Energy, Water and Sustainability in Singapore

Last Updated on 1 April 2023 by Nicholas Lim

Energy and water are closely linked. It takes lots of water to produce energy and lots of energy to develop and deliver energy. Over half of all the water drawn from rivers and reservoirs in the Singapore is used for energy production. That’s more than is withdrawn for agriculture. Most of this water returns to the rivers systems at some point. but where and when can vary widely.

As our energy and water demands increase we need to seriously start asking about sustainability. Can we keep this up? The straight answer is no. Water is a finite resource, especially in the west. Climate change will reduce the water supplies of the Southwest even more in the future. In a sense energy is finite as well. Part of our problem, besides burning more and more carbon emitting fossil fuels, is the unsustainable growth in energy demand. We simply must start consuming less of both water and energy.

The existential question

Does this mean we need to start living with a lower standard of living? Hardly. Indeed many would say that our standard of living is getting worse as we accumulate and consume more and more of the worlds diminishing resources. Happiness shouldn’t be defined by material, or even monetary wealth. It should be defined by quality of life, something that can’t be measured in stuff or bank accounts.

Today the United States accounts for less than 5% of the worlds population yet consumes 20% of the worlds energy. China and India, along with a host of other developing nations are right behind. Europe is up there as well. Needless to say something will have to give. This is the ultimate in an un-sustainable situation. Past civilizations have outstripped the ability of the environment to sustain them and have collapsed. Today we are facing a global situation, one with serious consequences. And then there is climate change.

We need to start doing something differently, and doing it soon. Yet we resist all attempts for serious and deep changes. Dick Chaney once said that the American way of life is not negotiable. In the end it will be, and to a degree we won’t like, unless we start “negotiating” now.

Understand the reality

Some may think what I am say is the ranting of a lunatic who doesn’t understand “reality”. Maybe I don’t understand the reality of short sighted profiteering that borders on legal piracy, but I do understand what happens to societies that outstrip their resources, that cause irreparable damage to the environment that sustains them. These societies are no longer with us. This is especially true for hydrologic societies living on the edge of arid lands. Irrigation is an ancient practice, and can be very costly in the long run, destroying rivers, soils and landscapes. There are places that were fertile thousands of years ago, the lands that gave rise to agriculture, which are still stunted and worn out all these centuries later.

I keep a copy of Walt Kelly’s famous Earth Day Pogo cartoon where I can easily see it. It’s the cartoon where Pogo and his pal Porcupine are walking over a floor of garbage amidst the “beauty of the forest primeval”. It concludes with one of the most famous lines of logic ever printed – “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Looking for new supplies of water to satisfy an ever increasing demand is foolish in the long run. Replacing Fossil Fuels with renewable energy sources, while a good and necessary thing, is simply treating the symptom, not the planetary disease of which we are the cause. Until we honestly address that cause, the “enemy” that is “us”, we have little hope of salvaging much, including our own future.