When radical change becomes possible (Eating Chilli Crab Book Launch)

Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene was launched online via the Ethos Books Facebook page on 27th of June 2020. You can access the livestream here and the full transcript of the conversation on this page.

Join Matthew, Aidan, Feroz and Melissa for the launch of Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene: Environmental Perspectives on Life in Singapore, the first book to ground environmental issues in a Singapore context. They discuss how our lives on this island are already deeply interconnected with the nonhuman world that flourishes all around us, the surprising environmental dimensions of life and culture in Singapore, and the kinds of changes that are necessary for humans – and Singapore – to survive and thrive in the Anthropocene.

You can find the speaker bios at the bottom of this page. Enjoy the conversation!


Photo of the conversation on Zoom:
Melissa Low (Top left) / Aidan Mock (Top right)
Matthew Schneider-Mayerson (Bottom left) / Feroz Khan (Bottom right) 


Melissa Low (ML): Thanks everyone for joining us. Hi, good afternoon, my name is Melissa. I am a research fellow at the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore. I’m thrilled today to be your moderator for this book launch of Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene: Environmental Perspectives on Life in Singapore, edited by Matthew Schenider-Mayerson. 

Thank you so much to Ethos Books for putting together this wonderful panel and I’m really excited for this afternoon, because we’re going to be talking about this book. We have one hour to discuss with our panelists, who will introduce themselves just shortly, after I give a short introduction.

Today we have three panellists. We have intentionally kept this panel short, so that we can go into the details of their specific chapters. Just want to let you know that how this hour will happen is that we will first dive into a few prepared questions for about 40 minutes. We will save the remaining time for Q&A. [redacted Sli.do & Q&A details]

I would just like to remind everybody to please try to be respectful of all views here today. I know environmental issues can be a little bit sensitive and we just want to remind everybody: be kind!

Without further ado I would love to introduce, and ask the panel to briefly introduce themselves. I have two very short questions for the panel to also share a little bit on as they introduce themselves. 

Specifically for Matthew, when you do introduce yourself, maybe you can share how this collection came about. And also for the others, what is one thing that this book is doing differently?

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson (MS-M): My name is Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, I am the editor of Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene. Thanks everybody, for joining us. I’m an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS College, where my work focuses on the Environmental Humanities and in particular on climate change and climate justice. 

I’ve been in Singapore now for five years and just a couple words about where this book came fromI think when I moved to Singapore in 2015, I was surprised that there was no book like this. There were lots of great academic articles and even some books about environmental history in Singapore, environmental governance and a lot of viewers will be familiar with a lot of the great web articles that have been written especially in the last few years about environmental issues in Singapore. 

But as someone who teaches about these topics, I was surprised that there was no general non-fiction book that would be engaging to a non-scholarly audience as well as to scholars. And so I thought: I’m in contact with all these brilliant young people in terms of my job, so why don’t we go about and produce such a book? And that’s how it started.

ML: Wonderful, glad you did! Maybe we can move to Aidan?

Aidan Mock (AM): Sure, thanks Mel. Hi everyone! Good afternoon, thanks for spending this afternoon with us. I’m Aidan, I use he/him pronouns. I recently graduated from Yale-NUS College’s Environmental Studies Program. I have done a bit of climate activism in the past, I was one of the founding members of Fossil Free Yale-NUS, a movement that campaigns for NUS to stop investing its 6 billion-dollar endowment in fossil fuel companies. I also was one of the co-organisers of the first Singapore Climate Rally although I’ve since stepped back from the work. Right now I’ve just graduated and I’m in between spacesin between college and working life.

In terms of what this book does differently...I think one of the things that I love about it is that it doesn’t presume expert knowledge, you don’t need to be an expert or an academic to understand what’s being said. I didn’t write it with that expert audience in mind, and I think a lot of the essays that I’ve read also are very accessible, and I love that about the book. Thanks.

ML: Thanks, Aidan. Feroz!

Feroz Khan (FK): Hi everyone, it’s such an honour to be here. Thank you Melissa, thank you Ethos Books, thank you Aidan and Matthew for joining me on this little journey. My name is Feroz, I was born and raised in Singapore. I work right now as a researcher on natural disasters in NTU and my work focuses on earthquakes and floods. I graduated in 2018 from Yale-NUS College, which is where I met Matthew and Aidan, and I was active in the environmental movement or the climate movement that was being built there as well.

I would say that the thing that this book or collection does differently from most others is that it really centers the voices of the people who are going to be the most affected by climate change. I think it would be such a radically different world if the discourse on climate in Singapore or in all  of these other places were shaped by the people who are going to live through most of it, as opposed to the people who have caused, or stood by as it was caused for a very long time. 

That isn’t to say that there is a generational war at play, I have so much solidarity for my elders who have taught me so much about this movement. But it is a reflection and a recognition that in Singapore especially, we tend to see young voices as being kind of unshaped or unmorphed by an illustrious civil service career and I think it’s time to shift that thinking a little bit and welcome some new thoughts into the perspective. Which is why I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be on this panel, and for Matthew for recruiting me for the collection. Yeah, and I’m very excited to move forward.

ML: Beautiful. Thank you all so much for the brief introduction. 

So, the first thing that I noticed apart from the beautiful illustration here (gestures to book cover) that was done by Tiffany Lovage. She drew this wonderful drawing for Ethos Books, and if you already have the copy you will know, and if you already read it, Aidan actually wrote a chapter titled ‘Singapore on Fire: From Fossil History to Climate Activism’. We’ll get into that a bit later. 

And Feroz co-wrote a piece with Al Lim. It’s called ‘Learning to Thrive: Educating Singapore’s Children for A Climate-Changed World’, and part of the chapteran excerptis also posted on New Naratif.

I wanted to ask and I think a lot of the members of the audience who have joined us today are also very curious. Why is the title Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene? Matthew, I wonder if we can kickstart with your thoughts on the title. I know it comes from a chapter in the book, but maybe you can talk us through why this was specially selected for the book.

MS-M: So as you mentioned, the title comes from the first chapter in the book by Neo Xiaoyun, which is called: ‘Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene: Nature, Culture and Care’. (Looks down) I’m just checking it to make sure I didn’t get the title wrong. 

I thought it illustrated what the book is about in a really profound but also in a kind of playful and engaging way. And so obviously, what could be more iconic in terms of Singaporean culture than food, and in particular, chilli crab? This is a book that is not just looking at environmental issues and climate change from a scientific or policy or technology lens, it certainly includes all of those fields, but it’s really looking at the way everyday life and culture is entangled with environmental issues. 

This particular chapter looks at the ethics of eating crabs, whether crabs feel pain, the long, tens of thousands of years in which human beings have been eating crabs. And the way the crab aquaculture has changed over time. It felt like it was a nice combinationeating chilli crab being very Singaporean, but also juxtaposing it with this term which some viewers may be familiar with, the Anthropocene. This is sort of the new geologic epic that we live inthe age of manwhich is characterised by climate change, by mass extinction, by plastic pollution, all these other things. So it felt like a nice, playful juxtaposition, something that feels very local, and that a lot of readers will of course, have a lot of personal experience with. 

And with this massive geologic scale, and bringing those things together, but also retaining a sense of playfulness, right? And I think that was something that was important, because I’m certainly aware that most people don’t want to read a really heavy, moralistic bookthat’s at every stage telling them what to do, and telling them what they’re doing wrong. And so keeping that sense of playfulness was important to us, and I think that’s behind the title.

ML: Great, it’s actually a really easy book to read, or maybe because I’ve been doing this for some time now. I was sharing with our panelists that I read it in a day and a half, and I really enjoyed all of the chapters. I did want to share with the audience today something that perhaps the panel doesn’t quite reflect: not all the chapters in the book touch only on climate change, it’s broad-based environmental perspectives. There are chapters on otters, there are chapters on chilli crabs, on crabs, and indigenous histories of Singapore, invasive species. There’s even a chapter that talks about the orang minyak or the oily man in Singapore. And looking towards the future as well, whether Singapore is actually living out its garden city namesake. 

I thought this was a really great selection of essays, and I wanted to ask the other panelists, Aidan and Feroz. One theme that carries through across all the essays is the theme and message of care for each other, for non-human species apart from humans ourselves. Why is this important? Why do you think this is important for a book like this? 

Aidan, perhaps we can start with you?

AM: Yeah, sure. I think for me, when I wrote my essay, it was a reflection of what are my most important values. Compassion is a really important value for me. And I think in a lot of climate activism work, I thought about how do we carry compassion to people that we engage? So that, at least for me, that was a motivation for my chapter. How do we understand the fossil fuel industry, and the people who created that industry in a more compassionate light? 

And I think it’s important, at least in the work that we do also, to avoid enemifying the opposition. To avoid seeing them as the enemy. So at least that’s particular to my chapter. But I think in the broader sense of the book, care is just really important as a human being to feel connected with the world, right? We think about the relationships that are most precious to us, because we care about something, or care about some people and want to protect them. I think a lot of the essays center care in different ways in our country. Care for chilli crabs, care for the orang seletar and the orang laut. It’s about extending these values that are important to us to other characters that we may not think about on a daily basis.

FK: Thanks for that Aidan, that’s a really powerful reflection. I think the idea of care or compassion being particularly valuable for this volume, because this volume is situated in Singapore, is— to just say the quiet part out loudwhich is that sometimes we seem to be living in a culture that doesn’t really seem to care. Or that has normalised a certain kind of callousness, a certain kind of pursuit of GDP, or pursuit of the specific, like the 5 Cs or the pursuit of a material understanding of what wellbeing is about. And that blinds us from paying attention to the things that we ought to care about.

My chapter is actually about children, and about the way that in Singapore there has long been a very unacknowledged, but at the same time, a deeply troubling amount of suffering that is endured by children in childhood. In the education system, in the way that they’re educated, in the way that they’re streamed, in the way that they’re put against each other, in the way that these competitive systems are designed to create a model of global excellence that destroys souls on an individual level. 

I don’t use these terms lightly. As the chapter lays out, there is a reason why we draw the connection between our inability or our failure to care for children, and our failure to care for the planet. To see all of these things as part of a central narrative or central story of dominant virtues, the virtues that we’ve come to associate with the Anthropocene, the virtues that have got us here, that have got us into this mess. And trying to think about virtues that might help us get out of it. I think that’s what the role of care really does in a volume like this. This book is a really beautiful excuse to learn to care about lots of things: about the otters, about Pulau Semakau, about tigers, and it really reflects that quite beautifully, I think.

ML: Thanks for that. Matthew, do you have anything to add?

MS-M: Yeah, everything that’s said was so right on point. The only thing that I would say is that part of the challenge that we face at this moment is recognising that we’re on the cusp of irreversible change. When it comes to climate change, when it comes to species extinction, when it comes to eco-systemic collapse. And part of I think extending that care is reconnecting ourselves to our pasts and to our futures. Being good descendents and being good ancestors. And extending that empathy and that sense of care to people in the future. To Singaporeans in the future, to Indonesians and Malaysians in the future. People who will suffer potentially from the things that we’re doing, or not doing right now. And so I think we want to extend that in the present, and also look back into the past and into the future that is to come.

ML: Thank you all so much for your thoughts on that question. I think one thing that was powerful for me when I picked up this book and read the introduction, is that all the essays were written by people who were bornand get thisthey were born between 1993 and 1998. I feel very senior now, but essentially...I mean I’m not great at math, but this means that people who wrote the essays in this book are between 22 to 27 years old. So that’s really powerful to me, because this book is, our youth are asking us to think about the environment differently, and think about our lives in Singapore differently, and how we interact with humans and non-humans alike.

That leads me to my next question: how might this idea of care be integral, given that we’re living in Singapore and that we’ve seen...I’ve absolutely seen a growing green movement in Singapore. I’ve been doing this for ten years. When I first started doing some advocacy for climate change back when I was in Catholic Junior College in 2005, it was nothing, right? And so how do you think this idea of care is integral to today’s green movement in Singapore? I would love to pose this to all three panelists. 

Feroz, maybe we can start with you.

FK: I’m happy to go, yeah. This is a beautiful question. I think one of the biggest sources of hope and optimism for me right now in the Singaporean green movement is the recognition that the boundaries of what movements or what campaigns care about need to expand. So when we saw, for example, the Climate Rally people make a post about the migrant worker dormitories and COVID-19, and acknowledging the ways that these issues and these crises are linked, and environmental migration or refugees...It’s just an example of the many forces that shape Singapore or that shaped the lives of migrants in Singapore. I think the idea of actual solidarity and compassion and care, and a politics of love as opposed to a politics of calculation in these movements is so exciting and it’s so inspiring. 

Because nobody gets out of bed to do calculations. Nobody gets out of bed to build a world that’s built on the most efficient, most optimal, possible way of organising a movement. I think the infusion of an actual speaking to the humanity of, or the speaking to the root of some of these problems has been deeply inspiring and it’s one of the most positive developments in the green movement right now and I’m very excited.

ML: Thanks Feroz. How about Aidan?

AM: Yeah, I think care is important on three different fronts in the green movement that has really expanded over the past couple of years. I think the first one is care for Singaporeans, in ways that we might not usually think about. So, for example, fossil fuel workers, those working in the fossil fuel industry. That industry has an expiration date. We don’t know what the date will be, but it does have an expiration date. And so part of our work is also arguing for a just transition, making sure that these folks are re-trained, making sure that we’re looking out for their futures eventually when the industry does start to shrink.

Another part of care on the Singaporean front is also for people who will be disproportionately exposed to the impacts of climate change. So, for example, heat stress is a huge issue. Past a certain heat limit the body can no longer deal with the heat, and you die. Not everyone in Singapore has access to air-conditioning, for example, so there is a huge issue of inequality as well when we’re thinking about, on the Singaporean front. And so that’s one group. 

On the international and overseas front, obviously inequality is also international. There are communities right now that are dealing with the loss of their homes because of sea level rise. We’re also talking about biodiversity going extinct because their habitats just don’t exist anymore. And so that’s the second front of care, thinking about inequality on an international scale. It’s something that we’re still figuring out what’s the best way to communicate that to people, because sometimes it can be hard to relate to things that are far away, or that you don’t interact with from day to day. I do think some of the essays in the book do a fantastic job of foregrounding these issues or individuals that we don’t think about on a daily basis.

The last part of care that I think is really important and I think is starting to grow in awareness is also to care for each other. It’s difficult working in the green movement space. There’s a lot of work, it’s very tiring. A lot of times it’s very underappreciated, and I think part of what I’m interested in the next step is how do we look after each other? How do we make sure that we’re taking care of each other, being kind to each other in the work that we do, so that this work exists not just for the next five or ten years, but we’re building things that will last and support each other and grow for a long time more to come. I think those are the three aspects of care that I think are really central and important to the growing green movement here.

ML: That’s right. One thing that jumped at me across all the essays was how much passion there is in the words in this entire volume. And one thing I would sayFeroz brought up this topic of politics of love, right? And this whole issue about whether or not, if you are critical about things that you see and do, or what people do...I do feel that the essays in this book are interesting because all of the essays come with a set of endnotes, and you can see that so much researchand not just passionbut so much research has gone into each of the chapters. One of the chapters I’m just looking at, flipping now, has 71 references. So much effort has gone into this. 

I think this is something that, as all the panelists have said earlier, it’s an interesting volume because it cuts across so many chapters, so many issues, not just climate change. Although we’re talking about climate change right now, as I said in my introduction earlier, we’re not able to bring in all the authors for this particular panel and book launch. But absolutely please, when you engage with the chapters, feel free to also reach out to the other authors in the volume. Reach out to them and ask them about their chapters if you have questions. Even our own panelists here, I think they’re all on social media and willing to engage with their chapters as well.

Matthew, I just wanted to check with you, if you had anything to add on to the growing green movement in Singapore, and how this book contributes to that?

MS-M: I think I would just say as somebody who’s been working on climate change and energy for about 13 years, it was pretty depressing for a while. I think for a while there was just a sense of people don’t care, people are not paying attention. Everything that we’re doing to get people to care is failing, and that seems to have changed a lot over the last two or three years, globally and also in Singapore. It seems like the level of interest, concern, the sophistication of the discourse has just skyrocketed, and that’s been really exciting to see. 

The only other thing I’d add at this point is that I think it’s the strength of the book, that the authors are in their twenties. I think that for lots of reasons, social-psychological reasons, path dependence, other things, it’s difficult for folks in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies to really recognise the gravity of the situation right now. I think for a lot of us, we grew up and the environment was about Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and it was an optional interest, sort of like golf and mahjong, and you can be interested in it if you want, and if not that’s okay. But that’s really changed, and so I think young people are really leading the way in terms of opening our eyes to the reality of the situation. 

But also that, I think describing it as a book that’s written by young people might give folks the impression that it’s a book for young people. It’s not a young adult book. From what I can see on Instagram, Goodreads, people in their twenties are really loving it. But I think people of any age will learn a great deal from this book, and should check it out.

ML: Yeah, absolutely. I think one thing I would like to point out here as well is that the book doesn’t only criticise; it’s not just critical. It also provides solutions and options for those in power... everyone of us, to change the way we think and change the way we act. So, it was something interesting for me.

Since we’re on the topic of the green movement, I did want to delve in a little bit, I hope you can indulge me. So, Aidan and Feroz, how is your work and broadly speaking, your work on climate activismhow did it influence your chapter that you wrote? And I know both of you engage in other forms of writing as well, so if you could talk to how the activism side of the thing actually influenced your chapter, that would be great. 

Aidan, could you start?

AM: Alright, sure. My chapter talks aboutvery brieflyit’s about the history of the fossil fuel industry, and how that relates to climate activists moving forward. The whole reason why I wrote the chapter was because while we were doing our climate activism, and while I was observing other climate activists in other countries, there is a huge tendency to say “Yo, the fossil fuel industry is terrible”, “Bugger off”, “We need to get rid of it ASAP.”

Which we do, but the thing is that, I think that there is a reason that things exist. I think not everyone in the fossil fuel industry is a terrible, evil person who wants to destroy the Earth. I wanted to interrogate, how did we get here? Why are we here? What are the reasons that we have the industry in SIngapore in its size today? And so that’s really the motivation. Because I felt that as an activist, you can say “Get rid of Jurong Island,” but I felt that I need to know how Jurong Island came about, and what it supports and everything that relates to the island. 

My essay is an exploration of this history and I thought also on how as climate activists with this knowledge we can move forward. Because I think it is important to understand history if we’re going to engage with the authorities and the government in a manner, in which we come from a place of compassion.

ML: Interesting, thanks for that. Feroz?

FK: I guess I have two main strands, the firstmy introduction to climate activism really started with Yale-NUS Divest, which was the first divestment campaign in Singapore and which is now called Fossil-Free Yale-NUS, and now has chapters and other solidarity movements in Singapore as well, so huge shoutout to them. 

I think the thing I realised is that it’s difficult to care unless it’s made relevant to you. And it’s difficult to care if the only way this issue gets talked about is in equations, or in GDP calculations, or in carbon taxes at $5 or $15. If we stick with what academics call the neoliberal discourse, but what I would say is an aggressively boring and demeaning way to think about the Earth, it’s going to be impossible to care, and it’s going to be impossible to motivate or organise anyone to actually contribute to activism.

The second strand of this is that in my research, in the work that I do at NTU, we focus a lot about communities that are affected by disaster. And I say disaster, not natural disaster, because the core premise of the field that I’m in is that there is no such thing as a natural disaster. There are natural hazards, the Earth shakes, there are earthquakes, but disasters are by human choices. It is social choices that mean that there are people in the way of a hurricane, or that there are people who would die because of an earthquake. And the core way that that motivated the chapter was that there is actually a lot of stake in these questions. 

How do you educate children so that they’ll be able to be resilient enough to handle losing homes at age 15, and rebuilding their communities after a hurricane or after a disaster? How do you create a capacity and a community that actually can address some of these systemic issues or build resilience to a certain kind of event, or to a certain kind of future? Because the heart of what Matthew was saying earlier is that this is real, and in Singapore it’s very tempting to believe that we live in a fortress, but the fortress is very thin. 

And eventually at some point either our generation or the generation that we raiseif we choose to raise a generationa whole other rabbit hole that we can go down laterwe’re going to have to face difficult questions of how we want to rebuild and how we want to build back. COVID-19 is proving this right now. If there’s anything that’s clear, it’s clear that at least in Singapore the solution to rebuilding, or model of rebuilding is how much money we can throw at the problem and which ways, as opposed to: “Do we need to actually interrogate the systems that make us so vulnerable, or the ways that we house our migrant workers?” and issues like that.

I would say those are the two main strands. If you want to get someone to care about the climate, or to care about these issues, and to pay attention to them, you need to give them inroads. You need to talk about how raising their children for the Anthropocene makes their children happier, and makes their children more well-adjusted human beings. We’ve seen so many case studies and examples of communities that are affected by disaster around the world.

What happens to schools in those communities? What happens to education in those communities? I’m just going to leave that there, and highlight that there’s lots that we could dig into.

ML: Great, I think it’s a great segway to the next question that I have, which is about what does this book say. I think both of you have already started to talk about it. What does it say about individual action versus, or together with structural change? I know both your chapters do talk to some extent about both, so if I can ask you to flesh out some of the issues relating to individual action, and how you think people in Singapore can change their actions and mindsets? Versus what some would say really needs to happen, which is systemic, structural change.

For Aidan, I would love if you could go deeper into the issue about perhaps the fossil fuel industry, and for Feroz, education. 

Perhaps we could start with Aidan.

AM: Sure! Just to clarify for folks in the chat who are unfamiliar with what individual action versus structural change means. Individual action is things that we do on a personal basis: recycling, picking up trash from the street, doing beach cleanups. 

Systemic change, when activists talk about it, we’re thinking about government policies. We’re thinking about what sort of regulations do we have? What sort of funding is available? We’re thinking about things really from a macro perspective. Traditionally there has been some tension in terms of area of focus. Do we focus on changing people’s individual behaviours? Or do we focus on going after those in power who have more ability to change the big picture levers like laws? 

I would say personally, I’ve been part of two different climate activism groups and both of them have been very big on structural change. I think my chapter talks a lot about structural change and how each of us as individuals fit into that narrative. Because individuals are part of movements. And part of my chapter is also talking about how everybody has a role to play, regardless of your skill level, regardless of your knowledge level. Each of us has a role to play in the climate transition.

Structural change for me, at least, is enormously important. In terms of what regulations and what laws we have. SG Climate Rally, when I was working with them, we talked a lot about national climate action. So the carbon tax, does it need to be raised? What are our views on ExxonMobil and the refining plants on Jurong Island? Those centred our discourse. And obviously now it’s moved to the elections, and I just wanna segway here and say SG Climate Rally is doing some brilliant work in terms of the elections. I’ll share my screen for a quick second. 

(Aidan shares his screen, which shows a short write-up about the Greenwatch 2020 campaign.)

So SG Climate Rally, together with Speak for Climate, they’ve started the Greenwatch 2020 campaign. It’s a campaign to highlight local environmental policy concerns, and make that one of the key discussion points during the upcoming GE. Their latest initiative is Neighbourhood Greenwatch, and the idea basically is that “Let’s get all the climate or environmentally interested people in the same GRC or SMC together to talk about these issues and engage the politicians together, to learn about climate issues, and organise for collective action during this GE. And it’s a unique moment that we’re in; that we’re able to do this sort of coordination. It’s something that I’m very inspired by, I know the people who are a part of this initiative, it’s a fantastic initiative, I’m really excited to see where it goes. 

If you’re watching this and you’re like, oh, what’s that all about? If you’re interested in learning more, and being part of a political movement at the GRC level, the grassroots level. There’s a form that you can fill up: tinyurl.com/NGWatch, so that’s short for Neighbourhood Greenwatch. 

If anybody’s interested in structural action that you can take in the next 20 days I think, or 30 days, pretty soon. That would be an avenue for you. And I will cap it off there. 


FK: Thanks for the plug, Aidan. That’s super resonant. Salute to the Climate Rally folks, thank you for your service.

I have a confession, which is that I think this individual action and structural change binary is an aggressively boring binary that ignores the fact that structures exist on so many different levels. And it was very fashionable at one point and I confess that I am guilty of this as well. To be like “Oh, it’s all about structural change. I don’t need to recycle, I don’t need to reduce the amount of meat I eat, I don’t need to do any of those things.” 

I think the main thing that I see as healing that shift or structure is thatthe fact that we recognise that we have a structural analysis of the problem doesn’t absolve us of the urgency of living with decency and compassion on a day to day level. If we can recognise that actually the structures that we live in are stopping us from living with decency on a day to day level—we don’t actually have multiple streams of waste that enable us to live in a more sustainable environment, we don’t actually have an energy infrastructure that allows us to turn on the lights without feeling as if we’re burning more gas.

I think the fact that we can recognise our individual lives are shaped very deeply by these structures, and at the same time uplift the highest spiritual principles of moral clarity and consistency, and say that, “If I care about this problem when it happens in the dormitories, I care about this problem when it happens in foreign policy, I care about this problem when it happens in my own neighbourhood, I care about this problem when it happens with children.”

I think that that is a kind of lens that really opens up this individual action versus structural change binary to see that we need a type of thinking that’s oriented around transition virtues or healing the Earth in all of these different aspects, or all of these different structures that we encounter.

So education is a classic example. Choosing to raise a child is a deeply individual and very, very powerful choice that many people make. There’s so many decisions, there’s so many parts of that story that are individualised. And I think parenting in Singapore...it’s either individualised or it’s at the level of the couple or maybe if you’re lucky, at the level of the extended family. 

But I think, a parent can recognise, immediately, on an intuitive level: “I have all this energy and nurturance that I give to my child. As soon as my child walks out the door and goes to school, that’s out of my hands, to some degree.” If he goes to a school, or she goes to a school, or they go to a school where they’re taught that nature is basically pre-extracted GDP, no amount of educational love and compassion that I give to them is going to undo all of that. 

If I try to give my child the idea that he is part of a tradition or an identity that is beautiful and valuable and nice, and they walk out into a world that is filled with racism, no amount of individual action is going to address the fact that these structures operate outside of our control.

The question is really, how can we translate this analysis on to a day to day level, on a lived way? The thing that I found is actually, a lot of the folks that used to be criticised a lot for, “Oh my god, all you’re doing is recycling, all you’re doing is this and that,” ended up becoming quite radicalised and being able to see that the reason it’s so difficult for me to live a lifestyle where I actually recycle is because there’s no waste ecosystem here. Or everything is channelled in this very specific technocratic way to Pulau Semakau. Again, we have a chapter on that as well, right? 

And so I think this shifting, the understanding of this binary between individual action and structural change and recognising that every single one of our individual choices carries a moral weight and a moral pain, because of the structures that shape and constrain those choices, can be quite powerful. It’s such a real story in the environmental movement, right? What happens when mums realise that their babies are being poisoned by water that’s polluted? Or what happens when communities realise that structural choices are really affecting them at a deeply individual level? That’s when radical change becomes quite possible. Yeah.

ML: That’s great, there’s so much there to unpack, of course. I thought those were great answers.

Matthew, did you have anything to add on individual action and structural change?

MS-M: Yeah, I think in some ways it is an important question and in some ways it’s a little bit of a false binary, as Feroz was suggesting. It is a question that is present in a number of the chapters (in the book). So the chapter that Feroz was mentioning by Fu Xiyao on Semakau is starting off to look at the question of waste and Pulau Semakau through the lens of indigenous environmental histories—the displacement of orang laut there or descendents of orang laut, the way that traditional environmental knowledge is lost. And then contrast it towards the end of the chapter in a really moving way, with (us) sitting in a movie theatre and being told that you should reduce, reuse and recycle to save Pulau Semakau.

It also comes up in a chapter by Matthias Ooi, which is on Jewel Changi and the ethics of aviation. Contrasting if you are someone who identifies as an environmentalist, you’re always basing this choice of: “Do I get on a plane and fly?” 

Of course now we can’t get on a plane and fly, but at some point it’ll come back, and we’ll face this big choice, and it seems like it’s all or nothing. But of course governments build infrastructure. Governments fight with each other to have the most modern, up to date airport and all these things. And governments can also take the steps of making other forms of travel more possible, that are less harmful.

I think it’s a super important question. But I think ultimately, 30 years ago, 50 years ago, things were not yet dire enough that we could say, “Okay, let’s try Virtue. I’m gonna try to live the most green life I can, maybe everyone will follow me, maybe seven billion people will do it.” 

But I think at this point in time, realistically, it’s not gonna happen. I think we’re seeing that to some extent in this ongoing pandemic. Countries that maybe are sort of scared are actually laying down some regulations are seeing spikes, such as the United States, where I’m from. Countries that haveadmittedly very difficultbut in some senses, strict lockdowns, are able to control the problem. 

I think ultimately individual choices are super important and people should make them, people should recycle, people should think about whether they want to eat meat, all these things. But ultimately, if we’re going to respond to climate change and the other urgent challenges, it’s going to be at the national and international level. And so the kinds of action that Aidan was pointing towards, the kinds of educational systems that Feroz is writing about, that’s where we need to see change.

ML: Totally agree. This actually reminds me of a comment that somebody made to me. It was quite random, at an event. This lady, she told me she had a seven year old daughter and her daughter was listening to all that was happening around Singapore last year. It was announced that it was the year towards zero waste, and there was a lot of discussion about how Pulau Semakau would run out of space in 16 years.

Her 7 year old told her, “Mummy, what are we going to do? When I grow up and I’m in my twenties there would be no more space for waste in Singapore.”

I think everyone who’s consuming environmental policy in Singapore...the narratives, the messages, will deal with it in a deeply personal and different way. Same with the book, I think what struck me as important was that it’s not only that the authors are putting through what they feel and what they’ve researched, of course. But it’s also about thelike with any bookit’s also about what the readers make of it and how they go out there into the world and make changes. So that’s really important.

Something that Aidan alluded toand he mentioned the Greenwatchwe’re right in the middle of a General Election, GE2020. We are also still battling COVID-19. I want to ask, is this the right time for this book? Obviously, we’re tackling the climate emergency right now, but there’s so many other things in this world that we’re also battling on many fronts. I wondered if we could round up the prepared questions segments, and ask Matthew first, followed by the two panelists. 

What do you think, is this the right time to be flying the climate flag high? Your thoughts, please.

MS-M: Yeah I can start off here. I think the right time would have been 20 years ago. We couldn’t get things together that fast. 

In terms of talking about climate during a very difficult pandemic, I think it’s important to start off by saying this pandemic is horrible. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives, a lot more people will be potentially permanently affected. It’s had really unjust consequences on poor people, people in less wealthy nations. And of course there’s been psychological effects on all of us around the world. But from a climate perspective, we were headed on a very bad trajectory. Despite the exciting developments that were happening over the last few yearsthis rise in youth activism, the growing awareness—we were headed in a very bad direction, and to a certain extent, this pandemic has sort of hit pause on the world.

Of course, governments are always responsible for propping up the status quo, whether that’s fossil fuel companies operating with tax breaks, or being given land, or all these things. But at this particular moment, it’s clear that governments are really having to actively intervene. To save their economies, to keep them healthy, to keep them fed, to keep them sane, all these kinds of things. That kind of active intervention—this is our chance. This is our chance to stop climate change, to head off on a different trajectory. And some countries are trying to do that, you’ve seen the EU really bring climate into the center of its response to the pandemic. Other countries have perhaps not been as forward-looking in doing…

ML: Thanks. Aidan and Feroz, would you have anything to add to that?

FK: Yeah, I think the main thing I will add is just that COVID-19 and climate change is some way or another manifestations of the same disease. We know now that zoonotic viruses like COVID-19 are linked to, or at least part of the causation is linked to, land use change, deforestation, habitat loss and the encroaching of many species that were previously not in contact with human populations, into contact with human populations. 

And so we know that pandemics and climate scientists have been talking to us about this. We know that this is not going to be the last pandemic. COVID-19 is not the last one. And we know that this is going to continue in the future. And we know that there are a lot of changes that need to be made.

I think the biggest thing I will sayand I think Matthew already covered this in its entirety alreadyis if at the end of this entire pandemic, we haven’t actually reevaluated what “the economy” is, or whether the economy actually works for the wellbeing of people, or the wellbeing of the people who own the economy. I mean, call them what you willthe 1%, the shareholders, the core stakeholders that don’t include the majority of people. 

If we haven’t reevaluated what the economy is and whether it actually works for the wellbeing of people, as opposed to the wellbeing of stock prices and shareholders, then I think we would have failed in our duty to pay attention to why this pandemic is happening, or who is dying from this pandemic.

The other huge thing about this is of course, I think especially in Singapore, if at the end of this we have not reevaluated radically and by radically I mean in its original etymological sense, at the rootthe way that migration and the conditions of migrants continues to be shaped in Singapore, we would have failed our essential duty. And I think that it’s important for us to pay attention to that.

AM: I will quickly add on. I think I disagree with Matthew, I don’t think the ideal time for the book to come out was 20 years ago. 

I think the conditions in which you plant a seed are very important, you can bring a seed to the desert, but it’s not going to grow if you plant it in sand. I was talking with Mel about this during the rehearsal run. Compared to 10 years ago, there is a huge proliferation of climate groups: SG Climate Rally, SYCA, Fridays4Future, so many groups that are now emerging. There really is a sense that there is a community thinking about these issues who will grow up together fighting these issues and working these issues. 

I think that’s the perfect moment for a book like this to come out. I think I’m also envious for everyone who’s going to have the opportunity to read this book for the first time, as perhaps one of the materials in class. That’s going to be such an amazing momentto learn about these things and be able to talk about them with friends. I would say it’s a really good time for the book to come out.

ML: Excellent. Okay, so I just wanted to say thank you so much for going through the questions that I had put together with Ethos Books. 

We now are going to go straight into the live Q&A... Really excited to see so many questions that have come in on Sli.do. If you have specific questions for specific panelists, please do put the name in front. But I see that there are loads of questions and there’s one with 10 upvotes, so I’m gonna ask that question.

“Who we see as deserving of care is shaped by power and privilege. What does it mean to place the burden on climate activists to care for the powerful fossil fuel industry?” 

I believe this should be one for Aidan to take.

AM: I get the gist, the question ofcorrect me if I’m wrong butI’m reading it as why should we care for the fossil fuel industry? When they haven’t traditionally cared for the planet…?

ML: No, I think it’s about what does it mean to place the burden of care on climate activists? So why should it only be climate activists going up against the powerful fossil fuel industry? That’s where the question is going.

AM: Right, right. I mean ideally it wouldn’t be! Ideally, it would be a whole-of-society effort, to pitch in. I think in my mind, it would be great to have everybody aligned on these sorts of issues. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the burden has traditionally fallen on climate activists. But I also think part of the question assumes that there are people who are climate activists and there are people who aren’t climate activists. I feel that there are just people who aren’t climate activists yet. It affects all of us, in some way or another. Part of the work is also growing and communicating that awareness. That’s what I will say I guess, to the question.

FK: I’d like to add a small thing to that as well, which isI just want to salute the person who asked this question for acknowledging yeah, actually, it’s much easier to care for things if the things that we care about are sympathetic protagonists, right? Power and privilege does shape who we care about. 

I think I will speak only for myself, I do not care about the powerful fossil fuel industry. I care about the workers that are affected by the fossil fuel industry, who have higher rates of cancer because they’re involved in its extractions. I care about the people who are living alongside the places where the fossil fuel industry continues to pollute our planet, but do I care about the shareholder of ExxonMobil? Do I care about the vast infrastructure that they’ve created? 

As a human being, on a human level, sure, I will acknowledge everyone’s shared human dignity. But I think it is essential to recognise that much is at stake here, we’re not playing a game. There is no place for ExxonMobil or Chevron or companies that have poisoned the communities all across the world, in a future that is sustainable. Any attempt to rebrand, as an energy company that has been so thoroughly studied by academics around the world, and shown to be the greenwashing propaganda that it is. 

These companies, they buy out or they acquire green energy companies, and then proceed to immediately shut them down, or continue to explore for oil, even as we’re told we don’t have the carbon budget for it. So I don’t care for the powerful fossil fuel industry, but I think it’s critical to recognise who the chief victims of the fossil fuel industry are, often including the workers of the fossil fuel industry, and the communities that are hired by the fossil fuel industry, or live alongside the fossil fuel industry.

I think that the history of Jurong Island, or the fact that the Singapore government extracted sand from countries around Southeast Asia to give Exxon a prime real estate upon which to pollute the Earth is grotesque. And I think those are the relationships of care that are shaped by power and privilege that we can attend to and pay attention to, and not get confused by the fact that at some point along all of this, we have to bail out the Exxon shareholder. No, no, I think that would be a mistake.

ML: That’s very powerful. Matthew, did you have anything to add?

MS-M: Yeah, let me just add briefly. I think the question about all the responsibility falling on climate activists is an important one. But I would just second what Aidan was saying, which is that it shouldn’t be. The reason we wrote this book is not to entertain climate activists, to a certain extent. I think even if you, like Mel, are an expert in Singapore’s environmental performance and culture and all these things, you’ll find it engaging. You’ll discover new things, and you’ll find it to be a really good read. But ultimately, it’s written for everyone else. I think those are the most important people who need to be reading it.

Sometimes we think about books in terms of just pouring out knowledge into the readers, but ultimately books can also be about building relationships between people.That’s why the last page of the book is about how to organise your very own Eating Chilli Crab book club. Maybe you’re someone who thinks of yourself as an environmentalist, and you’ve never figured out that perfect opportunity to talk to your parents, or talk to friends, or even co-workers. And so this book can be a way to share that information, and to share the basis and the depths of your concern. 

ML: This relates to a question that was posed as well. It only has one vote, but I thought it was so important toit’s actually not a question, it’s a comment. So this person says, “I first heard about climate change” and in brackets, “I was 9.” 

“It often felt isolating, depressing and like you’re carrying the world on your shoulders.” It relates to the burden of care question that we asked earlier. And I thought it would be great if we could talk about eco-anxiety and what do you guys do.

If somebody were to pick up this book and feel really depressed about what’s going on, and maybe not just this book; stuff that they read online. What are some ways that you try and address eco-anxiety and address this feeling of helplessness? If we can share with the audience, I think it would be really helpful.

AM: Feroz, do you want to go first? If not, I can share a bit. 

FZ: Please, go ahead.

AM: I think I grappled with this question on a very personal level. I’d like to give a trigger warning for anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. If those are triggering topics for you, you can just mute the speakers, and once I’m done speaking, I’ll be done talking about this.

(TW: Anxiety, depression and suicide ideation.)

In February and March this year, I had a really bad depressive episode. It was linked to the Australian fires, it was linked to COVID-19, the floods in Jakarta, the drought in Thailand and also the police investigation into two Singapore climate activists from Fridays4Future. 

And it just felt like there was no hope. It was tremendously depressing, and I remember waking up one morning when Covid was just ramping up and I was like, you know to be honest if I got Covid and I passed away tomorrow, I wouldn’t feel so bad about it. It was just a very dark time, and I shared that with a friend, and she was like, you know maybe it’s time to think about getting some professional help.

(end of TW)

And so I’ve been seeing a therapist for the past 3 months, and that’s been tremendously helpful. I think in that process also, there are some things that I’ve come upon that have helped me relieve the eco-anxiety burden. I think the first thing is that not feeling like it falls all on my individual shoulders or anybody else’s shoulders. There is no one person who is going to solve climate change. It’s not going to work out that way. I realised one day that if I didn’t exist on the face of this planet, the climate trajectory? Pretty much the same, with or without us as individuals. That did take off some of the burden.

I think also: working in teams of people. When I’ve done organising, it’s always been teams of people and having teams means that you can step back, or step forward as and when you feel capable and can manage it.

I think the last thing that’s really important is, figure out what gives you hope. That’s the number one thing, I think, for me, in activism and organising. If there’s no hope, then what’s the point in anything? And so part of it is being deliberate about what makes you hopeful. If Facebook and Instagram make you very hopeless about the state of the general world then probably shut off that tab. But for me, it’s going out to nature, being with friends.

My essay, I would like to hope, also channels hope in a very strong way and empowers people who might read it to feel motivated and feel like they have a role to play in this giant conundrum.

But it’s a hugely difficult topic, one in which everyone will encounter in a different way. That’s what I’ll say.

ML: Thanks, Aidan.

FK: Aidan, I got nothing but love for you my brother. Thank you for sharing that, thank you, it was very powerful. I just have a few short things to say on this question of eco-anxiety. 

I think there is no self-care remedy. There is no pill that you’re going to take. There is an entire neo-liberal self-care industry that tried to sell you on a certain idea of what it would take to soothe you from this anxiety. I don’t think that that is real. I think the only remedies for eco-anxiety are spiritual and social. And I use those words advisedly. 

I think for me the moment where my despair started to get transformed a little bit more into hope and love was really when I stopped seeing myself as Feroz from Singapore, but started to see myself as part of a tradition, and coming from a long history. And I was loved and fortified and developed and built by my ancestors and my parents and my family long before I was built by Yale-NUS College or long before I went to any of these institutions.

Recognising that the forces that we are trying to transition away from, or the structures that we are trying to transform are not new. They are old. And they are the same forces that were responsible for the indentured servitude that brought my ancestors to Southeast Asia. Or anything like this. 

Recognising that we are connected to a tradition, and I think especially in this moment, recognising that the highest form of this tradition is on display for us right now. We are seeing, in the US for example, and all across the world, the decolonisation movement, the whole George Floyd protests and the way that that sort of uplifted the voices of the Black radical tradition for everyone to see. And how is it that people who were enslaved and oppressed for 400 years have taught the world so much about love, right? That’s something that I think I draw a lot of inspiration from. 

I saw one of the questions on Sli.do is, who inspires you for this? I draw a lot inspiration from Cornel West and Angela Davis and other scholars and thinkers who have written about this idea, that if you know you are a part of a group of people or you live in a situation in which everyday is worse than the day before it, there has to be some sort of higher calling or higher version of your self-conception, your identity, your tradition, that supports you and uplifts you. 

I think finding that tradition for Singaporeans is a daily task. It’s a task that...our history was stripped away from us, we were sold a very specific pre-packaged narrative. Find the history that connects you not only to this land, but to the nature around us, find the history that connects you to Southeast Asia and to all of these places.

And I would say, yeah, of course, everything Aidan said about going into nature. That’s top-shelf stuff. There’s nothing quite like Macritchie Reservoir. 

ML: Yeah, it’s good to take a break, every now and then... Matthew, I didn’t want to leave you out. Any tips for those who feel a little bit anxious and depressed, how might they address those feelings?

MS-M: I think the two answers already are so beautiful that I don’t have much to add. I would just say that this is an important question, and ignoring it means that we don’t speak to people’s emotional and psychological realities. I think environmentalism has focused so much on committing to action, and it hasn’t talked enough about people’s feelings.

That’s something that we see in a number of chapters in this book. People are not just laying out facts and histories and arguments, but also reflecting on how it makes them feel, and grappling with that. 

In terms of my experience, there are two things that I would point to. One of them is action. If you are just reading all the bad news and taking it in, and don’t feel like you’re doing anything meaningful, then you will feel depressed and anxious, inevitably. The other thing I would echo is Aidan’s comment on the importance of connection.

I think for some people, activism gives them a source of connection, as Feroz was suggesting, connecting to previous traditions, and ancestors and broader groups that we’re part of is also important. But if you take on this weight on your own, I think it certainly can be crushing.

ML: Thank you all so much. Let’s move on to the next question. I did pick up one on green recovery. We were talking about this during our rehearsal. This question has 7 upvotes. It goes, “Talks of a post-COVID-19 green recovery are featuring in the discourse of many countries. Why is it not happening as much as it should in Singapore?” 

Some thoughts from our panel, please.

FK: I have a very quick thing on that, which is I understand that there’s an open letter circulating right now about the Emerging Stronger Taskforce or something along those lines that sort of touches on this question. The people who are being made the architects of Singapore’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery are the same people that built our vulnerabilities to this pandemic by designing an economy and designing a system of Singaporean wealth and GDP that is vulnerable to precisely these shocks.

That letter has been met with a lot of resistance in some circles, being like, “What do you mean, you want community leaders? Let the CEOs handle this.” I think the idea of the economy is best left to the CEOs, has left us in precisely this moment where there’s over 440 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere, right? 

I think one thing with the question of a green recovery is also that a lot of people aren’t sure that there are, or that there exists models of recovery, or models of an economy-society relationship that are actually sustainable. On this end I would just refer and cite endlessly the amazing literature that’s coming out of the folks that are writing about degrowth, especially people like Jason Hickel or Giorgos Kallis who are writing about ways to design economies or create policies for economies that actually work for the wellbeing of people. 

We’ve seen some cities around the world decide that as a result of COVID-19 parts of the city are going to be car-free or recovery or recovery/stimulus funds are going to be used for different things. The case for UBI (universal basic income) has been blown way out of the water compared to what it was just two years ago. I think the fundamental thing is that there are solutions, and these solutions have been tested and there’s really good evidence for them. 

We just are not being governed by, or not being led by people who are paying attention to what those solutions are, and are convinced that Singapore at the drop of the hat could fall down like a house of cards—which is the ultimate insult to Singapore.

MS-M: Yeah, I don’t think it’s wise for me to speculate about why these things aren’t being taken seriously, as seriously as they should be. Maybe the questions are, what could people do about it? 

I think people are raising their voices and being critical of the Emerging Taskforce, raising a lot of questions that Feroz was just asking. I think for me, the framework that emerged from Bertrand Seah’s chapter, which is the last chapter in the book, which is called ‘Another Garden City is Possible’. 

As he puts it compellingly, we need to rethink what pragmatism is. Singapore has long had an idea of pragmatism that was focused on developmentalism and economic growth and the rhetoric of scarcity. And those things were real, and they continue to be real to some extent. But given the threats that we’re facing, not just in the distant future, but in the very near future, given the sort of damage that even small countries are able to inflict on global problems...I think we really need to redefine what pragmatism is.

ML: Okay. So, there are some questions about who inspired our panelists. Who are some of the environmental writers or cultural critics that the contributors of the essays to this volume (are inspired by)? 

Since we only have three of you on this panel, perhaps you can start thinking about who are some of theI think Feroz has already mentioned a few authors that you’ve read. I think the audience is interested to know, what have you read and who do you continue to be inspired by as you continue in the space and as you continue to write and advocate for change.

AM: I can go. I think there are four books in my mind that are the most influential environmental books that I’ve read. The first one is by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer. She’s an indigenous researcher in the US who does a lot of work on thinking about how long spiritual traditions like Feroz was saying are linked to our lives and the environment. The book is called Braiding Sweetgrass. In my mind at least, it’s the best environmental book that I’ve ever read. It would be the number one thing that I recommend to anybody. 

FK: Second only to this one, please! (refers to Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene, laughs)

AM: See, I haven’t finished reading it yet, but we don’t tell everybody else that. But that was one book that really taught me about what love looks like. In a small micro-scale, how it applies to bigger movements. So that’s one that I recommend.

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything, this really fantastic book. Naomi Klein’s a great writer. 

In terms of thinking about activism and work, This Is an Uprising, by Mark Engler and Paul Engler. This is another great book that teaches people about the history of activism and how it’s conducted and how you might do it. 

And the last book is a spiritual book, as Feroz mentioned, spirituality is very important to me. Joanna Macy is a wonderful spiritual teacher... in the Buddhist tradition, but she was raised, I think, in the Christian faith. And her book is Coming Back to Life. And I’ve actually run, in the past, spiritual practices from that book. So even before that I’d recommend it, if folks are in the neighbourhood. After, obviously, our own book. Yes. Thank you Feroz, for that reminder.

ML: Wonderful. Matthew?

MS-M: This is tough, because I read a lot of books for a living so it’s really…

ML: We can tell from your bookshelf. (points to the shelf of books visible next to Matthew on screen)

MS-M: I’d offer up two works of fiction. For me fiction is really important at thinking through possibilities. One thing to note about this book (Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene) is that it’s not all about critique. A lot of the chapters end with trying to imagine different possibilities. Of course, the last chapter is really all about trying to develop a policy-type vision. A roadmap towards a sustainable Singapore. 

Two books that I think have been powerful for me in that tradition have been Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and also maybe The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. Although, I also like Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin. Those two authors have been particularly meaningful for me.

ML: Great. Feroz?

FK: I mentioned some of my inspirations a little bit earlier, but I will just leave people with two books. 

One is All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. I think it’s the most important book that’s been written about how to think about your role within society. That isn’t explicitly an environmental book, but it has clear and strong environmental themes in it. 

And the other is How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, which is a very productive and practical, and also fascinating discussion of this idea called bioregionalism, and gives you some really practical tips on how you can reconnect with nature. I think one thing that I realised in the writing of this chapter, and also reflecting on my own life isI was very alienated from nature. I didn’t know what the species were, I didn’t know what plants were around me, I didn’t know…like I just thought there was no way to even begin to uncover that or to relationship with nature that was holistic or that was supportive. And that book, How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell really talks about these concepts in great detail in a very accessible way as well.

ML: Great, thank you all so much. Maybe what we can do for the benefit of the audience is to pull these titles in case they didn’t catch it, and maybe we’ll ask Ethos to post it somewhere on the Facebook page or if you’ve registered we can email you the list of titles that were mentioned.

One thing I did want to say is that what I was really inspired by just looking at the names of the contributors of this book, is that perhaps in time, these will be the names that younger Singaporeans and younger climate advocates look to as inspirations. So that was something that was very emotional for me when I went through the names like, oh my gosh, all young people!

So I hope you guys who are still tuning it will go out, if you haven’t already bought the book, order it via Ethos Books, you get the digital version for free. Please use the Ethos Books website, but it’s also available at other bookstores.

Perhaps one last question. There was somebody that came pretty late but I thought it was very interesting. Since we started with the question about chilli crabs, and asking about the title, why Eating Chilli Crab...this person wanted to ask: “Can we say something about the demand side of the equation? So the consumption part. Should we in Singapore start learning to eat differently?”

Consume differently rather, I’ll expand eat to consume differently. I thought that might be a great way to close the loop a little bit.

MS-M: I can start, I suppose. I think this is pretty closely related to the question of individual versus systemic action. And so I think, sure, we should. I think the chilli crab essay that starts the book is looking at a question of like, okay, should we just kill crabs a little bit more efficiently, so that they feel less pain? Or maybe we should stop eating crabs entirely? 

This book is certainly a call to think differently, and to think about your actions in different ways. Eat differently, consume differently, behave differently, all of these things are important. But I think we also shouldn’t pretend that they’re going to solve the problems that we’re facing. And I think that’s something that’s kind of a constant thread throughout a lot of the chapters.

ML: Mhmm. Feroz and Aidan?

FK: I will only say that I agree. The vegetarians and the vegans are right, all along. And we’re all slowly dragging ourselves along the way to where we need to be. I think the question of Singaporeans starting to learn to eat differently also implicates a lot of these other issues of where Singapore gets its food. What are farmersand there are farmers in Singapore what challenges they face in providing us the food that’s healthy and nutritious that we need? 

I think that any examination of a sustainable Singapore, or a just Singapore, or a fresh Singapore, really needs to, also on some level acknowledge that so much of what sustains Singapore is externalised and so many of the costs of those systems are externalised to people who are not Singaporeans. And what might it be like for us to delineate our food production? What might it be like to have edible gardens in HDBs? Or to see the opportunity for us to reconnect with food at like a very local level. Yeah.

AM: Yeah, I think I would say at least for me, it’s been important. I’ve been vegetarian twice now. I tried it three years ago, and I did it for a couple of months, and then I got ambushed by xiao long baos and it sidetracked me for a little bit. But I’m vegetarian again now. And I think it’s a wonder to live with moral clarity, at least some moral clarity in terms of your eating habits. It’s difficult, but it’s doable and it’s nice, once you do it. 

I would say though, I think I’m not under any illusions that my going vegetarian even has any impact whatsoever on how meat is produced or the amount of meat that is produced. And that, I think, is another aspect, right? I don’t think demand drives..or at least in the sense that we think about what we’re consuming, I don’t think that really drives changes in the supply side, or the production. I think activism and campaigning does. And I’ve been involved in some of the efforts on that front. Demand is good, but I think there needs to be more active efforts.

FK: Solidarity to our vegan comrades!

ML: That’s right! Thank you all so much for joining us this afternoon on this panel for the official launch of Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene. 

Just wanted to remind all of you that on the last page of the book, there is the guide on how to organise your Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene book club…

If you want to start a conversation about Eating Chilli Crab and the chapters within, please do get a copy of the book first, read it. I believe somebody asked about whether the book will be available in libraries, I’m pretty sure it will be at some point and libraries will be reopened very soon on 1 July. 

So go get your copy, and thank you all so much for joining us. It was a real pleasure to speak to Matthew, Aidan and Feroz.


About the Speakers

Aidan Mock is a recent graduate of Yale-NUS College’s Environmental Studies programme. He is a founding member of Fossil Free Yale-NUS, a movement that campaigns for NUS to stop investing its six-billion-dollar endowment in fossil fuel companies. He was also one of the organisers of the first SG Climate Rally, which was held at Hong Lim Park on the 21st of September 2019. Outside of activism, he facilitates environmental spirituality practices in the tradition of the Work That Reconnects, enjoys observing the living world and seeks to perfect the soundtrack of his life.

Feroz Khan is a Singaporean researcher and author based at the Disaster Analytics for Society Lab in NTU. His research investigates the impacts that disasters have on society, the social choices that create vulnerability, and the actions we might take to build resilient and sustainable communities in the Anthropocene.

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS College, where he writes and teaches about climate change, environmental politics, and environmental literature. He received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and served as the Cultures of Energy Postdoctoral Fellow at Rice University. He is the co-editor of An Ecotopian Lexicon and author of Peak Oil: Apocalyptic Environmentalism and Libertarian Political Culture. He has lived in Singapore since 2015.

About the Moderator

Melissa Low is a Research Fellow at the Energy Studies Institute. She has participated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) for over a decade and is an active sustainability thought leader, authoring, publishing and presenting at various forums. Melissa provides policy analyses and conducts workshops for various stakeholders to improve understanding of the implications of the Paris Agreement and countries’ progress in meeting their climate pledges. Her current research focus is on transparency of climate action and support reporting in Southeast Asia.


Watch the launch of Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene here.

Purchase a copy of Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene here.