Case on climate change

It’s almost surreal that the explanation of climate change, its far-reaching consequences and the warning of the lack of action as well as the foresight on the reluctance to switch from fossil fuels is so cogently made in 1985 before the US Congress.

And today, we still have what we have happening in the US. Meanwhile, other developing countries are massively adopting green energy, unlocking the opportunities and growth which comes from the energy transition.

The economic downsides of displacing the traditional, carbon-intensive activities were huge in 1985, but compared to the manner we allowed the activities to have expanded till today, humanity seemed like it’s dancing towards the edge of the cliff.

Calmness in a storm

So everyone in Singapore were talking about Shou, the CEO of Tiktok who went to face the interrogation by the congress. He is a Singaporean and we were all pretty proud of his performance.

That clearly wasn’t easy; he was being talked over, treated rudely; most of the people interrogating him had speeches of their own where they needed him to fill in the blanks rather than genuinely expecting answers. I thought Adrian Tan’s observation that Shou was often the calmest person in the room of people who were interrogating him was interesting.

While the hearing remains inconclusive, there was little mistake that the US is entering yet another cycle of active state intervention into business. It is strange that issues being put across the table confused data privacy issues, responsibilities of a tech company management, geopolitics and business ownership.

Our institutions today are highly complex and sophisticated. Even the concept of ownership in a business is made so complicated by unbundling of the various rights that are traditionally attributed to owners, then dishing them out to various parties.

Means of life

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits made an astute observation that led to his exploration of habits and eventually the best-seller. He observed that people often had the same goals but they do not end up with the same results. This meant that goal-setting, while being an important first step, wasn’t what achievement is about.

Our culture sometimes seem to think that setting up goals is enough, that it would naturally push everyone or everything to place. That cannot be farther from reality; and having that sense of purpose for life isn’t exactly sufficient. We need to discover the means by which we fulfill our purposes and reach the goals.

What do you think are your means of life? Is it about money, resources? Financial wealth? Or relationships, connections, networks? What fuels you towards your life goals?

Supply side perspectives

There was a time when demand and pricing was what matters because the rise of logistics and transport technologies made it easy to ship things around or even store things for long. So production becomes so isolated from consumption that as long as you can price things right on demand side, you can be producing anything anywhere.

Profit then is just about finding lower cost locations, resources, manpower, materials and so on. Services gradually have those attributes as they are increasingly performed remotely. But when we start considering supply chains of products, issues of resilience as well as carbon emissions, things goes a bit tricky.

The future low carbon world might be one where supply chains are shorter, where consuming local looms large and where decentralisation returns. Powering decentralisation is simply the recognition that there’s both financial economy and carbon economy; that when we need to economise on carbon, we can afford it.

Demand side perspectives

The modern, capitalist, market economy is powered by demand. Demand for products, goods and services. And what drives these demand? Some would like to say, marketing, advertising. But more fundamentally, social comparison, desire for affliation/connection.

So the idea of market competition gets turned on demand itself. In other words, the seller turns to the buyer and say, “He’s got this, so you have got to get it.” This mechanism is so widespread and so completely ignored by economics that at a macro-level, it overturns more fundamental notions of allocative efficiency. The fact that demand is in itself premised upon the actions and long-term strategies of supply, makes the equilibrium in the market impossible to pin down.

There is no long term convergent points and what development has come to be is simply the ability for supply to generate more and more of its own demand.

Recycling woes

When you deposit a recyclable item into the rubbish bin or down the chute here in Singapore, did you know that it means the item will actually never be recycled? It will definitely end up in the incineration plant where everything is burnt. Metals are sometimes recovered but that is just about all. This is because everything collected in the green waste bin by the licensed public waste collectors have to be sent to the incineration plants.

On average, incineration removes more than 90% of the waste matter, leaving a residue which is buried in our offshore landfill at Pulau Semakau. Soon, when the Integrated Waste Management Facility in Singapore is built, there might be more post disposal sorting that takes place after our public waste collectors retrieve the waste. But before that, despite the possible economic incentive of picking out suitable waste materials or matters to be recycled before incinerating the rest, the market is unable to respond to them.

Incineration keeps going and expanding in Singapore as waste volumes increase because that had been a proven solution that is difficult to challenge even when contending technologies and approaches works. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Yet as our landfill approaches the point of its maximum capacity, we cannot keep kicking the can down the road.

Traffic jams

We spent more than 4 hours along a short 2km stretch of the Singapore-Malaysia second linkway last Saturday morning. It didn’t exactly feel that long as I was in good company and found it entertaining to watch how the buses, lorries, motorcycles and some defiant motorists use the left road shoulder as their fast-track lane.

It was interesting how some of the vehicles steered by really experienced drivers weaved in and out of the road shoulder and then moved to the middle lane at different points of time. The drivers were assertive but relatively patient, finding every opportunity they have to inch forward and wedge between the gaps between 2 cars in the adjacent lane.

There seem to be some kind of logic in the flows and it is questionable if there’s any kind of real queuing justice in the entire journey because there were merging and then diverging lanes. Fortunes of the vehicles could quickly change at these points. And everyone had to be on their toes.

It’s tiring to be driving in a jam because not only are you not making any progress forward but you’re competing to gain just tiny advantage and constantly watching that advantage to avoid losing it. I find this to be an analogy of living in Asia where there’s a lot of competition over very small rewards. Innovation is numerous and difficult to compare. There seem to be some invisible hand that is not just sorting and ordering of quality of ideas but who are behind those ideas. Who you are may determine if you would be penalised for using the road shoulder, and what you know might help you gain a small upper hand or two but overall, the society is held back by the cross-cancellation of the various innovative forces.

Limited life

Our lives are limited in many ways but more so by our perspectives than anything else. Time is one perspective by which we limit our lives. In some ways, it is sombering and perks us up but the urgency to accomplish things doesn’t always help. In that sense, the perspective of time as a resource otherwise wasted rather than an input to possibilities, limits us.

Then there is the dimension of money. Because money can buy more and more things, we become increasingly overwhelmed by our limited ability to generate income and wealth. The reason why get-rich-quick scheme works and why greed is pervasive is that we fear that material needs catches up with us. In the market system, money is our vote of some kind, the power we have to grab our share of possessions and material in this world. If we don’t get hold of enough money, we also lose our share of the society’s production. So then life gets caught up with that, with trying to get our share of production by trying to produce or to divert. And in the process we limit our lives to the material, even as we pursue experiences that money can buy.

Money, time and numbers/metrics were gifts to our lives, meant to be additions and blessings but instead they end up limiting our lives. Because of the way we have come to perceive them.

Earnest expectations

So I continue my 800th post no longer continuing from the streak I had nurtured over the past two years or more. It doesn’t mean anything as long as I don’t allow it to. Streaks work because it helps build habit and some kind of psychological strength. But if the streak is short, it is way harder to resume when it is broken. Maybe it has to do with having established our expectations of ourselves.

For me, the short pause in writing was during a period of genuine break from the distractions of the world and for the first time since the pandemic started, I had some kind of real rest. One that was more extended than what I had since 2019.

I realised how much more we have drifted from being human, the kind of expectations we have of ourselves and society. There were much bolder and better expectations we can have but we choose not to, rather falling back on productivity and some numerical metrics. What about being kinder, or more patient, or caring better for others? What about refusing to do anything that can cause me to feel ashamed should I have to account the deeds to my family, or a journalist, or the world?

There are better high expectations we can have of ourselves. They are waiting for us to adopt them.