People in Peril, Environments at Risk: Coolies, Tigers, and Colonial Singapore's Ecology of Poverty
Powell, Miles Alexander
Date of Issue2016
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
In recent years, scholars have demonstrated that affluent societies have a disproportionate environmental impact. A focus on wealth, however, can obscure how poverty also propels ecosystem destruction, particularly when combined - as in colonial Singapore - with uncaring administrators and the ruthless logic of imperialism. In this colony, poor Chinese, Malays, archipelagic South-east Asians and Indians struggled to eke out a living by razing rainforest, because they possessed no better options. As these workers struggled to transform forests into farms, houses and roads, they created an ecology of poverty that had catastrophic consequences for humans and tigers alike. Finding ever less forest in which to hide from humans, the mighty cats instead began to regard some people as prey. Unable to flee, poor Chinese, Malays, archipelagic South-east Asians and Indians sought to protect themselves by killing tigers. In the end, the humans vanquished the cats, but not without enduring hundreds of fatalities. Colonial Singapore's environmental history reminds us that the people who carry out the work of eradicating nature often do so because they possess limited alternatives for survival. As a corollary, caring for and protecting the environment is inseparable from aiding and respecting people.
Environment and History
© 2016 The White Horse Press. This is the author created version of a work that has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication by Environment and History, The White Horse Press. It incorporates referee’s comments but changes resulting from the publishing process, such as copyediting, structural formatting, may not be reflected in this document. The published version is available at: [http://dx.doi.org/10.3197/096734016X14661540219393].