By Darrel Chang, ’19
What might radical climate action in Southeast Asia look like? For their final project in Assistant Professor Matthew Schneider-Mayerson’s Applied Environmental Research class in 2018, a team of Environmental Studies majors tried to answer this question. Their fictional newspaper, “The Semoga Times,” published in June 2018, was designed to challenge the limits of our political imagination by envisioning an ecotopian Singapore with sweeping environmental reform.
The publication, dated 15 February 2019, is a fictional response to the Singapore government’s declaration that 2018 would be a “Year of Climate Action.” It imagines an alternate timeline wherein that designation leads to comprehensive reforms, featuring a cover story on the establishment of “Climate Defence” as the “sixth pillar of Total Defence” by MINDEF – no longer simply the Ministry of Defence, but the “Ministry for Defence, Ecology and the Future,” signaling the gravity of climatic destabilization. It also reports on a “Singapore Green Plan 2024” that marks a major shift in the nation’s green policy, including the unprecedented reformation of Singapore’s largest sovereign wealth fund, the GIC, toward increased transparency and green investment. Corporations get on board, too: the Business section features an ad for the “iPhone Life” next to a story on mobile phone manufacturers that are abandoning the industry’s longstanding policy of planned obsolescence.
“The Semoga Times” aims to offer a bold, yet relatable, alternative environmental discourse. The authors, who chose to remain anonymous, propose radical solutions that approach the scale of climate change, such as the transformation of Singapore’s golf courses into public housing for climate migrants from Southeast Asia. At the same time, they seek to dismantle the perception of environmentalists as elitists by utilizing humor to deliver social critique. For instance, a forum letter on the last page declares that environmentalists need to stop being hypocritical “enviroNATOists” that engage in “No Action Talk Only,” while another mocks the “elite caring face” of self-righteous environmental elitists in a nod to an infamous Singaporean internet saga. Their website contains a list of resources that supplement the newspaper itself.
The project was inspired by the “New York Times Special Edition,” a 14-page spoof newspaper disseminated in 2008 by the Yes Men, an artivist collective that executes satirical, prefigurative interventions. The authors of “The Semoga Times” employed Yes Men-style ventriloquism by imitating the acronym, layout, and even typeface of Singapore’s best-selling newspaper in order to appropriate its influence and reach. In so doing, they hoped to expose how powerful institutions have shaped mainstream discourse around socio-environmental issues and crippled the public imagination – not least in branding exigent environmental reform as “radical” while privileging an unsustainable status quo in the face of the climate crisis. “Semoga,” which means “hope” in Bahasa, denotes the project’s goal of imagining an ideal environmental future for Singapore, and challenging Singaporeans to engage in climate advocacy that might realize this vision.
Read the Special Edition of “The Semoga Times” here.