How Does Singapore Cope with the Heat and Humidity?

+ Matthew Kahn

I'm in the midst of my second trip to Singapore and I've been here for a week. Each day it is over 90 degrees and quite humid. Has violence and low productivity broken out? Fascinating Berkeley research suggests that it might but Singapore remains peaceful and quite rich. How has this nation achieved this? The answer is urbanization. As I argued in my book, Climatopolis, the growth of cities will protect us from climate change allowing us to continue to thrive in our hotter future. Permit me to offer some lessons from Singapore.     

  1. I am the only person walking around the streets during the day time.  All sane people take buses everywhere and minimize their time outside in the strong sun.
  2. Buildings are naturally ventilated with shade and wind blows leading to cool outdoor spots.
  3. Juice vendors are everywhere selling tasty juices such as strawberry-banana juice at 1.20 USD per glass.
  4. The city really comes to life at night when the sun has set.
  5. The air conditioning is cranked up. But note that this World Bank data shows that Singapore consumes much less electricity than the U.S on a per-capita basis. 

In Singapore, urbanization breaks the link between climate exposure and the economy. The National University of Singapore, where I'm currently visiting, is a very productive place on hot days and on cooler days.

If climate change poses a new challenge for Singapore such as sea level rise, then the city will need to engage in figuring out where to build on "higher ground". There is a lot of room here to build taller buildings. I'm in a great building (Kent Vale 2) that is 25 stories tall and there is plenty of land nearby to build vertical. For some specifics about Singapore and its plans to adapt to climate change read this. Are we doomed? Singapore suggests not. Yes, it is a wealthy country but perhaps this simply highlights the growth imperative.

Cross-posted with modifications from Environmental and Urban Economics.

Tile image by Merloin444

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