At a screening of The Age of Stupid a couple of week ago, I spent some time talking to a representative from the Singapore government’s Economic Development Board.

I put forth the suggestion that Singapore is currently in a good position to stand up and take a visionary leadership position on the fight against climate change.

Given Singapore’s highly desirable position and stature in the region as a thence and business hub, and it’s history of good stable governance, it is in aided position to introduce pioneering legislation and regulations to counter climate change.


The first reaction from the government rep was defensiveness. “But the government is already doing so much, we have done this and this”… It took a few moments for me to convince him I was not actually criticising the government! An interesting response in itself.

When he finally understood my intention, his was still unconvinced. “But we cannot disincentives business; we want to encourage business.”

And there in lies one huge barrier. Singapore already has many regulations applicable to businesses. It even imposes a $100 levy on locals who want to visit the new casino, supposedly to prevent a gambling problem. There are building safety codes, taxation requirements, foreign worker rules etc. What is a few more that actually benefits the environment and our collective good?

Singapore is an attractive location for businesses. Singapore should be more confident about its desirability. Hey, if you want cake, you pay for cake. You want to set up business here? You need to follow our rules – many of which is to protect our planet. Seems reasonable to me.

The problem is fear – based myopic bottom-line thinking. The God of money holds sway. The fear of not having enough, or losing out to cheaper or somehow more attractive neighbours is palpable.

Sure some businesses may be put off. Sure Singapore may lose some money (God forbid). Maybe Singapore doesn’t need to attract any more conventional money-pinching businesses who cannot do the right thing?

Singapore could well attract the new breed of ethical businesses, innovative businesses, who think outside the norm. Who can see the big picture. Imagine these visionary companies making Singapore their HQ because of its visionary leadership. Imagine the impact of all that new thinking on Singapore’s evolution.

What will it do for Singapore’s standing in the world? Immense potential. How about Singapore as the Denmark of the East. Bravely showing the way forward when biggies like the US and Australia are shamelessly dragging their feet. What kudos for being the only country in this hemisphere to dare to do the right thing in the face of global apathy.

Will Singapore miss the boat on this opportunity? My gut feel is – most probably. Conservative attitudes, especially those enmeshed with the making of money, a rigid worldview, the fear of lack or losing out to someone else, are extremely hard to change. I am not holding my breath. I had great fun and excitement coming with these ideas. But I may yet be surprised.