Taking risks is an essential part of life and should be encouraged. Discuss.

Taking risks is an essential part of life and should be encouraged. Discuss. (GCE ‘A’, General Paper 8807/01, 2012)

Note the two parts to this question: 1) that risks are essential, and that 2) such risks should ideally be encouraged. Work out the assumptions yourself yeah, the meaning of important keywords (what kind of risks? Set the scope. Encouraged? Why? How? Why ‘should’?) and command words, and also the requirements of the question. Yep I know this ain’t the proper length but oh wells, my exams’re over anyway 😛

Risks contain an element of unpredictability. Yet it is predictably and inevitably found in all areas of our lives. When we choose to put food into our mouths, we are taking the risk that it will provide nourishment instead of poisoning our bodies. When we turn left at an unfamiliar street instead of continuing forwards, we are taking a small gamble that the path we took is the fastest route home. However, these are merely trivial decisions, without entailing life-changing consequences. The kind of risks worth mentioning are those that goes against the conventional and may make-or-break our lives. Given these heavy implications, I personally feel that we need to first weigh all the possible benefits and costs of the risk before encouraging or taking it. Hence some risk-taking should ideally be encouraged for it presents us a fighting chance for better prospects or improvements; but not all due to certain limitations of the individual risk-taker in question, as well as the nature of certain risks.

To begin with, risk-taking is an essential and inevitable part of our lives. Embracing risks grants us the opportunity to obtain greater benefits and avert potential losses especially in times of change. A small and conservative nation, Singapore’s government then had to choose between building two Integrated Resorts casinos to boost its tourism industry and growth, and upsetting the public over fears of a rise in social problems like problem gambling. The government went ahead with its plan, reaping tremendous economic returns but not without implementing policies to allay their concerns. The city of Seattle shocked many when it raised the minimum wage to an unprecedented US$15 per hour, because it was commonly thought that doing so would increase unemployment and hurt growth. Contrary to conventional and – now we know – misinformed belief, Seattle enjoyed greater increases in GDP growth compared to other cities who adamantly kept the minimum wage low. Even though making changes in corporate policies to accommodate millenials were deemed to be a bad move due to their tendency for job-hopping, Bob Greenberg’s R/GA took the risk. While other companies were severely hit and crushed economically-speaking, his company was able to tide over the economic crisis in 2008. We can therefore see that taking risks can strengthen one’s resilience during times of major and imminent change. If we do not adapt or take risks, our inaction can bring us greater disadvantages instead, as seen when Kodak, a once flourishing company, fell when it failed to embrace new innovation.

Risk-taking that can help further our progress and advances, particularly in the entrepreneurial and arts realm, should be promoted as well. If Boyan Slat had not chose to expand his school science project into a full-fledged one, we would not have the promising ‘The Ocean Cleanup’ project as a possible means to clearing marine litter from our beautiful oceans. Local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that contribute to the nation’s economy could not have been formed without daring citizens taking the risk to realise their potential. In the tiny red dot of Singapore, Olivia Lum’s Hyflux, Sim Woong Hoo’s Creative, and Ron Sim’s OSIM have achieved great success. Without risk-taking, there would hardly be innovation, and we would not be experiencing the astounding breakthrough of the iPhone with its unique design and technology. Risks are also inherent in the creative hub of the arts. When someone chooses to become an artist, he is choosing a risky path which often does not provide a stable living. When an artist produces a work, he is risking embarrassment, failure, criticism and judgement from others. When an artist inadvertently or otherwise infringes on censorship boundaries in the name of artistic expression, he risks scrutiny and disapproval. The fact that we can enjoy the abundant variety of works of art and innovation today is due to the resilience of artists and entrepreneurs who undertook risks.

Moreover, risk-taking is sometimes necessary if we want freedom and improvement in society. Without taking risks, how can we know if we cannot enact change, excel and accomplish further, or discover our full potential? There are many respectable figures and individuals who stood up against all odds to further their cause, from Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in the civil movement in America, to Nelson Mandela against apartheid, Malala Yousafzai advocating for women’s education despite the threat of the Taliban, ordinary citizens of Arab Spring fighting against oppressive regimes which were in power for decades, to political artist Ai Weiwei from China. The discriminated stratum of society have also voiced out their feelings and woes without letting the possible consequences of backlash and increased displeasure directed towards them from the majority from smothering their voice. People with alternative lifestyles who used to hide their sexual orientation and tendencies have “come out” despite the ingrained social stigma, hoping to correct the public’s stereotypes. Lawyers have also went public with their mental illnesses, such as Professor Elyn Saks in ‘The Centre Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness’, in an attempt to enlighten the public about misconceptions about lawyers being “superman” or “superwoman” and their “invincibility”. In spite of the risks of having their image tarnished and ridiculed at, and of their intentions backfiring, the courageous risk-taking nature of these people should be encouraged.

In the face of danger or harm, there may be a call for risk-taking as something larger is at risk. These risk-takers are whom we call heroes, individuals who brave seemingly insurmountable challenges and help others somewhat altruistically. War heroes and leaders deserve special mention as they bravely took on the heavy responsibility of the lives of millions of people in their actions. John Rabe’s attempts to delay the Nazi party’s attacks on the Chinese in Nanking save a remarkable 250,000 lives. Ronald Reagan and Aung San Suu Kyi both stood steadfastly against the Soviet Union and Burmese military junta respectively for the interests of their people. The Flight 93 incident is an example where ordinary people like Mark Bingham courageously led a revolt against the terrorists who hijacked the plane. In these cases, inaction could have led to greater harm. Risk-taking is sometimes necessary and obligatory in protecting people’s welfare.

In addition, science itself is risky, being built on theories and uncertainties. Scientific research is akin to groping around a gloomy dark cavern; who is to know where the ethical minefields and trespassing boundaries lie? Without risks, scientific innovation and technological advances could hardly have happened. Nuclear energy, while destructively powerful, also possesses the potential to meet the world’s energy needs. Stem cell research may potentially revolutionise the medical field; yet it runs the risk of offending groups of people like the Intelligent Design community, the conservative, and the religious. With such adverse ramifications on one hand and seductively desirable benefits on the other, should we take the risk or not? In this case, where there are heavy implications, there should be a constructive and dedicated debate between scientists, governments, corporations and the public over the direction science should take.

Undeniably, risk-taking, while essential, should not always be encouraged. Not everyone can become a risk-taker. There is this fear of the unknown, that anything could happen, or even the worse would happen. To the less strong of us, risk-taking may bring about intolerable levels of anxieties. This is especially apparent and exacerbated when one fails the gamble, and is unable to accept the consequences of failure. There are many entrepreneurs who have failed in their venture, leading to the loss of millions, bankruptcy, and even lives. Heavily tormented and demoralised by repeated failures, Jody Sherman committed suicide, and his last start up, Ecomum, went bust afterwards. Ilya Zhitormirsky, co-founder of Diaspora, and Eric Salvatierre are other entrepreneurs who ended their lives. The list goes on for “failed” artists and so on.

However, this can be mostly attributed to society’s failure-averse culture. Failure is often seen as a bad thing, hence most people avoid taking risks as much as they can, sticking to the tried-and-true path of conventionality. As such, before risk-taking should be encouraged, society needs to learn to embrace failure and value the lessons learnt from it. Starting from our upbringing, the family institution should serve to guide children on making mistakes and remedying them. Since risk-taking in the business world is paramount to the economy and unavoidable, the state should incentivise and lay safety networks to encourage entrepreneurial risk-taking. As society becomes more open to risk-taking and its consequences of failure, taking risks can and should then be encouraged.

That is not to say that all kinds of risk-taking should be encouraged. When the costs and losses blatantly outweigh the benefits, or when the odds are plainly stacked against one’s favour, taking risks should not be encouraged. An instance would be the aforementioned Flight 93 incident. The circumstances then may have situationally and emotionally fuelled the passengers to take the risk of standing up to the terrorists. When the very lives of the individual or people involved are at stake, should risk-taking really be encouraged? Some may “rather be a live coward than a dead hero”. Moreover, let us not forget the horrific incidents at Fukushima Daiichi, Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island – the destructive power of nuclear energy is not to be trifled with. These beg the question: should we risk it?

Here, there is a need for us to be educated on the kind of risks we should take. We need to first holistically consider the nature and outcome of the risk – such as the stakes involved, the people affected, whether the implications can be managed, the chances of success or failure, for example.

Additionally, risk-taking should not be encouraged when it is blatantly immoral and wrong. Testing for the possible effects of a medical drug on humans – and usually, animals – is ethically wrong, however important and necessary the experiment may be. The testing and seeding trials for Pfizer’s neurotin and Merck’s Vioxx hold certain risks that we need not think twice about stopping it. Russell George’s dumping of iron into oceans with its inherent risk and without proper scientific justification should not be promoted, especially when it could obviously upset the ecological balance of nature severely. Risk-taking in gambling, drugs, theft, and playing with the law leaves little to be argued for.

Large-scale risk-taking should sometimes not be encouraged when many people vehemently oppose it for justified reasons and concerns. The state or representative individual making the decision on behalf of others may not be in the best position to do so. Taking the socially precarious risk of publicly or legally accepting people with alternative lifestyles into society should be made after much deliberation and discussion with the public. Doing so also needs to be well-timed, so as to minimise the risk of socially stratifying tension and discrimination. The Singapore government’s move to build casinos was also made with careful consideration of the risks and its impacts before proceeding, with greater assurance and confidence of the intended economic success.

On a final note, taking risks should be encouraged if inaction instead holds greater adverse consequences and could bring out the potential of the individual or relevant parties to greater heights. It must nonetheless be noted that not everyone or every risk should be encouraged due to certain limitations or circumstances surrounding the risk to be taken, however crucial it may be. Separately, arguing for the majority of risk-taking, “the biggest risk is to not take risks”. This is particularly so when taking risks is essential as it is often better to “act than be acted upon”, as can be testified in the entrepreneurial realm for instance. For this, we need to inculcate a failure-friendly environment where people are not afraid to take risks, and are empowered to fight for better prospects. Therefore, some risk-taking should ideally be encouraged in hopes of a more successful future.


Can poor countries afford to show concern for the environment?

{question is adapted from a similar phrased question but which has different requirements according to the nuances in word choices. And forgive the outrageous length of the essay because it was obviously not written within the prescribed 1.5 hours but instead over a few days with revisions in upcoming months. Examples used have been labelled and I’ve tried to find their exact sources as far as possible.}

Can poor countries afford to show concern for the environment?

Economic development, or environmental sustainability? Presented with this question, many poor or developing countries instinctively choose “economic development”. Granted that the main priority of most poor countries is to lift the nation out of poverty and debt and achieve growth, such a stand is expected as many see the two as two distinct and conflicting positions. However, who is to say that one cannot choose in between, which is sustainable development? This stance has been championed by some to be the new and better development route for poor countries as it not only ensures economic growth in the short run but also the long term. Also, adopting environmentally friendly practices can help increase efficiency and thus save costs, allowing the accumulation of funds to be directed towards sustainable and “green growth”. Therefore, I think that most poor countries can afford to care for the environment, with the exceptions of those with less than ideal internal situations.


“Grow first, clean up later” [1] – such was the mantra of industrialised countries like US, UK and Japan in the past while they relentlessly pursued economic growth. Misled into thinking that this conventional economic development would make their own nations as prosperous as leading economies today, many poor countries fall into the trap of forgoing the need to develop their economies in a sustainable manner. However, this is a common misconception that environmental sustainability necessarily impedes economic growth, or that there is a trade-off between choosing either one (i.e zero-sum game). This pattern of industrialisation is obviously a faux pas: consider the fact that in 1969, only when the Cuyahoga River, choked with pollutants and bereft of aquatic life, caught fire, did the US realise their grave mistake of pursuing economic growth at the expense of the environment – a turning point for the industrialised nation. The US’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established a year later [2]. In fact, these mistakes can incur great costs, making it so that if a country had shown concern for the environment, such costs would not have arisen and impede the economy’s growth in the near future. The recent 2013 smog in China, where the concentration of particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, hit 900 parts per million – 40 times the level the World Health Organisation (WHO) deems safe – required an estimated US$275 billion over the next five years to clean up the air [3].  Although China has enjoyed double-digit growth in the last decade and pretty much hoisted the country as a whole out of abject poverty, the environmental damage incurred was totally disregarded; as such, today the economy and the people’s health have to pay the price to clean up their past pollutive acts, greatly hampering their growth today. Would it thus not seem that taking environmental considerations into account early was a more affordable and sustainable thing to do than relentlessly yearning for economic growth and facing greater economic repercussions in the future?


On this note, it can also be said that poor countries cannot afford not to care for the environment due to adverse health risks posed to its people due to air and water pollution for example. In an interview in 2005, China’s government minister, Pan Yu, notes that in Beijing alone, 70-80% of all deadly cancer cases are environment-related, with lung cancer as the leading cause of death [4]. This not only incurs huge medical and health costs, posing a great burden on the country’s already limited finances and further diverting away resources, workers are less efficient and effective and the people are deprived of making a living to feed their families. When the people and thus the workforce are healthy and in good physical condition, they are able to contribute to the economy more effectively.


In fact, going for green growth is actually much less expensive than paying for the costs of environmental damage in the future. In a study commissioned by the Indian government, the World Bank found the annual cost of environmental degradation (primarily on the impact on people’s health of pollution from burning fossil fuels – for example, an increase in cardiopulmonary disease among adults living in polluted urban areas) amounts to $80 billion or roughly 5.7% of India’s Gross Domestic Product [5]. On the contrary, adopting increasingly necessary low-emission “green-growth’’ is relatively inexpensive when looking at the larger picture: reducing air pollution and particle emissions by a third would lower India’s GDP by only 0.7%. There is a need for governments in poor countries to realise that there no trade-off between economic growth and protecting the country’s natural resources and the health of its people.


Admittedly, fears that MNCs might shift their undeniably pollutive production facilities to another low-cost country with less stringent environmental standards elsewhere, and thus deprive citizens of jobs and cause the country to lose a major source of income are not unfounded. However, there is increasing international consensus that MNCs should change their environmentally destructive practices – such as the PT Gistex Group’s dumping of chemical dyes down the Citarum River in Indonesia [6] – and the increasing chances for large corporations to face boycotts by environmentalists and advocacy groups, which have a growing support base globally. Due to both public opinion and long-term economic implications of inaction, more than 30 large US corporations (such as General Electric and Dupont) have joined an alliance called the US Climate Action Partnership, which presses for swift legislations on curbing emissions [7]. The Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2012 also argues that “moving to greener, more resilient, lower-emission options that not only sustain the environment but also offer opportunities to the poor for employment and income” [8]. With less cause for worry over the possible loss of jobs and income, poor countries are more able to focus on caring for the environment knowing that it would not jeopardise the economy.


Some may contend that poor countries lack the necessary infrastructure, have a low level of technology and thus do not possess the adequate means or capacity to adopt environmentally friendly or green technologies. While it is true that adopting alternative cleaner technologies requires quite a bit of parting with already limited finances and hence may pose an issue of affordability, poor countries are not alone in the push towards greater environmental sustainability. Many international organisations and environmental agreements recognise that developing nations are inevitably inclined to prioritise economic development and lack the adequate infrastructure and technology to tend towards environmentally-friendlier ways. As such, they do provide them aid in the form of funds and machineries to make it more “affordable” for them transition to cleaner technologies while developing. This is recognised under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): “The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties” [9]. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development also recognises in Principle 7 that “states have common but differentiated responsibilities…in view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation” [10]. For example, recognising the need for a low-carbon pathway to growth, Brazil has chosen to benefit from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) [11a], an innovative financial mechanism defined in Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, earning saleable certified emission reduction credits. A complementary Adaptation Fund [11b] was also established to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes in involved developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. This means that poor countries need not shoulder the full burden of caring for the environment, and can thus pursue economic growth that is sustainable with greater assurance.


Image and reputation may also be a concern. Especially in this increasingly environmentally-minded world, countries that are deemed to be more ecologically-conscious are seen in good favour, compared to those who do not. The Nigerian government lost some of its pride and face when the landmark 2011 UN report slammed the government and multi-national oil companies for pollution which dealt devastating damage to the Niger Delta for decades [12]. Indonesia’s lagging action in dealing with transboundary haze caused by deforestation in the country has been viewed disapprovingly by neighbouring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. If countries are not viewed in a good light based on how it handles environmental issues, confidence and willingness to offer other forms of aid to them may be undermined. This can be seen in the public’s waning rapport with the Obama administration in general for failing to take the lead in the environmental movement.


There are some encouraging positive indications of poor countries showing more concern towards the environment despite their individual economic situations and financial abilities: both India and Indonesia are committed to reducing emissions intensity of GDP by 20-25% by 2020 compared to the 2005 level and cutting emissions by 26% by 2020 respectively [13 a&b]. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has decided to achieve its aim of becoming a middle-income country by 2025 through developing a climate-resilient green economy [14] – rather than through the conventional development path which would result in dramatically increased carbon emissions and unsustainable use of natural resources. These are but a few examples of countries with different levels of “poorness” committing to meet their individual economic development goals in a sustainable way.


However, there is imprudent to henceforth conclude that all poor countries are able to afford to care for the environment: especially for poor countries in Africa, civil wars, social unrests and violent demonstrations are a daily affair. Take the spate of violent armed conflicts between Gaza and Israel, or the vicious Ebola pandemic in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Do these countries have the luxury to think about the environment? Also, can extremely poor countries who cannot even feed its people – such as Nicaragua – be reasonably asked to care for the environment? Countries embroiled in internal conflicts, epidemics or other problems are inundated with other more pressing, complicated issues that require full attention and devotion to seeking resolution. With already so much on their plates, they do not have the luxury of time nor attention to slowly ruminate/ponder over what harm to the environment they may inflict.


A little trivia to note is that showing concern for the environment does not necessarily entail great initial costs, amenities or efforts. What about small eco-friendly actions and behaviours which though may seem insignificant at the individual level, may actually collectively add up to something more impactful and significant via the ripple effect? In conclusion / putting all views into context, I think that the main issue of whether poor countries can afford to be concerned for the environment mainly lies in the battle between economic development and environmental sustainability. Many poor countries are clouded by their desire for growth above all else and are mistaken about the idea that economic development inevitably necessitates environmental damage (that the two are conflicting objectives), and that the concept of green growth is all but a “Western ploy” to hinder their economic progress. There is a need to correct/remediate/repudiate this fallacious view and help them recognise that incorporating sustainability into the development process is instead a vital key to alleviate poverty and increase economic growth. As an Indian proverb goes: Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

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[1] https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=growing+first%2C+cleaning+up+later 

[3] *note that China cannot be referred to as a ‘poor country’ since it can be said to be rather developed, unless you’re referring specifically to relative poverty in rural areas.

[5] http://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/grow-now-clean-later-no-longer-option-india

[11a] http://cdm.unfccc.int/press/docs/CDM_fact_sheet.pdf

Comments are welcome!

General Paper H1 8807

The category, General Paper, would contain some resources regarding the GCE ‘A’ General Paper 8807. These resources may be used for other types of GP out there but yeh. Hope anyone who passes by may find these useful. But please remember to not merely copy and paste examples or whatever into your own essays, because that is not how one learns. Also, it is recommended if one looks up further information behind the examples used so as to gain a thorough understanding and how to apply these examples elsewhere. Thank you.