Sustainability+ Dialogue: Is Sustainability Still Possible?

“Is sustainability still possible?” That was the question posed by the inaugural Sustainability+ dialogue, jointly organized by the Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) committee and Environmental Law Students Association (ELSA).

It was heartening to see participants from a diverse array of disciplines including life science, arts and social sciences, law, engineering, dentistry, environmental studies and liberal arts (Yale NUS). Indeed, sustainability is not merely a buzzword in the media; it is a concept relevant and pertinent to many different fields nowadays.

The dialogue began with an opening keynote speech by Mr Desmond Lee, Second Minister for National Development, who gave many insights into Singapore’s sustainability master plan and answered queries about sustainability in the context of Singapore from a governmental perspective. Participants were then allocated to focus group discussions covering 6 aspects of environmental sustainability: biodiversity conservation, environmental education, environment in civil society, green cities, renewable energy and the future economy.
During the engaging discussions, participants raised issues such as the circular economy and capitalism, biodiversity loss in Singapore, environmental education in an era of disruptive changes and uncertainties, transportation as a key in establishing greener cities etc. And true to the event’s theme, participants were encouraged to bring their own utensils for the networking tea in a bid to be more environmentally-friendly.

The session concluded with a panel discussion featuring panelists Dr Jenson Goh, Ms Melissa Low and Mr N. Sivasothi. Participants brought up questions ranging from environmental activism in Singapore to international environmental agreements, to which the panelists offered their personal experiences and work insights. A student, in particular, asked about how we can keep up with new environmental (or general) legislation passed in Singapore, which is definitely a useful skill for many of us. [Tip: if you would like to be kept in the loop about new laws and policies in Singapore, you can simply subscribe to the RSS feeds on the various agencies’ websites.]

The event provided a safe and friendly platform for the NUS population to share their opinions and concerns about the environment regardless of the amount of knowledge or expertise they might have. In this sense, it is comforting to know that there are many who do care for the environment. Perhaps it also highlighted that the concern of environmental sustainability should not be limited to those in environmental-related occupations and fields; it is a shared responsibility that affects each and every one of us on this planet. As a participant in the event, I am immensely grateful to the organizers from BES and ELSA, as well as the guest speakers and participants for the enjoyable session!

Written by Yu Lin (Y2 NVG)

ICCS @Chek Jawa (Sept’9)

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” —Sylvia Earle

Oceans are the origin of lives as well as the key to sustain them, yet the most polluted area is the very ocean. The immense amount of waste being discharged or dumped in the oceans everyday threaten marine ecosystems, and push these fragile ecosystems closer and closer to extinction.  As of now, plastic pollution remain as one of the greatest threats to marine life – with over 250,000 tonnes of plastic already floating on the ocean surface, and being transported globally by circulating gyres (Eriksen et al., 2014). In Singapore, our disposal of more than 3 billion plastic bags a year (Reyes, 2013) contribute to such problems nearer to home.

Fortunately, awareness on marine pollution has increased over time, resulting in conservation efforts to recover and preserve marine ecosystems. One such effort is the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS) that organizes frequent field trips to help keeping beaches of Singapore free from pollution. This year, we collaborated with Bedok South Secondary South on a very special ICCS project at Chek Jawa Wetland, Pulau Ubin. A total of 39 BES students and 34 Bedok South Secondary School students participated in picking up marine litter along the protected area. Within an hour, more than 400 kg of marine litter – ranging from water drums to many, many, many plastic bags – were collected. It was both relieving yet heart- sinking for everyone to see a sheer amount of trash being collected. However, the silver lining was definitely the rare chance of being able to observe inter-tidal organisms in the protected area of Chek Jawa.

Here are what some of our participants had to say about the clean-up:

Jun Yu, Year 1:

“ ICCS is an interesting experience for me. Honestly, i just signed up for fun, and why not, since this is my first time participating in such an event. Marine litter is a widespread problem and this experience just serves to highlight how we can all play a part in reducing our marine trash and keep our environment clean. Incidentally, I have written a blog post about marine trash, do check it out for more information.
And if you ever got stuck in quicksand, trust Google and lie flat on your back, and tell me if it works.”

Chee Weng, Year 3:

“ I had an awesome time during the coastal cleanup. It was a great opportunity for me to mingle with the y1 juniors and to interact with the students from bds. I was very inspired by everyone’s hard work and enthusiasm despite having to wake up early in the morning. Kudos to everybody who participated in the cleanup! It was fun and enriching, and I can’t wait for the next one already!”

Alfie Tan Shi Ying, BDS student:

The coastal clean-up trip to Chek Jawa has really been an eye-opening experience for the class. It made me realised how much we are destroying the precious Earth that we are living on. We were surprised to pick up numerous plastics existing in many forms, plastic bottles, styrofoam pieces, fishing nets that trap animals and many more on a coastal that hardly anyone could reach unless with the permission of NParks. To our amazement, we collected 50 bags full of rubbish within a short span of 1.5 hours in the morning. Through this clean-up experience, I learnt that all of us must do our part in making the Earth a better and cleaner place to live. We also felt accomplished to have been able to play a small role in restoring part of the environment as not many of us get to see the real truth of what happens to the litter we throw and this experience gave us an opportunity to realise the damage we have done to our environment. Hopefully, after this experience, more of us can continue to care for the environment.


Marvyn Chiaching Cruz Tan, BDS student:

Upon arrival at the coastal area at Chek Jawa, we were extremely astonished at the amount of rubbish we saw. There were lots of litter along the shore, under the trees and in the mud. We picked up rubbish such as toys, plastic bags, plastic bottles, take-away containers, glass wares, nets, styrofoams and even shoes. We even found big items like oil drums, wheel tyres and containers which could have came from the fishing or commercial boats that passed by the waters. Although we merely spent about 1.5 hour picking up rubbish along the shoreline, we managed to collect 50 bags of rubbish, even then there was still a lot of rubbish left unpicked. This VIA activity really gave many of us a whole new experience and it was a great eye-opener. Through the clean-up, we were able to display the school ICARE values that the school has placed great emphasis on. We learnt the importance of caring for the environment and the animals around us by not littering and picking up the rubbish we see. We also learnt to be accountable for the environment that we live in as every of our actions can have great impacts on the environment thereafter. At the same time, we learnt to respect the environment we live in. We enjoyed ourselves at the clean-up and it was a truly memorable experience.

Last but not least, we would like to express our immense gratitude for those who were participating in ICCS. We hope to see you in future ICCS event!


Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L. C. M., Carson, H. S., Thiel, M., Moore, C. J., Borerro, J. C., Galgani, F., Ryan, P. G., & Reisser, J. (2014). Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea. PLOS ONE, 9(12). Retrieved from

Reyes, E. (2013, October 2). Singapore Uses 3 Billion Plastic Bags A Year: Study. Eco- Business. Retrieved from

Tackling the plastic bottle crisis and our wider disregard for nature. (2017, June 30). The Guardian. Retrieved from


The Rise of Ghost Forest

Once were where countless trees and other organism used to thrive, now a barren land falling into the abyss of silence except the lapping deadly saltwater. These eerie silhouettes did not appear out of thin air; they are, in fact, witnesses and victims of the increasingly rising sea level.

Since the beginning of Industrial Revolution, massive amounts of greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere, contributing to the rise of earth’s surface temperature (“Ocean acidification”, 2017). Scientific evidences have shown that the ocean, has absorbed more than 93% of released anthropogenic heat since the 1970s, due to the water’s high heat capacity (Reid, 2016). The absorption has driven the sea level to rise at an unprecedented rate, much faster than what scientists have previously predicted. As a matter of fact, the Pacific Ocean has been warming 15 times faster in the past 6 decades than it did for the past millennia (Vergano, 2013). Consequently, salt water has been being push further inland, inundating non- coastal forest areas and killing salt- intolerant flora.

Along the east coast of North America, salt marshes have conquered thousands of acres of land, leaving nothing but barren trunks stretching from New Jersey to as far south as Florida. Known as ghost forests, some scientists have deemed this phenomenon as “a dramatic expression of climate change” (Drouin, 2016). The prolonged exposure to water is not merely attributed to soil erosion, but also the acceleration of nutrient breakdown and leakage. More nutrient runoff could give a boost to algae bloom that exacerbates aquatic habitat as it rapidly depletes oxygen in the water, thus placing more environmental burdens on the stressed land (Kaye, 2017). Furthermore, the disappearance of healthy forests will eventually result in the collapse of the local ecosystems. “It was dry, usable land 50 years ago; now it’s marshes with dead stumps and dead trees,” said Professor Matthew Kirwan, a ghost forest researcher from Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Parry, 2017).

As harsh as it sounds, we are running out of excuses for ignoring climate change amidst the age of Anthropocene. For the sake of the environment and subsequent generations, we must start our journey on fighting against climate change. No more excuse, no more procrastination.


Written By: Hong Hui (Y2 NVB)



Drouin, R. (2016, November 1). How Rising Seas Are Killing Southern U.S. Woodlands. YaleEnviroment360. Retrieved from

Kaye, L. (2017, August 3). Sea Level Rise Creating ‘Ghost Forests,’ New Wetlands Along Eastern Seaboard. TriplePundit. Retrieved from

Morton, S.B. (Photographer). (2017, June 16). Ghost Forest [digital image]. Retrieved from

Ocean acidification. (2017, April 27). National Geographic. Retrieved from

Parry, W. (2017, August 1). The Startling ‘Ghost Forests’ of The East Coast: Climate Change before Your Eyes. National Post. Retrieved from

Reid, P. C. (2016). Ocean Warming: Setting The Scene. In: Laffoley, D., & Baxter, J.M. (editors). (2016). Explaining ocean warming: Causes, scale, effects and consequences. Full report. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. pp. 19. Retrieved from

Vergano, D. (2013, November 1). Ocean Warming Faster Now Than in 10,000 Years. National Geographic. Retrieved from



Share and Care has been a BES tradition that fuels BES students with advice and experiences from seniors for better preparation on challenges and learning opportunities. In the first session of this academic year 17/18, 7 seniors were invited to share their stories in pursuing their academics here at NUS.

The topics included BES Student Life, specializations, special modules like UROPS and many more.

We would like to express our immense gratitude for the speakers who devoted their time for Share and Care despite tight schedules, and hope that the audiences genuinely benefited through the session.

Links to Share and Care materials:
My BES Student Life
Bio & Geog Specialisations
JGIS Internship
Young Nautilus Internship
BES Drongos


P/s: missed out our Share and Care Session? Fret not, stay tuned for our next Share & Care session (and remember to bring along your friends too!). See you there!

BES day 2017

BES Day is our annual flagship event to start off the year as a BES Community. It is organised by the BES Student Committee and serves as a day to facilitate inter- and intra-batch bonding, filled with food and fun. This year, we gathered at East Coast Park for some delicious barbeque, nice scenery and an overall chill time. Of course, a BES event would have to be environmentally friendly. Hence, we maintained the tradition of not buying any plastic utensils and instead asked the student body to bring their own non-disposable cutlery and utensils. Here’s what some of our BES students thought of BES Day 2017:

Samuel Teo (Year 1):

“Missing BES camp (and everything school related) due to commitments at work was quite a demoralising way to start one’s university life. When I attended my first tutorial, everyone had already known each other but I felt like a lost sheep. When I heard about BES day, I felt it was a perfect opportunity to get to know everyone! I took the leap of faith and signed up although I had only known a handful of people then! I wasn’t disappointed when I got to ECP. I was quickly welcomed and included in the group! Everyone is so friendly and willing to talk to each other. I feel that I’m now better acquainted with my course mates and it wouldn’t have been possible without BES day!”

Li Fang (Year 4):

“BES Day is always something to look forward to every start of the new academic year. Having been part of the organising committee of last year’s event, I was glad to be able to sit back and fully enjoy this year’s.

Needless to say, the food was the highlight of the day. I cannot tell you how perfectly grilled the meat and mushrooms were unless you tasted them for yourselves, which you should be slapping yourself if you didn’t come (Yes, it’s that good). We have some pretty skilled chefs that day. You know, if they can’t find a job after graduation, they’ll definitely succeed as a satay man (Haha sorry Justin and Shao Hua).

BES Day is a great setting to catch up with friends after not seeing them for three months of the summer holidays. It is also the rare opportunity to meet people from other batches. I hope the juniors got to speak to some of the seniors and gained some insights and tips to surviving university!

Thumbs up to the 6th BES Student Comm for organising a successful BES Day!”


The BES Student Committee would like to thank everyone who made it, and hopes that you guys will look forward to future BES events!


Controversies of Solar Power: Uncovering the process of solar panel manufacturing

Solar power has never been cheaper than it is now, making it one of the most trending renewable energy sources. Production cost have even dropped to the point of being commercially competitive with the price of coal-based electricity in certain parts of the world (ABC News, 2017; Safi, 2017; Shankleman & Warren, 2017)!

However, while most people are cheering for the era of solar, there are still many harsh realities about this renewable energy that cannot be ignored – one of which is the highly toxic compound present in most solar cells. Cadmium telluride photovoltaic (also known as CdTe solar cell) is the second most common solar panel installed around the world (Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, n.d.). The CdTe solar cell has been widely accepted for its inexpensive production, quick installation and high efficiency which surpassed the capabilities of a silicon – based cell. However nothing is perfect – the two main elements making up a CdTe solar cell are highly controversial. While Cadmium can pose a serious threat to public and environmental health through leaching, Tellurium is extremely rare and would require potentially unsustainable mining techniques to acquire commercial amounts (“Cadmium toxicity”, n.d.).

Furthermore, scientists from UK’s National Oceanography Centre have recently discovered a seamount abundant in Tellurium near the coast of north – west Africa (Shukman, 2017). This discovery has left environmentalist in a dilemma: in order for solar power to thrive, the Earth would have to suffer – either in the form of land mining which could cause destruction of habitats on land, or deep sea mining where the marine life would eventually deal with the consequences of such disturbances.

What do you think? Would these environmental disturbances be worth it for the future of pursuing more sustainable energy means?


Written by: Hong Hui [Y2 NVB]



ABC News. (2017, February 24). Solar power cheaper than fossil fuels in most capital cities: Climate Council. Retrieved from

Cadmium Toxicity. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. (n.d.). Cadmium TellurideRetrieved from

Safi, M. (2017, May 10). Indian solar power prices hit record low, undercutting fossil fuels. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Shankleman, J., & Warren, H. (2017, June 16). Solar power will kill coal faster than you think. Bloomberg. Retrieved from

Shukman, D. (2017, April 11). Renewables’ deep-sea mining conundrum. BBC News. Retrieved from


What better way to end off the academic year’s Share and Care sessions than to invite our graduated seniors back home to share about their working experiences? In this final edition of Share and Care, 10 seniors from the first 2 batches of BES kindly took time off their Wednesday evening to present on what they’ve been up to since they graduated 2/ 3 years back.

The Speakers of Share & Care 5. From left to right: Jacqueline, Nicholas, Anjana, Dawn, Shuyan, Sing Yee, Sara, Samuel, Zhangxin. Not in pic: Wan Xuan.

The sense of homecoming was palpable, from the small talk between the graduates and the banter directed at their ex-classmate speakers. So was the current BES seniors’ anxiety of post-graduation life, with questions spanning from CAP to interview advice. Particularly heartening was the number of Year 1 and Year 2 students who attended the session; they easily filled up entire rows of seats in the huge lecture theatre behind the senior batches.

During the talks and Q&A sessions, countless invaluable advice was passed down, ranging from the need to remain flexible in searching for suitable jobs, conduct personal or on-the-job skills upgrading and build relationships with fellow colleagues. It certainly seems like the interdisciplinary nature of our course helps in positioning us as fast learners and having relevant skills for a diverse range of industries, but that also means that our specific experiences in various industries, from our choice of modules and internships, matter greatly in the employers’ decision to hire. And yes – doing internships during school holidays is useful – both in helping us understand more about certain issues we are passionate about, and to help us realize places that we wouldn’t necessarily return to after graduation.

Q&A Session with the graduated seniors
Pizzas and networking!

All in all, we cannot thank the graduates enough for coming back on a weekday night and staying throughout to answer our questions and network with us over pizza. We sincerely wish you all the best in your careers ahead. In the meantime, back to worrying about finals for now…


Publicity, 5th BES Student Comm


In the final issue of In A Nutshell this semester, we’ll leave you pondering with more twists and turns on the climate front, while artists explore the value of continual survival of the species through films, literature and ever advancing genetic technology. Sweet.


Click on the image to download newsletter. All published newsletters are grouped under the category “In A Nutshell”.


Alternatively, click on the links below to access the news articles:



US backtracks on multiple climate change initiatives, including curb on coal, Clean Power Plan


Frictions as cities edge out countries in environmental protection


Unclear LULUCF rules gives countries room to manoeuvre Carbon limits


Environmental Conservation 


Scientists considering implications of efforts to bring back the woolly mammoth from extinction


Drawing wrong conclusions from conservation research coupled with media sensationalism could jeopardise conservation effort


U.N. officially recognising the inter-dependency of human well-being and biodiversity


Wastewater recycling becomes a crucial solution as water crisis claims the top position of global crisis list




Perception of water technology successes may have obscured essential water conservation messages


Borehole soil analyses for Cross-Island Line to begin amidst continued conversations on route choices


Green Ideas


Wildlife making themselves at home in Australia’s urban cities as greening effort heightens. But can all city dwellers embrace wildlife like Australians do?


Know your green buildings! Check out what constitutes a green building and how they can improve our environment


Lighter Notes 


Singapore’s native smooth-coated otters spotted climbing ladders – a sign of urban adaptation?


To survive, or not to survive. That is the question asked (and somehow answered) by these past literature and films as space exploration continues to progress


Right Here Right Now


Screening of “Before The Flood”, 6 Apr 3.30pm @ UHall Audi. Sign up here now!


In all seriousness, thank you very much for your support over the past acad year! Please let us know what you thought of the “In A Nutshell” series and how we can improve upon it in the future!

Publicity, BES Student Committee

Symposium on Futures Sustainability 2017

In the same week as World Water Day, WWF’s Earth Hour and Nparks’ BioBlitz, our BES students held the annual Symposium on Futures Sustainability (SFS 2017), this time in partnership with the Rotary Club of Suntec City. Our distinguished speakers, Ms Farah H. Sanwari (Executive Director of Sustainable Living Lab), Ms Xin-Yi Wong (Sustainability Manager for H&M Southeast Asia) and Professor Michael F. Maniates (Professor in Yale-NUS College) presented on the topic of “Steering Towards A Circular Economy” from different viewpoints, ranging from the public, the corporate to the philosophical-scientific.

Ms Kimmis Pun, President of the Rotary Club of Suntec City, giving the opening address of the Symposium

It was an enriching experience for all, as the speakers presented on the experiences and insights in their respective industries. Gwyneth, the vice Project Director for SFS 2017, agrees: “The Symposium for Futures Sustainability 2017 was a meaningful and educational event. The speakers, moderator and our participants all contributed to an insightful and lively discussion.”

“It’s really rewarding to see our participants enjoy themselves and I felt the topic of circular economy interesting and insightful!”, quips Lijean, the Project Director.

At the end of the day, here are three key points you shouldn’t miss from SFS17:

  • The beginning of things

Professor Michael Maniates from Yale-NUS College was the last speaker of the day but he traced sustainability all the way back to the production stage of consumerism.

Prof. Michael Maniates, Yale-NUS College Professor

To allow for a circular economic process, there are plenty of things to be considered even prior to the production of goods. For example, it is important to make sure that the materials used are non-toxic. Also, moving to modular designs may help to make repairing easier, tying in with Sustainable Living Lab’s “Repair Kopitiam” initiative that Ms. Farah earlier shared about (check that out here!).

  • Road to circular economy

The path to a circular economy is one that’s constantly under development. And one the key stakeholders in this process is private firms.

Ms Xin-Yi Wong, Sustainability Manager for H&M Southeast Asia

Ms Xin-Yi Wong was our second speaker. With the examples from H&M’s Sustainability Report in 2015, she emphasized that businesses’ decisions are indispensable in making sure that the economy stays on track as we move towards a circular economy. There are numerous directions that businesses can venture into as they develop the path, such as promoting a change in consumption behaviour, decoupling growth from resource use and taking the initiative to work with researchers and NGOs.

  • At the end of it all

Our first speaker Ms Farah spoke about the roles of the public. She began the presentation by analyzing the birds’-eye view of how we look at the relationship between the economy, society and environment – we see them as separate and with the economy as the main focus currently. However, to achieve greater sustainability, Ms Farah encouraged us to place the economy within society, and society within environment instead. So at the end of it all, how we manage our economy, and whether we can achieve a circular economy, essentially falls back to what we perceive as important in our daily lives.

Ms Farah H. Sanwari, Executive Director of Sustainable Living Lab

Furthermore, despite the promises a circular economy, Professor Michael Maniates also raised a cautionary point that its environmental benefits can be wiped out if the economy is allowed to grow without limits, much like the world today. This stems from the fact that a circular economy can never really be perfectly circular and waste-free, so even small percentages of waste can add up in absolute numbers if the economy expands. Professor Maniates touched upon an idea of increasing the complexity of the economic system instead of its size, but how that would play out in reality is food for thought.

Even as we reached the Q&A segment of the symposium, many answers from the speakers went back to the modern habit of consumption. Imagine if the road to a circular economy is an actual path: the businesses and professionals develop the best route and lead us to a sustainable economy. However, in order to achieve the goal, the society must be willing to adapt to any new paths uncovered. This begs an answered question – does the government come in here? What part can they play, and what’s the most effective way to connect environmental initiatives from the various stakeholders? At the end of the day, as much as it is oversaid, we do actually need a concerted effort to achieve a sustainable circular economy.

Regardless, a huge kudos to the SFS organizing committee for this very successful symposium. “Planning this event was a good experience for me, although it wouldn’t have been possible without a capable organizing committee. A huge thank you to everyone who made this event possible, and I look forward to the sustainability symposium in 2018!”, says Gwyneth.

Yup, see y’all next year!



5th BES Student Committee


Bots to replace bees as last resort while media outlets serve up a fake news scuffle on environmental papers. All that and more (Lotsa upcoming school events!) on the 6th issue of In A Nutshell!

Click on the image to download newsletter. All published newsletters are grouped under the category “In A Nutshell”.


Alternatively, click on the links below to access the news articles:


YAHOO! NEWSResearch claims deep entrenchment of fossil fuels makes impact of renewables negligible; climate goals not in sight.

DAILY MAIL ONLINE & THE GUARDIANAccusations fly over data-use concerns in key climate paper (check out the comments sections…).


SCIENCE MAGIllegal gillnet fishing driving the most endangered marine mammal closer to extinction, halving the population in just one year.

REUTERSGreat Barrier Reef once again in the spotlight as suspected coal spill threatens local waters.

THE GUARDIANShould we only conserve species that are advantageous to the human race? Scientists who champion the conservation of parasites say no.


THE STRAITS TIMESBugs trial for mosquito control going well; potentially a new measure alongside traditional solutions.

TODAY ONLINEGovernment stress scientific justification to actions in debate on wildlife treatment after recent slew of encounters.

THE STRAITS TIMESSingapore studying options for carbon taxation amidst international surge in popularity.

CHANNEL NEWSASIAIncrease in water tax for both businesses and households to reflect value of conservation and increasing production costs.


CNETFirst Asian country to introduce Vertical Forests: China fights pollution with high rise buildings carrying over 2500 plants, slated for 2018.

NEWS.COM.AUHummingbird-sized drones as possible replacements for honey bees’ ecosystem function as last resort.


PETAPIXELAspiring wildlife photographer sets up studio at home to recreate animals in their natural environments.


BY OUR OWN BES FRIENDSSymposium of Futures Sustainability, 25 March @ Utown Audi 1. Signups for volunteers closing soon on 11 March!

WATER MANAGEMENT TASK FORCE: Save our Water Carnival, 20-24 March @ Utown Plaza.

ENERGY CARTAEnergy Carta will be hosting Changing The Game, an exciting clean energy policy-making game. Sign up as facilitator or participant here!

NUS SAVELook out for 2 exciting upcoming events!

1) World Water Day Escape Room Simulation (21-22 Mar @ Utown)
2) NUS Goes Ctrl-Alt-Del: Waste Manager (23-24 Mar @ Central Forum)


Wanna have your opinions heard? Drop us a comment below!

– Publicity, 5th BES Student Comm