What is our limit?

What is our limit?

Monday, October 26, 2015


For the past few blog posts, we have explored the causes of climate change, the effects, the little actions we can take to keep from Earth from warming more than 2 degrees, as well as the influential environmentalists whom deserves our attention. Today, i will be talking about an effect of climate change that people normally neglect and forget about - the rise of heat related illness and disease due to climate change.

Temperature rise not only affects our environment (eg. aquatic animals and plants), it affects humans as well. This 'effect' does not encompass us sweating more due to warm weather or the weather fluctuations we experience due to climate change. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths due to heat-related illness. Recalling the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed about 20-35 thousands of people, scientists have claimed that the extreme weather was largely due to climate change, blaming the rising sea temperatures as well as other factors such as unusual conditions in the tropics. As average global temperature increases, such heat waves will definitely become more frequent, more intense and would last for a longer period of time. Human exposure to extreme heat can pose serious consequences such as heat stroke, heat rash and heat cramps. This is definitely a warning for us to take action to mitigate climate change.

What is the first disease you think about when we discuss about heat-related diseases?
For me, it has to be dengue fever, a prominent illness in Singapore due to the warm weather and humid levels. The Singaporean Government has done its part in raising awareness about dengue fever as well as how to prevent it. For other countries especially sub-saharan Africa , malaria is a disease that impacts many, especially vulnerable children and pregnant women.

Warmer temperatures allow disease-carrying insects, animals and microbes to have a higher chance of survival, even in regions where it was unable to survive before. Global rise in temperature increases the spread of  diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Often, such heat-related diseases have no cure and can only be reduced through prevention moves.

Climate change not only impacts our environment, it also impacts us humans. It is hard for us to turn our heads away from climate change, especially with its strong impact on us and our precious flora and fauna. It is not too late for us to take action now, for Earth to be warmer by less than 2 degrees.

Till then,
Mu Rong

Physicians for social responsibility (2015 )Climate Change is a Threat to health: Heat-related illnesses. [Online] Available on: http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/climate-change/results-impacts/heat-related-illness.html

The Nature Conservancy (2015) Climate change impacts: Heat-related illnesses and diseases [Online] Available on: http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/urgentissues/global-warming-climate-change/threats-impacts/human-health.xml

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Coral Reefs need our help!!

In 2013, I had the chance to go to Lombok, Indonesia with my family and relatives. It was a very relaxing vacation, where we would just stay in the villa to chill, or go out to the private beach to play. It was a very memorable experience because it was my first time going to such a rural place in Indonesia. Shops on the streets were rare, street lamps were scarce and the roads were very bumpy. The route to the villa on the dark streets of Lombok still remains impactful to me today.

I also had to chance to go snorkelling with my family; it was not my first time apparently because my parents mentioned how i was very daring with ocean waters when i was young and had previous experiences of snorkelling as well. This time however, i do remember swimming with the fishes, looking at the coral reefs and exploring the sea bed. I would have to admit it was quite a terrifying experience because the snorkelling gear were very unfamiliar and the seabed was so vast it looked never ending and thus..scary. The tour guide even pointed out this abandoned ship that was left on the seabed (which i was obviously very terrified of as i let my imagination run wild).

But the experience of having electric blue, orange, yellow fishes swimming with you in the ocean was great! The coral reefs were also magnificent and beautiful, which brings me to my topic of today: coral reefs.

Coral reefs, though it only takes up 0.1% of the seabed, is actually home to 25% of all ocean species. They are an important species to the ocean ecosystem. For example, the larvae of tuna start their life cycle by living in coral reefs.
But how has anthropogenic activities affected coral reefs? Globally, we are witnessing coral bleaching spanning the tropical Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans due to rapid rise of temperatures. Specifically, with rise in temperatures, corals will expel the algae living within them, called Zooxanthellae. These algae living within the corals are not only responsible for the bright colours of corals, but also provide energy and nutrients for them.  Without them, the corals are bleached and will also starve and die.

Experts also predict that if ocean temperatures continue to rise at such a rapid rate , then thousands of hectares of corals will be affected within a few months, and by 2050, we might lose all our corals. We also have to take note that corals are exceptionally susceptible to extreme and rapid fluctuations of temperature, and adaptation of these species can take place only when the pace of climate change is slow.
An image of bleached coral reefs

Save our beautiful corals and do something about climate change now!
It all starts from simple actions such as switching off your lights and reducing your use of plastic bags and plastic straws. Recently, i'm also cutting down on doing take-aways so as to reduce disposables and you could do that too! I believe that small things like these can make a significant difference. You could also participate in activities that help the environment such as tree planting.

P.S/ Sign the Ben & Jerry's petition for climate justice at this link :) i'm actually really glad that such a big company is doing its part to promote action for climate change, in view of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference COP 21.  (It will only take 10 seconds of your time)

Signing off,
Mu Rong


Erik Van Sebille, The Guardian (2015) Coral reefs are not just pretty - they are vital to life [Online] Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/11/threat-to-coral-reefs-climate-change [Accessed: 17/10/15]

Lesley Andrew (2013) Bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef [Online]. Available at
http://climatecommission.angrygoats.net/wp-content/uploads/Coral-reefs.jpg [Accessed: 17/10/15]

Zach Pontz (2015) Why did these colourful coral reefs shock scientists? [Online] Available at http://media.fromthegrapevine.com/assets/images/2015/6/Colorful%20coral%20reef.jpg.824x0_q71_crop-scale.jpg [Accessed: 17/10/15]

Friday, October 9, 2015

Dying to save the Earth

Just ended my tutorial related to the environment, and so many thoughts are overwhelming me as to how some people can do so much for the environment, to a level which i doubt i can ever reach. I mean, i really respect everyone who does a part to save the environment - friends who are currently vegetarian and trying to turn vegan (!!!!!) and friends who care so much for the environment that they make an effort to not use disposables deserve so much of my respect. And here i am, claiming that i am an environmental student, but doing things that i possibly can control but can't be bothered to control,  and yet these things that i 'don't bother to control' may possibly cause harm to the environment.

But anyways, after seeing and hearing about all the efforts my professor and BES course mates are doing, i will make a pledge. A pledge to cut down on disposables  such as plastic straws & plastic bottles, and a pledge to cut down my consumption on meat such as beef which causes greenhouse gas emissions.

On a side note, today's topic will be on environmentalists who have died fighting for action against climate change. I was deeply inspired by stories of Chico Mendes and Dian Fossey, both being figures which have been discussed in my lessons, and have been very prominent people who stood up for the environment, and sacrificed their lives in the process of it.

In a short summary, Francisco Alves Mendes Filho, in short Chico Mendes, was a rubber tapper. Under pressure by ranchers who were going to cut down trees in the Amazon rainforest, he stood up against them and fought for the Amazon rainforest to be preserved. However, though his intentions were good for the environment, there were others (loggers, ranchers etc.) who thought otherwise. He was assassinated by a rancher not long after his 44th birthday, on December 22, 1988.

Dian Fossey on the other hand was someone who strongly opposed to poaching and ecotourism of gorillas, a species that she had spent time doing extensive research on. She established the Digit Fund so as to raise money for her conservation and anti-poaching. However, she was murdered in 1985, a case which still remains a mystery till today.

I also did some research on a particular environmentalist, Obede Loyla Souza, who was also killed after trying to protect the Amazon forest. According to guardian, Souza had an argument with loggers who were trying to extract wood in the Amazon rainforest. The act of harvesting wood in that region filled with Brazil's nut trees was illegal. However, though the group of loggers could have been dangerous (which they later proved to be), Souza remained firm in his decision and fought with the loggers in hope to stop them from illegally extracting wood from the forest.
He was then killed outside his home in Brazil. It was one of the many murders that occurred to environmentalists over land use and logging in the Amazon Forest. Threats from ranchers, loggers and farmers have also been made to many activists so as to prevent them from speaking up.

Though Obede Loyla Souza was not as influential and popular as Chico Mendes in terms of his anti-logging acts, he proved to us that anyone can make a difference to our environment. He was just a regular and ordinary citizen, just like us. It also shocked me that many environmentalists are being killed because they want  to save the planet - aren't these environmentalists doing it for us, and for the future generations -our kids, our grandsons and granddaughters? There is nothing fundamentally wrong with environmentalists speaking up for the environment - so why are people harbouring evil thoughts on these people? I guess governments, companies and other individuals have to realise how inspiring all these environmentalists were, for they are making an effort to make a positive impact on the Earth, unlike most people who are only concerned about their personal comfort.
I am just hoping for the better, hoping that all these murders and threats will not deter people from speaking out for Mother Earth. One day, i hope i'll be as influential as these people, and that more activists, especially in Singapore, will speak up in view of the rising environmental movement

P.S. / Thinking of whether i should symbolically adopt a tiger from the WWF organisation ( though i would really really like to physically adopt a tiger hahaha). 

Till then,
Mu Rong

Gorillafund.org,. 'Dian Fossey -- Biography - The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International'. [Website].  Available from : http://gorillafund.org/dian_fossey_bio Accessed on 9 Oct 2015

the Guardian,. 'Peasant Activist Shot Dead In Brazil's Amazon Region'. N.p., 2011. Website. Available from : http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jun/15/peasant-activist-killed-brazil Accessed on 9 Oct. 2015.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A video and an article a day keeps what away?

Hey there, it's the start of my recess week (holidays!!) but it also means that my research essays are due soon and my mid terms are going to haunt me once the holidays are over.
This week, i would be sharing with you a video that i chanced upon while doing project work for one of my modules. 

This is a video that was particularly interesting to me as it allowed me to catch snippets of nature that were so high definition it made me feel like i was at the scene itself. It also briefly summarised what the current impacts of human on our environment are, and how we can seek to reduce such impacts. In it, you can see images of humans polluting water bodies with plastic, deforestation, plants releasing industrial emissions etcetera. In particular, the scene where the elephant was trumpeting and where the polar bear was jumping into the sea was especially mesmerising and impactful. Overall, i felt that this was a very interesting video that should be shared to my fellow readers!

This week, i also chanced upon an article titled ' The Volkswagen emissions explained'. This issue was only raised this week, and this article by The Guardian is basically a breakdown of how Volkswagen cheated their emissions test by making its cars appear as if it is releasing far less emissions than what it really will be when it is on the roads.

 The US Environmental Protection Agency discovered that 482,000 VW diesel cars on American roads were emitting up to 40 times more toxic fumes than permitted - and VW has since admitted the cheat affects 11m cars worldwide.
The impact of this cheat is no doubt a significant one, with levels of harmful emissions into our air much more higher as what we thought it to be. This also highlights the prevalence of companies prioritising profit goals over environmental goals, and raises ethical issues as to how companies, even influential ones like Volkswagen, are cheating their way out of environmental regulations. This is despite that fact that harmful emissions like this that can cause climate change and is one of the major causes of damage to Earth's ecosystems. Even with that, companies stay regardless and irresponsible for their own technology, even manipulating facts so as to get their products on the market, as shown by Volkswagen.

Read the article by clicking on the URL below!

Till then,
Mu Rong

Monday, September 14, 2015

What is our carbon footprint?

This week, i chanced upon a book that proved to be an interesting read - 'How bad are bananas' by Mike Berners-Lee in 2010.
(Retrieved from Google images)

Basically, the book gives readers a sense of the carbon impact of everything we do and think about, or rather a carbon instinct. He mentioned that the average UK person currently has an annual carbon footprint of around 15 tonnes (which is equivalent to 15 thousand kilograms worth of carbon). I thought that this book was rather insightful and hence for this post, i'd cover some of the more interesting activities that he has mentioned :)

  • Drying your hands

Zero CO2 letting them drip
3g CO2 using an Airblade
10g CO2 using a paper towel
20g CO2 using a standard electric drier

Ever wondered how you should dry your hands after visiting the public toilet? A hand dryer or a paper towel ? As you can see, a hand dryer that produces heat emits double the carbon emissions as compared to a paper towel. The reason why a standard drier produces comparatively more carbon emissions is because it always take up a lot of energy to heat things. Personally, i'd just wipe it on my clothes :p

  • A plastic carrier bag
3g CO2 with very lightweight variety
10g CO2 with standard disposable supermarket bag
50g CO2 with heavyweight, reusable variety

That would actually be 2.5kg per year if you use five standard bags per week: about the same as one large cheeseburger. 
Better alternatives that can function as a plastic bag are rucksacks, wheelie baskets, or reusable bags (that has to be efficiently used and not be disposed of easily)
  • A paper carrier bag
I always had the impression that paper bags produce lower carbon as compared to plastic (ever since Mcdonalds started using paper carrier bags instead of plastic ones), but it turns out that i was wrong. The paper industry is actually highly energy intensive. In fact, if we were given a choice between plastic and paper, the plastic one is a better alternative.

12g CO2 if recycled and lightweight
80g CO2 if it is an elaborate bag from mainly virgin paper as supplied by many clothing retailers

The author also mentioned that unless we recycle our paper bag, it is likely to end up in the landfill, where it will rot and emit more CO2 and even worse, methane. Typically, there will be around 500g of greenhouse gas emissions per kilo of paper buried.

  • A shower
90g CO2 ( 3 minutes, efficient gas boiler, aerated shower head)
500g CO2 ( 6 minutes in a typical electric shower)
1.7kg of CO2 (15 minutes in an 11-kilowatt electric power shower)

If you have high-carbon shower habits, there could be half a tonne per year to be saved here - equivalent to a return flight from London to Madrid. Apparently, an aerated shower head helps to make less water feel like more. In theory, it would help to save water and carbon without you having to forgo any comfort.

  • Burger
A burger actually produces much more carbon emissions than what you think - think twice before you eat one!!

1kg CO2 for a veggieburger
2.5kg CO2 for a 4-ounce cheese burger

Animal produce tends to be more carbon intensive than vegetables and grains because animals consume a lot of energy just to keep themselves warm and move around. Beef and dairy farming also poses a problem as cows, like sheep, are ruminants. These animals give out methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than CO2. 
Demand for meat also provides an incentive for deforestation because it raises the demand for grazing lands.

(Retrieved from http://sustainontario.com/wp2011/wp-content//uploads/2011/01/Hughes-Steven-Food-.jpg 
(Unfortunately there is a discrepancy of the numerical quantity between the picture and the book, but i hope the picture gives you a clearer picture of how much carbon emissions the production of a burger gives off)

That said, maybe we should all turn vegetarian ??? haha just kidding, i can't turn away from meat just yet...but i guess i'd cut down on my beef intake from now onwards .. 

  • Leaving the lights on
90kg CO2 on a low-energy bulb for 1 year
500kg CO2 on a 100 watt incandescent bulb for 1 year

Having an average of one bulb turned on unnecessarily at any one time is almost certainly quite common - some people even sleep with their lights on because they are scared of the dark! As for public places such as toilets, i suggest that we invest in better technology such as the automatic light sensor to reduce such wasted carbon emissions.

And exactly how bad are bananas? You'll have to read the book yourself to find out! 
Till next time, 
Mu Rong

Mike Berners-Lee (2010) How bad are bananas? Great Britain. Profile Broks LTD.

Friday, September 4, 2015


When we talk about air pollution in Singapore, we often think about the massive haze we experienced around June 2013. Many of us were decked in masks and there was a rapid increase of demand for air purifiers. The incident was impactful to me as the Ministry Of Education had announced that if the Pollution Standard Index continue to be at hazardous levels, school would be cancelled. (Which also meant that our exams in July would be cancelled) Everyone around me - students of course- was thus hoping that Indonesia will continue burning forests and the haze would continue.

These are some of the viral pictures i saved into my photo album during that period of time : 

However, we were probably part of a minority that treated the series of air pollution as a 'joke'. As i have already briefly mentioned, the 2013 Southeast Asian haze was caused by large scale burning of land in Indonesia and Burneo. The practice is also called 'slash-and burn', an agriculture practice which involves burning down forest and woodlands to make space for land. This leads to my topic for today; deforestation. Below is the set of definition i acquired from World Wild Life organisation. 

Deforestation is the conversion of forest to another land us or the long-term reduction of the tree canopy cover. This includes conversion of natural forest to tree plantations, agriculture, pasture, water reservoirs and urban areas. 

Stop and think. How do forest impact our daily lives? Most of our newspapers, tissues, wooden tables, medicine and cosmetics etcetera come from the forest. Yet, over the past 50 years, about half the world's original forest has been lost. Consumerism and human's desire is exactly the reason why we are losing our forests at such a rapid rate. In order to satisfy our needs for fuel, for wood products, and for land, we chop down forests and disregard the impacts to the eco system and to the environment. Another reason why deforestation occurs is due to agriculture. Similar to the 2013 Haze, farmers practice 'slash and burn' in order to provide land for their crops or grazing livestock. 'The world's rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation.' 

Have you ever thought about how deforestation would impact climate change? 

Forests act as natural carbon sinks; they are a massive source of carbon-dioxide capturers since photosynthesis would allow them to take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is extremely important as we are all aware of how carbon dioxide is one of the main green house gases that is causing climate change and global warming.Yet, we make the situation worse by burning down forests, which itself releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With fewer forests to act as our carbon sink, climate change will only occur faster and deadlier. 

What could we do, however, to stop deforestation as individuals? Perhaps we could tackle the idea of consumerism, to cut down usage of wood products (as well as plastics as mentioned in my previous post). But another idea is that we could ensure forest environments still remain intact even after we cut them down. By planting trees in place of those trees we cut down, it reduces the carbon footprint and promises sustainable living for our future generations. I see it as a viable option and i think the idea of planting trees, not only in once-forested areas, but in new land areas, is a good way to address the problem of deforestation! What do you think?

Ending my post here, bye!!  :)


Bradford, Alina. 'Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects'. LiveScience.com. 4th Mar 2015. Web.

National Geographic,. 'Deforestation Facts, Deforestation Information, Effects Of Deforestation - National Geographic'. 2015. Web.

Naware, Rucha. 'Forests, Climate Change And The Role Green Giants Play | Stories | WWF'. World Wildlife Fund. 07 july 2015. Web. 

'Deforestation' | Our Earth | Forests |WWF. World wildlife Fund Global, 2015. Web.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Plastics and the environment

Just a few days ago, while scrolling through Facebook, i chanced upon a video that caught my attention. You could just watch a few seconds of the video and you'd get the gist of it. [Personally i couldn't watch the entire 8 minute video as it was too cruel and gruesome to watch.]

This video left me speechless - and it also serves as a wake up call to not only me but to the others who have watched this. Plastic pollution is unnecessary and harmful to the environment such as marine creatures, which  also leads to my topic for today: How plastic can actually influence climate change.

Firstly, the reason why plastics is such a popular material today is due to the characteristics that it possesses. Cheap, easy to produce and versatile, plastics also do not allow water to pass through it.
Plastics are very prevalent in our lives today. Think of grocery shopping, our cups, our disposable utensils, our food packaging etcetera. However, few have thought of the implications of plastic usage,  and more specifically how it would affect the environment negatively. 

"An estimated 12 million barrels of oil are used to manufacture the 30 million plastic bags that Americans use each year." Plastic bags are mostly made up of polyethylene, a byproduct of petroleum and natural gas.  Moreover, when decomposition of plastics take place, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere, 

Hence, there are various sources of harmful emissions to the environment from the production of plastics; the manufacture of it, the transportation of the goods (oil/gas/plastics) from one place to another as well as the gas emitted when it is decomposing.  This would ultimately lead to excessive (hence unwanted) greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which results in climate change and over-heating of Earth.

Of course, plastics lead to much more environmental problems that go beyond climate change which i won't be covering in this post. 

I hope that gradually, people will start seeing the importance of cutting down our usage on plastics.

A good policy that i think can be implemented in Singapore is to charge consumers whenever they need to get a plastic bag from business owners. This would increase people's incentive to bring their own reusable bags when they go shopping.

An example of a country which has implemented this policy is Hong Kong, and based on my experience with my friends and family members who were there with me, this policy actually reduces people's willingness to get a plastic bags as they do not want to spend extra on it. In economics terms, marginal benefit of obtaining a plastic is less than the marginal cost. Hence, consumers will think twice before obtaining a plastic bag from business owners and is likely to cut down plastic usage. For Singaporeans who take plastic bags for granted (since there has not been any obvious policies or implementations that discourage Singaporeans from excessive usage of plastic bags), it would actually act as a wake-up call for the public and prompt them to care for the environment through money incentives.

But before any campaign or policy is implemented to reduce plastic usage, i think that all of us can play a part by reminding ourselves to bring our reusable bags during grocery shopping, or we could just place small objects in our own bags. Workers doing cashiering roles should also prompt consumers by asking if they need a plastic bag instead of assuming they do. I once worked at an F&B shop selling maki rolls, and i realised that by asking my customers instead of assuming they need plastic bags, it actually helps to reduce plastic usage significantly.

Every effort essentially counts, and i hope globally, people would start treating plastic usage seriously and not take them for granted.

Till then!!


1 Bag at a Time, 'Plastic Bags And Climate Change - 1 Bag At A Time'. 2015. Web.  http://1bagatatime.com/planet/environmental-impact/climate-change/

'Climate Change: Who Thought Plastic Bags? – Master Of Arts Program In Climate And Society'. Climatesociety.ei.columbia.edu.  August 29, 2013. Web.