Singapore and the Smoke Haze Crisis
Theresa Wong (email@example.com) is a geographer and independent scholar working at the intersection of research and policy. She has previously held positions at Carleton University, Ottawa, the National University of Singapore, and United Nations Development Programme.
The 2013 and 2015 episodes of smoke haze over Singapore were some of the worst environmental crises in the nation’s history. Severe haze caused by land clearance fires in Indonesia blanketed Singapore for more than a month each time, leading to a dramatic shift in public attention and policies regarding the nation’s engagement with its neighbouring resource-extractive economies. This article reads the development of this crisis through the myth of the “air-conditioned nation,” arguing that it presents an opportunity to reconnect capitalism and regionalisation with their consequences.
In 2013, at the start of the forest clearance season, smoke from burning vegetation in the Indonesian island of Sumatra wafted over to Singapore, signalling the start of what had become a yearly event. Although the “haze” had become a frequent occurrence since the late 1990s, the 2013 event was the city state’s worst. The Pollutant Standards Index shot up to 471, four times above that of previously recorded incidents and way above the limit for healthy exposure. For more than two months, Singapore’s residents lived through a seemingly apocalyptic existence—an eerie orange pall fell over the island, and masked motorcyclists rode into the smoky abyss, eyes watering. People living in the high-rise homes all over the island reported the strange phenomenon of birds and bats making their way into apartments, seeking refuge from the smoke.