Green Drinks: Air Pollution in Singapore


The Green Drinks session on 26th October discussed Air Pollution in Singapore, with sharing from Dr Erik Velasco (Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology), Lynn Tang (Vital Strategies), and Aurélie (People’s Movement to Stop Haze). Beginning with sharing by Erik and Lynn, and concluding with a roundtable, the session gave a well-rounded perspective on air pollution, and what we can do about it.

What about air pollution?

Most of us would know about the haze, especially the infamous 2013 and 2015 episodes, but air pollution goes beyond the episodic haze pollution triggered by wildfires across neighboring islands– it includes pollutants from vehicular traffic, industry, ships and even our activities at home such cooking (indoor air pollution). Most of us are familiar with the famous “PM2.5”, which refers to the particulate size in micrometres, but our lungs and nose can take in tons of pollutants that are smaller than that. Although climate, topography and location might favor conditions to accumulate pollutants in the air, the real causes of air pollution rely on political and economic circumstances – poverty, poor regulations and major agribusinesses drive illegal logging and palm oil monoculture, for example in Southeast Asia. Closer to home, traffic regulations are also one way to affect air pollution.      

Why should I care?  

To start with – 1 in 10 deaths in the world is related to air pollution. And, for small particulates, there is no evidence of a threshold below which no adverse health effects occur. Worst still: we can’t avoid it completely. We can wear masks, avoiding walking close to emission sources, or  turn on the air conditioner, but each time we step onto a bus, car or MRT, we are taking in some atmospheric pollutants.

Oh no… what can I do?

Protecting yourself starts with common sense - for example, avoid running or walking along busy roads with heavy vehicle emissions. But that alone won’t change the air around you. So do what we Singaporeans do best - COMPLAIN! Make your voice on air quality heard - we want cleaner  air! And lastly, be mindful - awareness of how our lifestyle impacts the world around us is often to the first step to a thoughtful solution.   

In short...

The air around us is deeply connected to the lifestyles we live. So rather than blaming it on some other party… start taking action yourself! (See above!)