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Greta Thunberg's rise to prominence towards the end of 2019 with her scathing speech at the United Nations later made her Time Person of the Year. She had lambasted world leaders for robbing young people of their dreams and childhood and for not taking enough responsibility.


Tragedy of the Commons

The tragedy of the commons is a useful idea especially for the theme of environment.

The tragedy of the commons is a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action

If everyone acts in self-interest, then everyone will ‘lose’/suffer

→ this is useful for arguing that every country has to take responsibility in the fight against climate change (or all countries will face consequences)

Climate Justice

Of course, we can look through the lens of climate justice and argue that some countries are less responsible. Many of the developed countries today have historically caused the most emissions—should they thus be held more responsible for tackling climate change?

The current ‘injustice’ → countries that contribute the least to climate change suffer the most from the impacts of climate change

Further reading:

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement: each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming. A pair of studies in Nature have said that as of 2017, none of the major industrialized nations were implementing the policies they had envisioned and have not met their pledged emission reduction targets, and even if they had, the sum of all member pledges (as of 2016) would not keep global temperature rise "well below 2 °C". James Hansen, a former NASA scientist and a climate change expert, voiced anger that most of the agreement consists of "promises" or aims and not firm commitments; there is no binding enforcement mechanism. In August 2017, Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. [Note: Joe Biden’s announcement to return to the Paris Agreement)


Of the 184 pledges, 127 (including India) or 69 percent are partially or totally conditional. This means that without international finance or technical support, these pledges may not be implemented. These conditional pledges were mostly put forward by developing countries that lack the financial capability to reduce emissions as well as the technological and institutional capacity.

The conditionality of these climate pledges is based on the categorization of countries under the Climate Change Convention. However, in their latest assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has updated the categorization of countries, based on their income. Thus, some countries which are currently categorized as high-income economies are still considered as developing countries for the Convention. Based on the difference in the categorization of countries between the Convention and the IPCC, some high-income countries have put forward conditional pledges that depend on international funding for its implementation. Of course, this is already unlike its predecessor—the Kyoto Protocol—which applied only to developed countries.

France 4-year grants scientists

Following the Paris Agreement, France’s Emmanuel Macron launched the “Make our Planet Great Again'' grants which counter Trump's indifference on the climate change front. Millions of euros in grants were awarded to 18 winning American scientists to relocate to France to pursue their work for the rest of Donald Trump's current presidential term. This shows the role the government plays in combating climate change and its greater responsibility; the government simply has control of much-needed funds for research.


Climate change skepticism

Of course, climate change skepticism was not just touted by Trump and supporters; some businesses, too, played a part in spreading false research and skepticism. They often had an interest in going against climate science as their industries are detrimental to the environment.


Australian mining magnate, Gina Rinehart, was found to have funded $4.5 million to the rightwing think-tank, Institute of Public Affairs, through her company, Hancock Prospecting. The Institute of Public Affairs is a consistent promoter of climate science skepticism.


Robert Murray of Murray Energy, who passed away in October 2020 was also a frequent denier of climate change.


Lawsuits have also been filed against companies in the fossil fuel industry for misleading the public on climate change in the past; in September 2020, Connecticut filed a lawsuit against oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp (for misleading the public on climate change’s impacts), Hoboken filed a lawsuit against major oil and gas companies as well as the American Petroleum Institute (a powerful industry trade group which has played a major role in promoting “uncertainty” about climate science.)




2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal


In 2015, Volkswagen was embroiled in a highly publicised emissions scandal—the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that Volkswagen had used special software to cheat during emissions testing. It had intentionally programmed turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing which caused the vehicles' NOx  output to meet US standards during regulatory testing, but emit up to 40 times more NOx  in real-world driving.

As of 1 June 2020, the scandal had cost VW $33.3 billion in fines, penalties, financial settlements and buyback costs.


Consumer choice


The individual admittedly plays a huge role in influencing corporations to be environmentally friendly.


Green dollar: Investing or spending cash on products and services that are environmentally friendly. The green dollar also describes money invested in companies which promote environmentally friendly policies or practices.


In 2020, Coca-Cola announced that it would not ditch single-use plastic bottles because consumers still want them.

Customers like them because they reseal and are lightweight, said Bea Perez.

The firm, which is one of the biggest producers of plastic waste, has pledged to recycle as many plastic bottles as it uses by 2030.

But environmental campaigners argue many Coke bottles would still go uncollected and end up in landfill.


The drinks giant produces about three million tonnes of plastic packaging a year - equivalent to 200,000 bottles a minute.

In 2019, it was found to be the most polluting brand in a global audit of plastic waste by the charity Break Free from Plastic.

But speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ms Perez said the firm recognised it now had to be "part of the solution".

'Accommodate consumers'

Coke has pledged to use at least 50% recycled material in its packaging by 2030. It is also partnering with NGOs around the world to help improve collection.

However, Ms Perez said the firm could not ditch plastic outright, as some campaigners wanted, saying this could alienate customers and hit sales.

She also said using only aluminium and glass packaging could push up the firm's carbon footprint.

"Business won't be in business if we don't accommodate consumers," she said.

"So as we change our bottling infrastructure, move into recycling and innovate, we also have to show the consumer what the opportunities are. They will change with us."


 → this is useful when stakeholders are compared: you can use this to argue why businesses feel they are not responsible for environmental woes


Green marketing:




Patagonia contributes to climate change issues and works on discovering sustainable ways to produce products. At the same time, the brand's honest with customers, admitting it's not entirely green: The shell of coats are made of fossil fuels. But this fact doesn't influence the positive image of the brand, as the community sees its sincere passion for helping the planet. Patagonia's green marketing strategy and involvement in the Go Green movement is stated in the company's mission. Also, it regularly donates millions to initiatives supporting sustainable agriculture practices, protecting endangered species, and restoring forests.


IKEA uses many tactics and sources to manage waste and renew energy. Ninety percent of its buildings have solar panels, it uses wind farms to generate energy, and it has planted millions of trees, while sending only 15 percent of waste to landfills. Ikea has developed a strategy known as People & Planet Positive, encouraging consumers to be environmentally conscious. It manufactures products through eco-friendly practices, which relieves us from the necessity to choose between stylish design and sustainability. Something you probably already know would be IKEA's shopping bagsreusable and durable, they are a sustainable alternative to plastic bags.  

Extra info → SG Ikea misprinted its website name on on shopping bags but continued to have them available for sale →

Greenwashing (negative):

Greenwashing is a form of marketing spin in which green public relations and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization's products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly and therefore ‘better'.



In 2018, in response to increased calls for banning plastic straws, Starbucks introduced a new straw-less lid that actually contained more plastic by weight than the old straw and lid combination.



The iPhone 12 and upcoming models will not be shipped with the power adaptor and earphones, claiming it reduces their carbon footprint.




Around 85% of all textiles thrown away in the US – roughly 13 million tonnes in 2017 – are either dumped into landfills or burned. The average American has been estimated to throw away around 37kg of clothes every year. And globally, an estimated 92 million tonnes of textiles waste is created each year and the equivalent to a rubbish truck full of clothes ends up on landfill sites every second. By 2030, we are expected as a whole to be discarding more than 134 million tonnes of textiles a year.


H&M ...

Moral license (aka self-licensing):

Self-licensing (also moral self-licensing, moral licensing, or licensing effect) is a term used in social psychology to describe the subconscious phenomenon whereby increased confidence and security in one's self-image or self-concept tends to make that individual worry less about the consequences of subsequent immoral behavior and, therefore, more likely to make immoral choices and act immorally. In simple terms, self-licensing occurs when people allow themselves to indulge after doing something positive first.

To better understand this, here's a description by Michael Rosenwald, a Washington Post writer:

We drink Diet Coke – with Quarter Pounders and fries at McDonald's. We go to the gym – and ride the elevator to the second floor. We install tankless water heaters – then take longer showers. We drive SUVs to see Al Gore's speeches on global warming.


In the context of the environment, researchers have invoked the self-licensing effect to explain why consumers who opt for energy-efficient products increase their energy usage such that they offset any potential gains. Energy economist Lucas Davis published a study showing that after getting high-efficiency washers, consumers increased clothes washing by nearly 6 percent.


We can also consider businesses: some fear that some companies that partake in some degree of corporate social responsibility or do something remotely environmentally friendly would feel they have this 'moral license' to continue doing things that are far more environmentally damaging. KFC's ban of straws, for instance, seems trivial or tokenistic compared to environmental damage elsewhere in its processes, but by making such a publicised action of banning straws, would KFC feel its environmental damage elsewhere is more justified?


Renewable energy

In Norway, 98 percent of the electricity production comes from renewable energy sources. Hydropower is the source of most of the production.


Tesla has gained prominence in recent years, with electric vehicles becoming a potential status symbol.


At one point, Elon Musk commented on Singapore's unsupportiveness of electric vehicles.

When highlighted that most of Singapore's electricity stems from fossil fuels (and as such, electric vehicles are not that much more environmentally friendly), Elon Musk said that Singapore could generate most of its electricity through solar energy. An interesting thought, though, is that perhaps Singapore's circumstances are unique: we are land scarce and are striving for a car-lite society (it would seem contradictory to have exorbitant (very expensive) Certificates of Entitlements while simultaneously encouraging ownership of electric vehicles), and it is perhaps more meaningful to promote the use of public transport as Singapore has been doing.  In fact, the Land Transport Authority is looking to increase the use of electric buses, with an aim to have all public buses running on clean energy instead of diesel by 2040.

Singapore Green Plan 2030

Urban environment (this won’t be the focus in this set of notes)

“We shape our buildings, but then our buildings shape us.” To what extent is this true of your society?

(urban environment essay question was asked in 2020)

Extract from Greta Thunberg’s 2019 speech (in bold are lines in which she seems to question how we place technology on the pedestal—an interesting perspective considering how most JC students are quick to use ‘technology’ as a solution in a typical GP essay):

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, addressed the U.N.'s Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday. Here's the full transcript of Thunberg's speech, beginning with her response to a question about the message she has for world leaders.

"My message is that we'll be watching you.

"This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

'This Is All Wrong,' Greta Thunberg Tells World Leaders At U.N. Climate Session


'This Is All Wrong,' Greta Thunberg Tells World Leaders At U.N. Climate Session

"For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

"You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.

"The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees [Celsius], and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

"Fifty percent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.

"So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences.

"To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] – the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on Jan. 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons.

"How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just 'business as usual' and some technical solutions? With today's emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years.

"There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

"You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.

"We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.

"Thank you."

Extract from a Lee Kuan Yew interview explaining Singapore’s high carbon footprint:

“Today, we are confronted with something much more serious. Then, we are only worried about costs. Now, we are concerned about the consequences of CO2 emissions and climate change. We can try and be the greenest city in the world and not going to make any difference in the outcome. So, what’s the point of it? Well, the point is if we don’t do this, we’ll lose our status as a clean, green city and we’ll lose our business and we’ll lose our extra premium for being an unusual city.

“What’s the future? Well, we use about 100,000 barrels of oil a day. We’re refining 1.3 billion, 1.4 billion barrels every day, but that’s for export. We’re a refuelling centre for tankers and container ships and so on. So, our carbon footprint is very high per capita, but if you take just what we consume in Singapore, it’s very low. The problem that the world faces is that China and India want to achieve what they think they’ve missed in life - the quality and standards of living which Japan, Europe and especially the Americans have reached. Now, if they hit the per capita consumption of carbon-based energy that the United States is using, the ice caps will melt and we are into very serious trouble.

George Carlin quote:  “The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages … And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!”

Old set of environment notes (2019/before)

More can be accessed at


Climate change (and whether it is even meaningful to attempt to diminish it)


Pollution (air, water, land, noise, etc.)

Responsibility (everyone equally, only the wealthy nations, each to carry only one’s own weight?)

Tragedy of the Commons: acting in self-interest in damaging to all

Maintaining the environment vs financial interests