What ‘greens’ means

What ‘greens’ means

What ‘greens’ means

Watch a flock of sheep and you see that a few rebels start a movement. Sometimes it turns into a rout, occasionally they go back to the fold, heads bowed. When it becomes a rout it happens very quickly.

That is what is happening to green energy now. Whole swathes of the world are pursuing it as though it was going out of fashion. Why has it taken so long?

There are many cost- benefit answers but the truth is that good economics of greening are now within sight. More importantly, it has become fashionable. Oh, yes, things as different as aircraft carriers and portable clouds are as subject to fashion as the cat walk. We suggested greening Singapore twenty-five years ago. Singapore was the obvious place to abolish, over a ten year period, the internal combustion engine and adopt electric vehicles. There would have been many advantages. We would have got the first set of vehicles virtually free since Singapore is the ideal showcase for a new technology of this sort. Our visitor numbers would have grown exponentially, everyone on the world wanting to come and see the silent, unpolluted city. Town planners would have headed the queue.

I was told at the time that Singapore citizens would not put up with losing their Mercedes. It was a judgment; we will never know if it would have been true. Our propensity to be adventurous has grown dramatically since the early 1990s. Now we are in the vanguard of many developments, medical, biological, technological. It is where a small, independent island has to be if it is to retain its identity and stay top of mind as a model of enterprise.

Forecasting, as Hermann Khan once told me, is very difficult – especially about the future. It is an increasingly important part of an individual’s and a Government’s duty to improve its forecasting ability. The likely disruption caused by robotics, artificial intelligence and the far-reaching consequences of digitisation are well known. The prospect of sustainable, cheap energy have been less publicly discussed. In his recent SR Nathan lectures Peter Ho, former head of the Singapore Civil Service, pointed out many futuristic opportunities that a visionary might imagine – a smorgasbord of ideas. The hard part is prioritising them.

Rich and gifted as Singapore is it cannot hope to devote the resources needed to develop more than a few of the opportunities we all see. That applies to countries other than Singapore, too. Independence is a goal we all seek until we realise that it is a myth. No island is an island. Partnership is the only route for those with limited funds. And partnership is a complex business requiring demanding character traits.

You partner big bears either for protection or to stop them eating you, which, in the end, they may do anyway. They are necessary collaborators for defence, desirable for trade. You partner those with characteristics complimentary to your own in preference to similar ones if you want to grow and develop. On the other hand, similar characteristics are easier to settle with culturally. The choice has to be based on which similarities are most beneficial and which differences will lead to a better partnership.

Partnerships, whether of countries or individuals, will determine the success of most of us in the coming years. Whether you call it globalisation or not it will be transnational. What are today’s criteria for a good partnership?

We’ll look at them in the next Daily Paradox.