Record-high temperatures, mega floods, increasingly freaky weather and heat-related deaths – and we’re not just talking about humans. The dire effects that climate change has had on earth keeps mounting. At the same time, there are glimmers of hope. See the recent landmark case of 16 youths suing the state of Montana in the US for permitting fossil fuel development and in turn violating their constitutional right to a healthful environment – and winning it. Doomers, you’ve been warned. Ahead, we find out from four female activists here how and why all is not yet lost.
This environmental studies-trained 24-year-old is involved in multiple projects that aim to protect marine life. Among them: the ocean clean-up organisation Seven Clean Seas, where she works as a campaign executive; the Instagram account @limpehloanshark, which documents the biodiversity she and other freelance guides discover on the intertidal walks they conduct (cue the rare pink sand dollar sea urchin pictured below); and, her latest, Yukan – an online resource to sustainable seafood in Singapore started two months ago.
Photography Athirah Annissa Art Direction Jonathan Chia Hair Tan Eng Chong/Kizuki+Lim Makeup Sarah Tan
Drive support through collaborations
“One of my personal favourite instances of this happened when it was announced in 2021 that Dover Forest would be zoned for residential use and cleared. My friends and I knew that the only way to draw attention to this issue was through gaining public support so I connected with a few independent film makers and videographers, and we made a short video called A Silent Forest to talk about the importance of saving Dover Forest. Thanks to this video as well as other groups and content creators petitioning for the same cause, we were able to save half of the forest from being transformed into housing blocks. For me, it’s collaborations like this that make the biggest impact.”
The key to conservation: stay positive
“I can go on and on about how sad the state of the world is, but that would do nothing. I’ve been in conservation for over seven years and there have been so many times when I’ve asked myself, what’s the point? However, doing something about the planet is not just for the environment, but also for ourselves. For example, coral reefs are beautiful, but they also provide habitat for the fish that we consume; break the action of waves so that our land doesn’t erode away; and offer millions of people income through economic goods and services. We need to stop seeing it as saving the planet for the environment, but also saving it for us as a species.”
Got eco-anxiety? Reframe the narrative
“Every time you speak up, you change the perspective of someone else. Every action you make has an impact. Sometimes when I give my intertidal walks, I don’t know what the outcome will be, but once in a while, a parent or a child will come up to me and tell me that they feel inspired and want to do something. That’s one more person that will fight the good fight whether it’s now or in the future, and that’s the impact I’ve made.”
Singapore does have a rich marine eco-system, but it needs more protection
“Most Singaporeans think we don’t have any marine life here. People are always shocked to know that we do have starfish, stingrays and coral reefs and I wanted to continue raising that awareness because that’s kind of what changed my perspective on marine conservation locally…
However, Singapore’s marine life faces two main threats and that is land reclamation and shipping. Unfortunately, our marine ecosystems are not given the full protection that they need which makes them vulnerable to the negative impacts of these threats. My favorite intertidal zone in Singapore is at Changi beach and right now that area is not protected at all which means that if there are plans for other types of land use, we will lose all our marine biodiversity in that area.
Beyond that, with the high amount of shipping activity, our coastal areas face threats like erosion and pollution, ultimately leaving them in a vulnerable state. What I hope to see is that there’ll be more protection for all our marine areas to ensure that we preserve and conserve our natural heritage for future generations to come.”
You can reach more people by making relatable content
“Most recently, I made a post on sambal stingray and the threats that stingrays face from overfishing. It got it over 50,000 views which honestly surprised me. After that post was up, I had many people tell me they didn’t know that their seafood consumption would affect marine life and it made them think twice about the actions. Through my platform, I’ve learned that the only way to make a change is to connect with your audience in the most relatable way possible. And for Singaporeans, the best way to their heart is through food. Sometimes, it’s not about what generation you are, but figuring out the best way to reach that target audience.”
Uplifting messaging tends to be more effective
“It’s somewhat like being in school – think about it, your teacher encouraging you even if you had a bad grade is so much better than a teacher scolding you that you’re going to fail school and get kicked out – that’s how I see you how we should approach conservation issues.
Oftentimes environmental campaigns draw out negative messaging, it can be based on guilt or blame and sometimes it works. However, when there’s positive messaging that’s based on future optimism, who wouldn’t want to get on board? At the end of the day different framing will resonate with different groups but overall being positive is what makes the world go round so I’ll definitely stick to positive messaging.
There are so many amazing projects and people in Singapore that are doing such remarkable work for the environment. Someone I’m really excited to see grow is Man Jing (who’s also in this story) from @JustKeepThinking, who started off creating videos on a humble Instagram page and now has a Mediacorp series where she’s reaching out to an even bigger audience in Singapore. Another amazing individual is Sam Shu Qin from Our Singapore Reefs who is doing such amazing work for local coral reef conservation and raising awareness among youths. Man Jing and Sam are two of the people that I look up to the most who turn passion into impact, and I hope to continue joining them in the fight.”
Started by Monteiro, 25, and her business partner Ong Kok Chung in 2021, Ferticlay follows the principles of a circular economy and uses unavoidable food waste such as eggshells and coffee grounds to create clay that’s then fashioned into the likes of vessels (pictured below) and tiles. She’d came up with the idea to create an alternative to clay after signing up for a competition to earn extra credits towards graduating.
After which, Monteiro went on to join various competitions and masterclasses such as WWF’s #WeGotThis programme, which allowed her to discover many different facets of sustainability. She went on to rework a wasteful paper clay recipe she had found online and mixed in various waste materials like eggshells and formed her first batch of Ferticlay. According to Monteiro, all Ferticlay products are intended for short-term use and will break down with a couple of days’ worth of rainfall so that the nutrients from their food waste component can return safely to the ground.
Photography Athirah Annissa Art Direction Jonathan Chia Hair Tan Eng Chong/Kizuki+Lim Makeup Sarah Tan
It’s all about a mindset shift
“According to the National Environment Agency, food waste accounts for about 12 per cent of the total waste generated in Singapore and this amount has been growing steadily over the last five years. Several factors contribute to it and one obvious reason is that we import over 90 per cent of our food and dispose of a third. There have been various moves by the government to improve the situation. For example – as part of the Singapore Green Plan 2030 – it’s enhancing the capability and capacity of our agri-food industry to produce 30 per cent of the country’s nutritional needs locally and sustainably. That said, it’s important to draw attention to the value of food waste by celebrating its strength and nutritional value. Through Ferticlay’s products, people can see how we can creatively recycle food waste instead of sending it straight to landfill.”
Get your food waste facts straight
“One misconception is that food waste is smelly and not worth keeping aside. Yes, food waste can easily turn smelly if not dealt with a little care. However, it takes understanding the potential of the waste to drive people to make the effort to do something about it, and this is why we want to show people how they can create something beautiful from such waste… Another misconception is that food waste is biodegradable and therefore safe to throw. In fact, food waste typically ends up producing methane when mixed with other toxic materials in closed environments, and methane is about 25 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.”
“My first and possibly most important tip is to get into nature more. The more we grow to understand and love nature, the more compelled we will be to protect and care for it, and that would naturally lead to a more sustainable lifestyle. You are less likely to protect something you don’t love. My second tip would be to challenge yourself to repurpose seemingly mundane waste materials in your daily life. Whether it’s using a cardboard toilet roll to store cables neatly, or turning food scraps into compost, there are so many creative ways to use waste materials. My last tip would be to volunteer at community gardens and farms. There are more of these popping up in every neighbourhood. Grab your family and friends and head down to learn how to garden and grow your own food.”
How Ferticlay works
“Ferticlay aims to rechannel high-nutrient food waste, such as eggshells and nut husks, into alternative clay materials that give back to the earth at the end of their life cycle. Our objective is to raise awareness about food waste and to explore how we can creatively utilise them. Our materials are currently perfect for short-term applications, where the material can hold its shape and strength for at least six
months. The beauty of our clay is threefold: We create valuable products from waste, use it in various applications where it can be utilised for both its strength and aesthetic, and then re-use the clay after its intended use by breaking it down, rehydrating it and using it again for another purpose. This follows the principles of a circular economy.”
Ferticlay can also help businesses to utilise their food waste better
“We have a co-creation model which we share with companies. Basically, waste that would have been sent to the incinerator can be turned into new products that can be circled back into their systems or sold on a profit-sharing basis. This not only provides a circular economy that is also green but helps generate a new revenue stream for us. Our big goal is to eventually push for earthen building (structures which use soil as the main construction material) as a viable sustainable alternative to concrete. With many countries adopting various forms of earthen building where clay is the main binder, we see immense potential for Ferticlay’s unique mix of food waste and clay to be used as a building material as well…
We are still on the lookout for more businesses who need help in valorising their food waste, and we would love to explore even more unique adoptions of our clay, as this helps us to validate and push the material further towards building materials, where we can solve the food waste problem at large, and drive meaningful change in the built environment.”
Some helpful resources to get educated
“I would recommend checking out The Circle for Human Sustainability, a local collective of experts in Science, Sociology, Economics and Built Environment that are working together to provide resources centred around living an ecologically responsible way of life. For sustainability-related content, I would recommend following @JustKeepThinking, @TheWeirdandWild and @Atmos on Instagram.”
Four years ago, this environmental science and wildlife education-trained 29-year-old started the science channel Just Keep Thinking with her fiance Raye Ng to spread an interest in science and biodiversity as a way of championing sustainability. Today, her social media accounts (Youtube, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook) jointly boast 500K followers thanks to her videos in which she shares delightful nuggets of wisdom on wildlife with candour, humour and an infectious energy (and always while dressed in the same oversized black-rimmed glasses and yellow polka-dotted dress).
Photography Athirah Annissa Art Direction Jonathan Chia Hair Tan Eng Chong/Kizuki+Lim Makeup Sarah Tan
Social media can help bring social change
“I don’t think wildlife conservation on an institutional front has changed much because land use in Singapore is planned way ahead of time, but I do see the government starting to see the value of using social media to reach out to the younger crowd… The JustKeepThinking audience is also well-informed and vocal. For example, there was an incident on our intertidal shores in 2021 in which some people had dug up animals from the ground and tortured them or brought them home. We filmed this scene down and posted it online, garnering a lot of support from the public… This led to a concerted effort by the government and the nature community to discuss what could be done to resolve the situation, including increasing patrolling efforts, training more volunteers, and possibly implementing legislation to these spaces.”
Acknowledge that we have made progress
“I understand and resonate with the feelings of people who experience climate doomism – climate science can be depressing and I’m not surprised that people are starting to feel jaded and anxious. I’m a naturally positive person though so I’m always looking at problems through a positive lens. Compared to 10 or 20 years ago when it was not mainstream to talk about the climate crisis, I think we have made so much headway. Now we know what’s going on and what’s happening, and we can finally do something about it – imagine if we did not know? And we wouldn’t be good role models to the younger generation if we were to give up now, especially when they are the ones who are going to be the most affected by the climate crisis.”
There’s lots to be hopeful about
“For example, the United Nations formally adopted a historic treaty this June that’s designed to protect marine life in the high seas, which are areas beyond national jurisdiction. It is such a big win for our marine spaces because we finally have a legal basis for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in these areas. Here in Singapore, grassroots movements have led to a change in government decision. One example is the Singapore Food Agency delaying its plans to set up fish farms on two sites in our southern waters after receiving feedback from the nature community. These changes are unprecedented, and would have unlikely happened back in the past. The needle is shifting slowly so let’s continue to push forward because we cannot afford to give up now.”
Get your message across by understanding your audience first
“As somebody who studied science, we are constantly fed with a lot of information, and you can tell that a lot of it really doesn’t resonate with the layman audience just by speaking to your friends who are not in the same community. The key idea here is to always think of the issue from the audience point of view, because what seems interesting to you might not be interesting to others. Also, the goal of my videos is to spark that interest in people and also inspire them to learn more, not so much of making sure that they know every single fact, so I just pick out the most engaging and/or relatable facts and work around it.”
Eco-anxiety is real
“Eco-anxiety refers to the extreme worries and concerns about the current and future state of the environment due to the impacts of climate change. I personally experienced it in my own way, during the intertidal incident in 2021 where I felt my anxiety was shooting through the roof whenever I saw people digging up animals out from the ground and killing them right before my eyes. Eco-anxiety is real, and I’ve seen it happening not only with the friends around me, but also younger children – some of them who are being affected so badly that they are skipping school and seeing therapists.”
How to process eco-anxiety
“Know that we’re all in this together – truly. Compared to a mere generation ago where we knew nothing, now we know the issues that plague our earth, and it is now the time to finally be able to do something about it. We don’t need millions of people to do things perfectly, we just need some of them to do things imperfectly. And with cumulative impact and dedication from the public, private and people sector, slowly but surely, we will move the needle, which is what I have been seeing.”
Small actions still impact others
“I think the most memorable experiences and moments for me is when I met my fellow audience and followers of the @JustKeepThinking channel. People would come up to me and say thank you for the work I do on social media, which is heartwarming because they don’t see it as just purely a form of entertainment, but they saw the educational value in it, and they appreciated it. Many of the kids who watched our videos have also been inspired to do more for the environment – one of which is Naomi, who set-up her own eco-club in her own school after watching my videos and joining my tour. She wanted to influence her peers and reach out to more people, and that is the moment where I realised that my channel has a bigger impact than I thought it could have. The small ripple that I have created could cause other small ripples and collectively, our ripples can really create big waves of change.”
SGCR was behind Singapore’s first physical climate rally that was staged in 2019 at Hong Lim Park and drew over 2,000 people. Last month, it held the sophomore edition with a focus on climate change’s impact on marginalised communities. Tan, 23, was unable to make it as she’s currently studying Global Environment and Sustainable Development at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, but she remains one of its strongest supporters.
Remember that the impact of climate change is not equal
“In the beginning – in solidarity with the global climate strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg – we were very much focused on calling for direct climate action from our policymakers… As we spoke to more people about our work though, we realised how disproportionate the impact and accountability of the climate crisis is – that the groups most vulnerable to the effect of climate change contribute the least to it. For example, proposed solutions to climate change such as petrol tax can put a disproportionate change on the likes of taxi drivers and food delivery riders who struggle to make ends meet – as noble as it is in its intent to reduce fossil fuel usage… That’s why we have shifted our focus to intersectional climate justice: to amplifying the often-overlooked consequences marginalised communities face.”
How marginalised communities are at risk
“Within Singapore, people from lower socio-economic circumstances and migrant backgrounds face even more precarity in their health and livelihoods than before. During the 2021 edition of SGCR, we heard from a volunteer in rental flat neighbourhoods, Marlina, who shared how the increasing temperatures endanger people already trying so hard just to survive. Being unable to afford air conditioning, they are more vulnerable to illness, which also puts them at higher risk of losing their jobs and incurring debt.”
Don’t underestimate individual action
“While I definitely agree on making the system work better for us through corporate and legislative pressure, I’d argue that individual action is equally critical towards sustainability. Every single person, especially in Singapore, has a lot more agency than they think they have. Every time you have a conversation with someone, when you buy something, or even when you scroll through your social media feed, you are making a decision that influences people’s behaviour. Individual actions have the power to encourage greater environmental awareness in our everyday lives, as well as empower individuals of their agency to influence others; be it friends, family, or businesses. It is the stepping stone to systemic change when one recognises that society is made of a bunch of individuals that are constantly designing the way we live. Therefore, individuals also have the power to redesign the way we live as consumers and citizens.
Then the conversations we should truly be having boils down to: what are your spheres of influence and what work sustains you? Someone once told me environmentalism is not a race, it is a marathon; so it has to be sustainable for you too. There is so much to be done, it’s best to pick the things that empower you and galvanise your impact in the long-term. Whether that’s choosing to buy secondhand items or taking a stand at Hong Lim Park, these actions are all necessary towards building a sustainable future.”
Understand that many people are experiencing eco-anxiety too
“Eco-anxiety is the fear that the future will not be guaranteed because of this climate crisis. It’s a feeling I’ve grown to be very intimately familiar with. It started in secondary school, when we were choosing our subjects to stream into. Possible pathways, career aspirations and dreams just seemed futile to think about when looming environmental destruction threatens all I wanted to experience. This solidified as I grew up, with more and more news of so many people who have already lost their homes, jobs, even lives to the climate crisis.
I completely understand why more people are suffering this particular brand of anxiety. It is pretty well-founded with all the craziness, like increasingly intense and erratic weather patterns even we can feel in Singapore. For me, this is also paired with eco-grief. Grief over so much loss of ecosystems, life and time to completely stop this”
Community can help alleviate eco-anxiety
“There’s nothing as healing and nourishing as being with your people – people you can rely on to understand and support you, and whom you can commiserate with through the darkness of eco-anxiety, which is the fear that the future will not be guaranteed because of this climate crisis. We are social creatures after all and joining a group helps fuel that fear into action just like how I did with SGCR. And there are many groups out there – you’ve just got to find one with the approach that best aligns with you. I also know that for many youths who grew up with superhero role models, there might be a burning need to swoop in and save the world. You need to understand though that it is an impossible task alone. Rather, it is the collective effort of people supporting one another that will make a lasting difference.”
Other helpful resources
“I highly recommend the books Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and The Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas. They bring in a different lens to climate issues that is extremely enriching, that makes you realise there are so many possibilities for a better future if only we dare imagine it. Besides looking at a screen or paper, I actually find the most helpful thing is to go back to the source: nature. Nature always finds a way to prevail, from the smallest ant colony to the towering rainforests we’re so privileged to have. That, and just spending time with the people you love. Nothing else more sustainable than love in its myriad forms.”
ALL INTERVIEWS HAVE BEEN EDITED FOR CLARITY AND BREVITY.
This article first appeared in the Oct 2023 Wholesome! Edition of FEMALE