effect. You have seen a whole row of AC units outside flats and apartments. What if there is central, more efficient AC system?

The two Domes at Gardens by the Bay are experiments in more energy efficient cooling. But it doesn't seem to be scaling up. I have no idea why.

Perhaps another solution is to deal with a problem. If a new cooling system could distil atmospheric humidity, it could supplement our water supply even as it cools our environment, rather than discharging the water as waste (just look at any air-conditioner when it is working).

What now?

Well, what I find hopeful is that PM Lee did not try to use Climate Change to proselytise on recycling, reducing the use of plastic, etc. He didn't come up with 10 things you can do to stop climate change. He took it as a given - that it was happening, it will happen, and we will have to deal with it the best we can. We have reclaimed land from the sea, and now the sea wants to claim it back.

We need to say, "no". Firmly and effectively.

There is a lot to be done. But if we are to do it, it helps that we are rich enough to do what needs to be done.

No comments: