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Impact 0163: Calling for environmental change

Estella Ho · 9 September 2021
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Founded in 2019, SG Climate Rally is a 30-member strong team of individuals who “stand for climate justice and push for a just transition”. They seek to uplift communities and work with those in power to achieve fair, ambitious climate policy to safeguard our future.

The non-profit organisation held Singapore’s first climate rally on Sep 21, 2019 and saw more than 1,700 participants gathered at Hong Lim Park. The participants, who were clad in red, silently laid down on the ground as part of a “die-in”. The demonstration was to portray sorrow over the inherent loss of biodiversity and human lives caused by climate change.

We posed 10 questions to Estella Ho, 25, one of SG Climate Rally’s founding members, to learn more about the movement and how she and other young people are championing the cause.

Question: Hi Estella! What do you do for a living?

I am a sustainability professional doing regional corporate for an e-commerce company.

Question: What got you interested in climate change?

When I was in SMU Business Management, before joining SG Climate Rally in Jun 2019, what sparked my interest was watching Before the Flood, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio. The visuals got to me because we’re so insulated from all these environmental problems that are happening across the world due to climate change and the extractive activities that cause climate change.

Seeing it on the screen put into perspective for me that we’re destroying the planet, and we’ll destroy it to the extent that we won’t have anywhere to go. That was just so absurd and sad to me. That’s when I started reading more about climate change and the underlying issues.

Question: Can you tell us why you decided to join SG Climate Rally?

I had heard that a couple of university students were interested in organising a physical climate rally. At that point in time, I was very frustrated and anxious about the lack of urgency in climate action in Singapore and the world.

It just so happened that I was seeking an outlet or a platform to translate those emotions into action, so I reached out to a mutual friend to ask if I could come on board and organise with them.

Question: How have SG Climate Rally’s goals shifted since it first began?

At our first rally, the focus was ensuring the policies and initiatives that the government were putting out reflect what is needed to get us below that 1.5 degree Celsius of global heating, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

So what we set out to do at first was to shift the conversation from individual action to systematic change. But from the 2019 rally, we realised perhaps trying to engage with the government directly was not the best or most effective way to achieve our goal.

In 2020, we focused on broadening the conversation and galvanising public support. The idea is to make climate change a bread and butter issue. Climate change directly impacts your life even if you don’t say its effects immediately. For example, Singapore imports a lot of its food. When the food supply overseas gets disrupted due to changing weather patterns or drought, the price of these items will go up. If you care about the rising cost of living, you would care about climate change.

Question: Whose responsibility is environmental sustainability?

I believe this responsibility falls upon the shoulders of people who are in power. Having that sort of power confers privilege and access, and I think that also confers responsibility.

The mainstream narrative is always about looking at people and asking them to reduce, reuse, recycle – bring reusable cutlery and crockery when they do takeaway. But almost all the economies in the world are based on producing and selling more. This system is inherently unattainable and cannot be physically reconciled with a resource-finite planet.

As much as consumers may demand change or try to do something in their daily lives, we are born into a system that has already locked us in. The only way to not be complicit is to exit it, and I don’t think that’s helpful. We recognised the gap within that narrative, and so we wanted to challenge that.

Question: So, is individual action against climate change insignificant?

Individual action is not useless as it is a very good starting point for collective action. The compromise is to do what makes you feel like you’re making a difference on an individual level, then think about the next step you can take that can cause a more significant impact.

That’s why attending physical or online rallies and having a seat at the table is important to have that representation. It signals that you care enough about the issue to show up. These are the data points that companies and the government pay attention to.

On my end, I recycle, cut down on consumption, and buy second hand off Carousell instead. I have more vegetarian meals, and reduce the frequency of taking ride-sharing vehicles in favour of public transport. All this talk comes from someone in a privileged position who can think about these issues.

Question: Why is talking about privilege important when we discuss sustainability?

It’s not just about systemic change but also about intersectional climate justice. This means that  changes made toward environmental sustainability have to recognise certain groups are more vulnerable than others to climate change and its impacts. 

It’s about addressing inequities and injustices, and recommending that the government’s policies flag and remedy these injustices so that the transition to a low or zero carbon footprint will be a just transition.

To do so will require us to centre around vulnerable communities or marginalised communities, such as low-income communities, migrant workers, LGBTQ+ societies, and the different genders.

That’s also why I don’t think we should blame and shame individuals for not doing more. If you recognise that we’re all caught and locked in the systems that have caused climate change, then it’s not about pointing fingers at each other and saying, “You need to do more about this.”

Question: In your opinion, do Singaporeans generally care about climate change?

I think Singaporeans are very literate when it comes to climate change. They understand the science behind it and the existential problems it brings. The older generations may be more sceptical but for this younger generation, climate change is no longer something that will happen 10, 15 years down the road. It’s happening now, and the effects are increasingly visible.

I think people care, but they don’t feel empowered, and that gets mistaken for apathy. That’s the biggest challenge we face. Another two factors that prevent people from advocating are the lack of time and energy. After you come back from work, you just want to rest and not think about all these complex issues that require solving.

Question: What other challenges do you face when doing advocacy work?

Advocacy work comes with a lot of sacrifice of your time. I work for the movement on weekday nights, most of my weekends are taken up by meetings. But I know if I don’t do anything, I know I will be depressed. The feeling that I’m doing something and moving forward to solve the issue also alleviates my anxiety.

Question: Anything else you’d like to add?

We need to have a paradigm shift in how we view our relationship with nature and the non-human world. We need to recognise our dependency on it and figure out how to live harmoniously with it. That requires a radical upheaval of our current philosophy of humankind dominating non-human populations.

We also have to grapple with what we value as a species, as humankind. What are the ends we are working towards? If what we want is a stable climate with non-human and human populations, then our current systems simply do not work. I think that is a very existential question we have to deal with, and then the rest will follow from there.

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