Mass extinction analysed
One of the concerns and causes of Tembusu College is animal conservation, shared the college’s Master, Associate Professor George Clancey in his opening to the Tembusu Forum held on 4 April. It was apt then that the 22nd edition of the forum, moderated by Rector of Tembusu College and Ambassador-At-Large Professor Tommy Koh, centred on the question of “Can we stop the mass extinction of species?”
Beginning the discussion with a global overview of mass extinction, Ms Elaine Tan, Chief Executive Officer of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Singapore, spoke on what WWF considers the key drivers of mass extinction; among them habitat loss, species overexploitation, pollution and climate change, all of which are a consequence of human activity. She emphasised that a change in food and energy systems is necessary for conservation to be successful.
The second panellist, Professor Peter Ng, Head of Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, and Professor at NUS Biological Sciences, approached the question from his own experience as a researcher in the field of marine biology and biodiversity. He noted that five major mass extinction events exist in fossil documentation, and after each one, “life came back in full force”, adding that the planet will continue and there will be new life-forms.
A self-professed pessimist, Prof Ng believes that mass extinction is inevitable, but he also believes that not trying would be morally irresponsible.
“For conservation to succeed in the years ahead, for us to ensure that this sixth mass extinction doesn’t become worse, all of you have an awful challenge. How far are you willing to go to save those things? At the end of the day, you are not saving the animals for the animals’ sake, you are saving them for your own sake,” he concluded.
Dr Lena Chan, Group Director of the National Biodiversity Centre in the National Parks Board, offered a more positive view, giving an emphatic “yes” in answer to the overarching question. Since many of the drivers of mass extinction are caused by human activities, it is within our power to stop mass extinction, she said.
She reassured the audience that there are reasons for hope — more species are still being discovered, and species thought extinct have been rediscovered. Dr Chan concluded her contribution by outlining Singapore’s actions for the cause, including conservation of ecosystems, enhancement and restoration of habitats, as well as community outreach.
Students were vocal during the ensuing question and answer session, with queries on determining the efficiency of conservation efforts, the possibility that conservation has become commodified, and the actions an individual could take for the cause.
In closing, each panellist challenged the audience to start taking action in their own lives to help in this reversal of mass extinction. Ms Tan left them with encouragement. “You are the generation that is going to change the tides of climate change. You have the opportunity right now. So pick a cause, learn about it and be an opinion leader,” she said.