Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Modules for Sem 2 AY07/08

It's the time of the year again to decide on my modules for next semester.

It is my belief that we should always exploit the university's resources as much as possible. Which means I need to learn as much as I can with the amount of school fees I pay. Well in this case, it's "free" but I'm in the system and I should take advantage of all available resources.

Originally I was planning on taking just 2 easy modules.

1. ISM - Independent Study Module and focus on doing my singapore research or is literature review a safer bet?
2. GRS - Graduate Research Seminar which is compulsory

Now I am informed that I can take language modules on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis. And also there are other modules in MEM and LKYSPP that are enticing me. There are also statistics modules that I really need to learn from.

What should I do? Should I give up on the ISM? Or should I try to audit everything?

The temptation includes:

1. Bahasa Indonesia (Very important)

2. Environmental Science by Prof Chou (methods in the field... maybe)
The module discusses earth's environmental dimensions of air, water and land, and the interaction between living and non-living components. Earth is considered as a system through which materials are continuously cycled. Impacts caused by natural or human influences affect the state of balance, leading to environmental problems, with human impacts causing more serious consequences to the environment and human society. The module covers the properties of air, water and land, ecosystems, biogeochemical cycles, ecosystem integrity and environmental capacity, pollution pathways and impacts, conservation science, integrated management approaches. The scientific basis of environmental management is stressed.
After reading the description, this module is out of the question

3. Business and the Environment by a visiting Yale professor (Prof thinks I should go to get connection for Yale)
There is such an heavy emphasis on industrial ecology. I'm really not sure

Potential Methods Modules:

Mon, 18.00 - 21.00, AS1/02-03
This module introduces students to the use of multivariate methods for the analysis of psychological data. Included among the methods to be covered may be canonical correlation, discriminant function analysis, multivariate analysis of variance, exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, and structural equation modelling. Emphasis will be placed on the development of skills for multivariate data analysis through hands-on analysis and interpretation of datasets.

Tue, 18.30 - 21.30, AS1/02-12
This module is designed for survey administrators, executives directed to oversee a research project for their organizations, and research students who will use survey data. The focus of the module is not on technical details; rather, it aims to equip participants with the insights, skills and knowledge necessary to manage a large survey project in applied and basic research settings. Some of the major conceptual and methodological issues to be addressed include the role of survey research in organizational development and policy formulation, the politics of applied research, press releases, and crisis media management.

Wed, 18.30 - 21.30, AS1/02-12
Increasingly, more qualitative research work is being under-taken in its own right rather than as preliminary research for subsequent quantitative surveys. This explains the broadening of the range of qualitative research techniques. In addition to dealing with traditional fieldwork and participant observation methods, the module will examine a number of qualitative approaches. These include techniques of analyzing data generated by laypersons (as in life-documents: diaries, journals, travelogues), communications materials, material artifacts, and visual information. This course is open to postgraduate students with an interest in qualitative research methods.

All the stats module does not sound like what I need. How?!

I looked into undergraduate statistics modules and hopefully they would allow me to audit the class:

1) ST1232 Statistics for Life Sciences
An introduction to the basic principles and methods of biostatistics designed specifically for life sciences students who wish to learn modern research methods for analysing and extracting information from biological, biomedical and genomic data. Relevant examples will be used throughout the course to illustrate various techniques. A computer package will be used to enhance learning and to enable students to analyze real life data sets. Topics include tabular and graphical display of data, probability, probability distributions, sampling distributions, confidence intervals and regression analysis, distribution free tests, categorical data analysis, logistic and Poisson distribution, introduction to Bayesian inference. This module is essential to students of the Life Sciences.

2) ST1131 Introduction to Statistics
This module introduces students to the basic concepts and the methods of statistics. A computer package is used to enhance the effect of learning and to enable students to analyse complicated data. Topics include descriptive statistics, basic concepts of probability, sampling distribution, statistical estimation, hypothesis testing, linear regression. This module is targeted at students interested in Statistics and are able to meet the pre-requisite. It is also an essential module for students in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and School of Design and Environment. Precludes students from Department of Mechanical Engineering.

I think I will have my hands full doing ISM, GRS, Bahasa Indonesia and auditing a stats module (hopefully I get to audit).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Singapore's Food Vulnerability

A lot of food vulnerability news circulating the media recently. Does this make my research topical or one step behind?

I'm also worried people will be more weary of me because of all the attention on them recently.
"Besides diversifying, the AVA boosts food stocks by selling Singapore as a food trading hub. This has attractive 'spin-offs', says AVA spokesman Goh Shih Yong, since it brings in more food.

The nation also transfers farm technology to pull in food supplies. It is this idea of non-agricultural Singapore showing farmers how to farm better that is a delicious irony - plus economically and politically logical, as it turns out." - "Our chicken comes from Brazil?", Straits Times, 24 Nov 2007
More Singapore Food News on WildSingapore News

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Singapore Environment Literature

Reference List from a 1999 article

Kog, Yue-Choong.
Environmental management and conflict in Southeast Asia : land reclamation and its political impact / Kog Yue-Choong.
Singapore : Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, 2006.
UA10 Iwp 101 2006

APCEL Report : Singapore

Evaluating Environmental Issues in the U.S.-Singapore FTA

Singapore National Implementation of Agenda 21

Environmental Concerns and Diet in Singapore
Burger J.1; Fleischer J.1; Jeitner C.1; Gochfeld M.2
Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part A, Volume 66, Number 15, January 2003 , pp. 1405-1420(16)
Taylor and Francis Ltd

Singapore Social Watch

IMF Singapore: Selected Issues [pdf]

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How the other half lives

In the US, people will buy in bulk because it's cheaper. Pre-packaged salad mixes are increasingly popular for busy working urbanites. Do these increasing trends have an impact on the environment?

There is an increased disparity between the middle class and the working class. This article sums it up very nicely.
"Often, [my mother] berates me for buying more expensive, pre-packaged, economy-size foodstuff, knowing full well that I would have to dispose of them because I couldn't finish them before their use-by date.

So it's the wet market that the price-conscious shoppers go to. Not just because they can poke a fish and lift its gills to note its freshness, but also because they can buy stuff in small quantities - measured by the handful; break off that piece of ginger, pick a few stalks of chye sim - and pay for the exact amount."

- ST 18 Nov 2007 "What's more important than rising food costs?" by Bertha Henson

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Research Proposal 2.0

15 pages and 5200 words later, I finally finished my research proposal.

It can be downloaded here:
"Feeding Singapore Consumers:
Environmental Implications of Food Choices and Policies"
Research Proposal Report [PDF: 1.1MB]

Some thoughts. I've hardly submitted and I already see problems in the proposal. Methodology must change. Instead of stratified thematic surveying, I should do 50-100 farms that export to Singapore regardless of method, but group according to vegetables. Or just focus on 2 types of agricultural methods. Or focus on total land size. Must think of ways to cut down my scope.

"Why your chicken rice just got pricier"

An excellent article in the local newspaper the other day. Excellent not because it has revolutionary content but because it bothered to explain why the food got expensive rather than the usual explanation of inflation and what not.

I especially love the title of the article and when they question:
"WHAT do the price of corn in Malaysia and oil in America have to do with your chicken rice?"
Surely I can somehow mention this in my research:
The price of corn, the main ingredient in chicken feed, has gone from $420 to $820 a tonne, triggering a 20 per cent hike in the price of fresh chicken, said Poultry Merchants' Association secretary Chew Kian Huat.

He added that corn prices worldwide are at a high because of increasing demand for grain from the biofuel industry.

News reports also attributed high corn prices to rising demand from developing countries, rising populations around the world, and a shortage in supply due to frequent floods and droughts.

As for oil, the cause is a combination of political instability in the Middle East, the surge in global oil consumption and worries about tight global energy supplies.

Oil prices, which hit a high of US$96 ($139) this month, are also adding to the costs of importing and transporting chicken.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Parliament discuss food price increase

Channelnewsasia reports in "Increase in prices of food items to be discussed in Parliament" on 9 Nov 2007:
"SINGAPORE: Questions on the increase in prices of food items and the subsequent impact on Singaporeans will be raised in Parliament on Monday when the House sits."
Food issues are increasing in the eyes and ears of Singaporeans but they are only thinking about price and not looking further such as looking into what they can do about the cause of price increase. Solutions will most probably merely involve finding alternative cheaper sources or subsidizing.

That is only curing the symptoms and not the source! Food price will only continue to increase as environmental change strikes globally. What then? I can't wait to hear what is discussed in parliament on Monday.

Foodsheds and more concepts

New terms I learn today:

1. foodshed
Jack Kloppenburg Jr., John Hendrickson and G. W. Stevenson (1996) "Coming in to the Foodshed"
Getz (1991) "Urban Foodsheds", Permaculture Activist
W.P. Hedden, (1929) How Great Cities are Fed

2. Water Footprint

3. Virtual Water

Books I want to Read:
Omnivore Dilemma
How much should a person consume? : environmentalism in India and the United States

Interesting Journals
Agriculture and Human Value
Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Agriculture and environment
Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
American Journal of Agriculture Economics
Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture
Experimental Agriculture
Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture
Precision agriculture

Interesting articles
An alternative way to evaluate the environmental effects of integrated pest management: Pesticide risk indicators
Thomas J. Greitens and Esther Day
Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, Volume 22, Issue 03, September 2007, pp 213-222

Balancing food, environmental and resource needs
John W. Doran, Fred Kirschenmann and Frederick Magdoff
Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, Volume 22, Issue 02, June 2007, pp 77-79

Can organic agriculture feed the world?
Catherine Badgley and Ivette Perfecto
Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, Volume 22, Issue 02, June 2007, pp 80-86

Ecological agriculture: Principles, practices, and constraints
Fred Magdoff
Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, Volume 22, Issue 02, June 2007, pp 109-117

Testing a complete-diet model for estimating the land resource requirements of food consumption and agricultural carrying capacity: The New York State example
Christian J. Peters, Jennifer L. Wilkins and Gary W. Fick
Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, Volume 22, Issue 02, June 2007, pp 145-153

Thursday, November 8, 2007

PhD Application timeline

In order to apply for PhD for Fall 2009, I must start soon.

June 2008 - latest date to do my GRE
Jan 2009 - Deadline for application to Fall 2009 admission (Yale)

I think I will do my GRE soon.

The test site in Singapore is near Science Centre!


The test is 4 hours long and they only have dates every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for every week of the month. However the earliest date available so far is in the end of January 2008! February also have a few weeks available. This is for the computer test of course. The paper test will have quite different scheduling I suppose.

However the cost is really not cheap. It's $170USD for the test! *grumble* one time better be enough! I better be sure before I book a time to take the exam but I have to do it soon because 2008 will be busy time for me. Of course if I intend to work for a year before doing my PhD then that's another story altogether.

Registration Website

PhD at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

List of Professors

I've done this search a while back and this name always pop up whenever I look at Yale: Carol Carpenter
Her research interest cannot be more similar to mine!
* Social Ecology of Conservation and Development
* Region: Asia and the Pacific
* Environmental Justice
* Environmental Policy
* Parks and Protected Areas
* Sustainable Development
* Anthropology
Dr. Carpenter’s teaching and research interests focus on theories of social ecology, social aspects of sustainable development and conservation, and gender in agrarian and ecological systems.
That really appeals to me. Highly considered but I wonder if that will push me over the edge to human geography *sigh*

One thing I do notice about the Yale professors is that more of them have done work in Asia than compared to Oxford. What irony. There is even a tropical institute in Yale. The program director stands out:
Amity Doolittle

She is actually studying something which I am dying to work on! "The impact of global discourses of conservation and economic growth on local land-use practices" Consumption and Conservation!! I am ... tempted already!

I believe in Yale these types of subject is considered Social Ecology of Conservation and Development. How apt that I am looking to publish in the social / human ecology journal soon! I am optimistic. Yale yale yale. PRof really thinks I should go to Yale. What about W? What will he do if I go to Yale? Oxford is so much better for commuting as compared to Yale! I don't want to see my husband only once a week!

Another to consider, Michael Dove. All these names sound familiar because I definitely came across the same people last time I looked at Yale. Research areas include: (1) the theory of sustainable development and resource-use, (2) biodiversity and human society, (3) contemporary and historical environmental relations in South and Southeast Asia, (4) human use of tropical forests and grasslands, (5) resource-based linkage of local communities to global systems, (6) the study of developmental and environmental institutions, discourses, and movements, (7) the sociology of resource-related sciences.

If I really want to move into urban ecology, Stephen R. Kellert is the man to consider. This will bring me more into higher philosophical considerations which could be good as an academic. I think I can consider examining understanding the connection between human and natural systems with a particular interest in the value and conservation of nature.

Funding seems a lot more plausible at Yale than Oxford. Application details.

Department Information

Grad School Application
Application link

This is the immediate selling point for Yale:
"Applicants to Ph.D. programs are automatically considered for financial aid unless they indicate that they have available resources that will be sufficient to pay for tuition and maintenance for the duration of their educational program (normally four to six years)."

PhD at Oxford Env Change Institute

The only person with my closest research interest would be the director of the Environment Change Institute. She is also the chair of the GECAFS which is related to my current interest.

Professor Diana Liverman

Unfortunately she is also very hotly in demand. She also require either studies in Latin America or on Climate Change. However, she indicated interest in local food production networks in US. I think I can work around it and look at US as an implication for SEA. Is it feasible? Throw in a bit of neoliberalism and NAFTA in there. Voila! A pot of soup. Lots of details on her personal website.

Doctorates: I supervise a small number of doctoral students in the DPhil in Geography (please note there is no DPhil in Environmental Management). I am unable to accept more than a couple of new students each year because of my heavy administrative responsibilities and because of the time commitment I must make to each doctoral student. I rarely, if ever, accept students outside of my current research interests in Latin American environmental issues or climate impacts and policy because I believe that doctoral research requires expert supervision. I will discourage anyone who does not have a strong background for doctoral study, who is working outside my area of interest and expertise, or who applies late in the year after I have already accepted my quota of students. You will need to approach at least one other staff member to be your second supervisor if you wish me to be your primary advisor.

I do not have any research grants or fellowships to support postgraduate students at present. Admission to all our programmes is very competitive, especially for the modest number of scholarships available to the different programmes. Our postgraduate profile is very international and several students come with scholarships from their home countries. For UK and EU students the basic tuition fee is about £7000 and for international students tuition is almost £14000. All students must be admitted to both the university and to one of the Oxford Colleges. I am a fellow of Linacre College which does have a strong interest in the environment. College fees are between £1700 and £2100 and the university estimates that a single student will need to have about £750 a month for accommodation, food and other expenses (£9000 for 12 months).


There is also a guy called Dr Richard Ladle who works with crabs and has published with tons of familiar names in DBS like Peter Todd and Chou LM. But then he also works with representation of conservation science in media! That is very much like what I want to do on consumption and conservation! Melch that with my interest in social media. This could be it no?

Here's a list of professors to choose from.

Another possible candidate:
Professor Sarah Whatmore
Somebody I've actually heard of! Quite a known geographer indeed! She is working on sustainable consumption! Agriculture and food issues. I'm definitely interested. She also works on sustainable cities. Another interest. Mmmm she is interested in feminist geographers (haha) and also on people interested in transdisciplinary research. Very possible! :D

Funding is a big issue but here's a list:
Scholarships not restricted by region
Overseas Research Student (ORS) Awards Scheme
International Office Funding link
A whole bunch of other list
Chevening Scholarship
- only for 1 year programs.

Application details for the Oxford University Centre for Environment. Very important website

Critique of Environmental Reporting

Earlier this semester, for my Environmental Management and Assessment class, we were tasked to do a critique of 2 environmental reports by any 2 corporations of different scale, management style, etc.

I chose Unilever and Bens & Jerrys mainly because Bens & Jerrys was bought over by Unilever a few years ago. Supposedly, B&J was able to maintain independent corporate governance but still, in recent years, things have been reeling out of control. All the reasons which I use to love about B&J - their environmental and social ethics, not just their ice cream flavours - seems to have been lost!

This critique of the environmental reports is available on google documents.

Yesterday, I received an A for this report. Made my day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Australia Organic Imports

After reading my previous research outline, erkie commented that Singapore gets most of its organic and sustainable produce from Australia - the world's largest exporter of organic produce. Now that's a good point about FTA - if they can just turn to Australia, why get Malaysia to do better? But that's controversial in terms of food miles.

However, at the same time, you also have Singapore going directly to Indonesia to invest in sustainable farms. Is that an alternative to Australia?

But looking at Australia, it's not surprising they are the largest exporter of organic produce because they are so particular about controlling their organic imports, making sure no pathogens pass the custom. However, Malaysia and Indonesia are so far off in terms of taking care of their agrarian sector. How will they compare in terms of trade?

In a way, it would appear that Singapore government is making the right move to invest more in sustainable agriculture. Is that a direction they should do more in? But wouldn't getting consumers aware of such issues be important? If consumers totally stop buying from non-sustainably producing sources, then would it not make an impact?

Knowing the cheapos in Singapore, price is still everything. What then?

Consider competition when interviewing farmers.

Feeding Singapore Consumers: Environmental Implications of Food Import Choices and Policies

Below is the research and conceptual framework I've come up with for my Masters Dissertation. Although the presentation I gave on Monday bombed a stinky one, but still, I managed to get some very valuable feedback.

Here's the overall structure of the research:

GE5217 final presentation.ppt

Due to Singapore's high per capita income and strong purchasing power, our industry consumption (tourism and airline/maritime catering), as well as our strong food dependency, we have a strong influence on the agricultural sector of Malaysia and Indonesia. Why these two countries? Mainly because 50% of food in Singapore comes from Malaysia while Indonesia gets lots of money invested in their agri-sector from Singapore. Through these ways, we have negative and positive influences on the producing countries. As we have a strong influence, economically and logically, we would have certain influence over the agricultural practices of these countries as they would pander their production to our consumption. However, even as we diversify our supply, these countries also diversify their consumption base.

This research aims to basically find out how much our consumer power or state influence have on the agricultural practices of Indonesia and Malaysia and in turn, how are we affecting their environmental quality.

Thus, my field work, other than interviewing the different actors within the food systems from consumption to production, it is also to find out the environmental quality in the production end.

GE5217 final presentation.ppt

Using these 4 indicators as recommended by the agricultural indicators by OECD (2001), I would try to access the environmental quality of different type of agricultural practices such as:
  • Organic Farms
  • Conventional Farms
  • Ferticulture (High-Tech) Farms
  • Watercrest Farming
  • Seasonal Food Crops
  • Niche Food Crops
  • Exporters
  • Domestic Producers
  • Farms certified with GAP (good agricultural practices)
  • Farms funded by Singapore government

In addition to these information, there will also be look into the historical change in environmental in the area through secondary literature to give a better background benchmark.

Hopefully we will then be able to express these information in 2 matrix:

1. One would be a performance assessment of different type of vegetables grown through different methods and circumstances. What vegetables should you not consume under what methods of production and from what country?

2. The other would be to assess the sustainability performance of different type of farming methods measured against the benchmark of convention farming. Which is more sustainable yet taking into account productivity?

3. Using food miles calculation and selected examples analyzing the overall system from production to transport to consumption as well as physical conditions, how does indonesia compares against malaysia. Is state intervention more effective than the exercising of consumer power? Which source is more sustainable?

Research Questions:
1) How much of the environment in producing areas influence by Singapore? Positive or Negative?

2) If Singaporeans demand for more sustainably produced products will that change the environmental quality of producing country? Will this contribute to long term environmental security and in turn food security for Singapore?

3) What are Singaporeans demanding for and what should they choose to buy if they wish to impact environment positively? Can they influence farmers through government intervention?

4) Are government interventions making a substantial impact? Is this motivated by consumer safety and demands as well?

EIA of Sentosa IR Development

For my Environmental Management and Assessment class, we were tasked to do an EIA of the Sentosa IR development prior to its construction. Yes, we pretend nothing has happened yet and write most idealistically.

Pretend this big hole is not here

Honestly the report we did was rushed and done so badly. I wanted to write 2,500 houses built at Sentosa Cove but instead wrote 2,5000 and nobody caught it while editing! Grrr, there are more mistakes like that. But having already submitted that, I think we should move forward.

Today at 6pm will be the presentation of our report. The powerpoint file is 16MB so I am not able to upload it on Google Documents. Instead I've fully utilized my server space with Lham and uploaded the entire powerpoint presentation.

If anybody is interested, this is my group's idea of how an EIA should be done on a project like the Sentosa IR. You can download the file here [PPT:16MB] if you feel like reading what we've come up with. I would not say it is the best that can be done but then it's been done within 2 weeks. Furthermore, in terms of scope and impacts studied, it's definitely more directed than the EIA actually commissioned by Resorts World which focus mainly on impact of the IR on the cruise center at Harborfront.

Furthermore, since a lot of the report is "play pretend" as we did not have the resources or time to actually do a real baseline study, everything you see in the report is based on surveys done by WildSingapore (marine) and Joe Lai (terrestrial). Sadly, I must admit that I had to overlook a lot of inaccuracies like the fact that the terrestrial plant list is actually of Siloso forest and not of the mount imbiah forest but I passed it off as the Mount Imbiah forest species list! It's mainly to give an idea on the type of data needed.

Joe Lai showing us on the map where the affected forest is

This is also not a full EIA report. It's just a summary based on the format given by the Asian Development Bank where they give the specific type of sections needed and how many pages per section. The reason why the ADB EIA reporting style is chosen is mainly part of the assignment requirements.

I am mainly in charge of the Description of Environment and Public Consultation section. Naturally, my area of expertise. I found a very interesting Geography honors thesis done in 1993 that talks about the physical changes to 3 offshore islands in Singapore - namely Kusu, St Johns and Sentosa. That report was exceedingly useful. Although personally I think the public consultation could have been done better if we had better communication and integration amongst my group of 7. Complicated but I shan't go into it. I'm just glad it's over.

Related Links

Photos of the construction at Sentosa.
Powerpoint file of my EIA report presentation. [16MB]

The presentation in class yesterday went really well. All 3 judges (lecturers on the marking panel) were very happy with our suggestion and presentation. We were able to provide historical examinations of the site and suggest not a no-go zone but to integrate the forest in with the development. Ultimately this site is really the best site on Sentosa to go ahead but to reclaim was a really bad idea. Thus the best mitigation would be to aspire for a truly green design at the site. To aspire towards the green mark award would be an excellent move for Genting if they wish to mitigate their own impacts on the environment. Still, really happy to know that our EIA report did well for the presentation.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Individual Essay for DE5106

I am wondering which of the following questions should I choose:
1. Placing a monetary value on the environment is beneficial. Discuss.

2. Environmental problems cannot be solved without firstly addressing poverty. Discuss

3. How can we measure Sustainable Development? Is it beneficial to do so?

4. Describe the process through which a company must go to gain ISO14001 certification, and discuss the benefits and limitations of ISO14001 certification.

5. Describe the mechanisms for climate change control under the Kyoto Protocol. What are the implications for Annex 1 and Annex II countries. Are these mechanisms sufficient to manage climate change?

6. Describe the approaches that can be used to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments. What makes a good EIA?

7. Is environmental reporting just “greenwash”?
What do you guys suggest? Knowing me and my expertise, I am considering #1, #2 or #7. Comments?