An Island of Sustainability

Singapore is a country many of you have probably heard of, possibly as the current home of Eduardo Saverin, or for their authoritarian laws. However, the centralized authoritarian government has also taken many impressive steps towards turning Singapore into a sustainable city, steps that could only be taken because of the nature of the government.

This government is a republic much like our own, except that there is only one party, the People’s Action Party, which has won every election since the beginning of Singapore self-rule in 1965. This government is constantly criticized for its authoritarian policies. For example, posting negative comments about public officials online can get you arrested. Yet, unlike most other authoritarian governments in the modern world throughout history, Singapore has extremely low levels of corruption, ranked the 5th least corrupt government worldwide by Transparency International (The US is 24th). Despite their power, Singaporean politicians have the best interests of the country in mind.

One such interest is the sustainability of the country. Being a large city on a small island, Singapore has extremely limited natural resources. All of the material needed for land reclamation or concrete needs to be imported from nearby Malaysia. Singapore also imports over 99% of its energy as fossil fuels from other countries.

With these in mind the government has chosen to implement several policies to create a more sustainable city. The number of cars on the road is kept low via a Certificate of Entitlement, which can cost up to $50,000 just for the right to own your car for 10 years. Housing is done more sustainably by the government’s Housing Development Board, or HDB, which creates public housing for over 84% of the population. This is not the sort of public housing that we know here in the US, as flats can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. With the government controlling housing, they can work on creating more sustainable buildings by implementing passive cooling, improved insulation, and using better building materials. In addition, they can knock down older HDB buildings from the 60s and 70s to build newer, more sustainable ones, which is not seen here in the US, where many homes are over 70 years old.

Many of these are admirable sustainability policies, yet are not at all practical for implementation in the US in their current state. How many Americans would vote for a politician that made them pay tens of thousands just for the privilege of owning a car? How many Americans would want to live in public houses that are the same as everyone else’s? Is an authoritarian but more sustainable country worth it? And with all of Singapore’s energy still coming from fossil fuels, and no radical plan for changing to renewable energy and non-fossil fuel burning transportation, is this even enough?