We're shifting ground... or are we?

The Indonesian political capital, MIT Media Lab's Open Ag Initiative, and moments of soul-growth

So.. in the last issue, I realised that I get direct, personal replies if you hit reply on the letter you receive in your inbox! I enjoy receiving letters/emails from you, so write back! It also lets me know what sort of writing works.

Two weeks ago, while finishing the final lesson of a teaching term, I thought again about hopelessness. I was feeling rather bleak about the future. Just thinking about heat in 2030, you know, nothing big. But as an educator, preparing a class to transmit the skills to speak to and against hopelessness and unhelpful information requires a ball of energy and faith. So it was good to read about how the restoration narrative isn’t just a mere narrative for people. It re-orients an entire generation.

Dodds recalls a recent Washington, D.C., workshop she ran with high school students, whom she asked to reflect on the climate reality for which they’d been preparing themselves. What would life look like in 30 years? The answers weren’t pretty.

But when Dodds introduced the idea of restoration — describing solutions that could bring carbon dioxide levels down to historically safe levels — and encouraged the students to re-envision a future grounded in a healthy climate, their visions for the future became more hopeful.

To get started, ditch the incrementalism, she says. Instead, start imagining the world you want.

I’m curious too—how many of you have found hopelessness more than apathy in others? I’m guessing that most people receiving this have an interest in climate, and have done or are doing something small about it.

The class went well in the end—I focused on challenges and the positive things people are doing, and showed Greta Thunberg’s landing in New York. What makes her really different, and a conveyor of personal and collective agency, is how grounded she is in what we need to do (even while standing on sealegs!), without getting distracted by the media attention or becoming tempted to perform as a public personality. She shows me that fear and paranoia about innumerable, faceless others and surveillance states, doesn’t help us. Understanding that thought- and ideological-enclaves emerge in the absence of connection and trust, makes a bigger difference in guiding us to what we know, and what we can do.

At the root, I think what needs to accompany all (infra)structural shifts are thoughts of heart and soul. Joanna Macy—a brilliant writer and teacher on deep ecology and the attentive practice we need to accompany this revolution of our times speaks about regenerative culture on the Extinction Rebellion podcast. It’s 43 minutes long—great to take with you for a nice long stroll!

Speaking of Greta and writing, are there any Kim Stanley Robinson fans here? Has anyone found Greta Thunberg (with her just-completed sail-away boat adventure) a little like the lead character of his novel Aurora? <3

“Care work becomes better when it is done again…”

— Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (2015)

Some things this past fortnight:

  1. It’s hard to keep up with the climate policies being announced in Europe and by the US democratic electoral candidates! The week before, Bernie Sanders announced a major climate platform that addresses waste and composting initiatives. Just this past week, the Green New Deal for Europe, an international campaign, announces its plan to pull Europe out of austerity and climate breakdown. And on Thursday US time, the CNN hosted a Climate Crisis Townhall with 10 Democratic candidates, doing what the US Democratic National Committee stepped back from doing.

  2. The MIT Media Lab’s Open Agriculture Initiative, drawing lots of interest and funding in ag tech circles, has been hit by a story revealing the inner workings of the lab, after the resignation of the MIT Media Lab’s director on Saturday over mounting concern of the lab’s funding ties with Jeffrey Epstein. It is well worth a read: the story offers important lessons to re-examine how commercial and public investments of time and resources are poured into different people, institutions and projects, and the faith we place in narrow tech-optimism. Over the last 3-4 years, the Open Ag project has continued to put out news of its “personal food computers”, its promise to its vision of a food revolution. The director of the Open Ag Initiative, Caleb Harper, was set to speak in Singapore on Friday at the one-north Festival 2019 (tickets are on hold).

  3. In the flurry of responses in the news to Singapore’s climate adaptation plans, one of the better responses here focuses directly on the National Day Rally speech and its mention of 100 billion dollars for climate, for adaptation measures. It suggests that what Costa Rica has accomplished in reforestation can be “replicated in Southeast Asia where Singapore’s financial muscle can, literally, create another lung for the Earth”.

The Prime Minister’s policy speech of the year starkly highlights the asymmetrical impacts of climate change: Rich countries and rich people can throw money at it, poor countries and the poor pay the price. But rich countries can and should and need to do much more, and Singapore is no exception.

Climate change can be solved through a combination of powering the world with renewable energy by 2050 at the latest, combined with reforestation. Singapore should do its part in fighting the drivers of sea level rise: What good is it to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure through your sovereign wealth funds while at the same time having to spend $72 billion to defend the country from the impact of these investments?

After this was published in Eco-Business, TODAY Online picked it up and republished it also under the headline “How Singapore can help prevent climate change instead of spending S$100 Billion adapting to it”; it then changed the headline to “Green steps that Singapore should take urgently”. Ho Ching had in the meantime made a Facebook comment about the article while it still bore the old headline. At the heart of this is a tug of strings about how best to frame the roles and responsibilities of the individual, the state, and people as agentic actors.

“To be aware of the necessity for careful coalitions with those whose knowledge and pleasure comes from other sources is the beginning of a nonimperialist environmentalism.”

— Anna Tsing (2005, p. 170)

Fun facts

Some news about capitals moving and capitals … not moving much.


Experts are weighing in on the supposed Indonesian capital’s move highlight the number of unanswered questions, including the urban developers set to profit from the move, lack of jurisprudence preceding the move, and the destruction that will face the communities to be evicted and the damage it will do to already environmentally-stricken Kalimantan

which has for decades suffered the negative consequences of the extractive industries of gold, coal, oil and gas, as well as logging and, more recently, palm oil cultivation.

For something quick, here’s an interview with Rita Padawangi, faculty at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, speaking on NPR about the capital’s move (5 minutes).


Old news by now - the much-anticipated Amaravati project’s been halted (!). In July, 500 million USD in funding was withdrawn by the World Bank and the Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. It’s been reported that over 1,200 Singapore companies are affected, with 3 billion USD in MOUs and other investments now on hold. This isn’t something to celebrate, but if 3 billion of a government-to-government supported partnership is causing this much disruption to the flow of capital, one wonders how S$100 billion for climate adaptation inside and outside Singapore will go. I can’t see into the internal workings of the Indian state to know what affected this project, but it’s still worth noting that the Singapore model would not bring its success beyond Singapore shores, if it doesn’t work around powerful actors in urban development elsewhere, to push for a safe and just negotiation of land investments, for all stakeholders involved.

Surbana Jurong, Ascendas-Singbridge and Sembcorp Development are not the only Singapore companies involved in the Amaravati project. Through the "Sunrise Programme", over 1,200 companies supported by Enterprise Singapore were enticed to invest in the state. MOUs were also signed with Singapore firms Erect Group, CKR Group and ByBiTech to bring Singapore technologies and solutions to the Amaravati Construction City. Together, it was reported that Singapore companies have committed over USD 3 billion into projects related to the city with collaboration in such areas as urban planning and development, transportation, waste and water management, power, building and construction, public healthcare and public libraries.

The stalled project is good news for people concerned about issues of rural displacement, migration and urban informality, and a relief to people whose farms sit on the arable land this project would have turned into (construction) piling sites:

…the loan process got stalled after activists and affected farmers from the Amaravati capital region approached the bank and filed a complaint. They contended that the the capital was coming up on fertile agricultural land. They also said that the loose sand along the river bank would not be conducive to heavy construction. They also alleged that the capital region included the flood planes of the Krishna river and the city would be prone to floods. But the major opposition was against the Naidu government's land pooling method to acquire land for the capital.

An inspection panel also visited the state in 2017 to investigate the alleged irregularities in land procurement and other claims made by the farmers, following which they submitted a report to the international agency.

Again, there’s a mass of information out there and what’s reported in the news is just half of it—so if any of you know better, tell me!

That’s it from me this week. I’m going to wrap up with this video on large scale landscape restoration by the Yale Centre for Business and the Environment, that I find really inspiring as a vision for what long-term ecological land investments can look like.

There are many points of light, if we keep our eyes open for them.

Until soon~