Featured: Eunice's Eco-journey

Hey guys!

The green movement has been receiving more attention and support in Singapore for the past year, from both the ground and large companies. I've seen more and more people doing their part in little ways to help save the earth, from rejecting straws and plastic bags, to working on eco-initiatives on a larger scale. However, sometimes everything might feel like a case of too little too late, and you may feel a sense of futility in trying to salvage this global mess.

To gain some perspective, we had a little chat with the wonderful 23-year-old Eunice, a Global Studies major who has taken her eco-journey further than the average Singaporean. In this little interview, you will find out what she does for the green movement and how she views this issue.

Hi Eunice. First off, how did you get started on your eco-journey?

I think my earliest awareness of climate change was in Geography class in Secondary 3. I think we watched a video that shows what Earth was like when it was 6 degrees colder and what Earth would be like if it was 6 degrees warmer. 

I remember sitting in class and being struck, and wondering how everyone else could just go for recess after when the Earth is crumbling away. I started reading more about the environment on my own in junior college, and that cracked open a shaft into my understanding of climate change as an issue. Majoring in Global Studies also allowed me to continue this exploration and understanding of climate related issues.

What are some things that you started to do to be green? I've seen in your Instastories that you held a hard boiled egg with your hands instead of accepting a plastic bag. 

Yes, I reject plastic bags, recycle as much as possible, and stopped buying first-hand clothes as fast fashion is a top global source of pollution, not to mention cruelty! I've also started using bar soaps and bamboo toothbrushes. Previously, I switched to using a menstrual cup, because feminine hygiene products generate a ton of waste.

I've changed my diet. It's a slow process but over the past few years I have transited into becoming vegetarian now. I try to bring my bottle and lunchbox out so I don't have to use plastic cups or Styrofoam boxes, and finish my food or make sure to order less since food waste is another contributor.

I'm also using my phone less as data centres are energy guzzlers, and I've stopped changing new phones. I had mine for years!

I'm signing both local and international petitions, and try to have discussions with people about climate issues. I also donate to organisations that are protecting the earth. I think this is one of the most important things that isn't talked about enough.

Lastly, I'm also starting to explore and make art that revolves around ecological care. 

What are some challenges you’ve faced while trying to be as green as possible? How did you get around these obstacles?

I suppose the biggest challenge is actively resisting the easier, more convenient way of life, especially when that is the taken-for-granted norm. It takes effort and care and attention to do all these things, and for a long time I grappled with the fact that my actions and impact are really insignificant in the larger scheme of things, that hurricanes are still going to happen, that islands will still be flooded, that corals will still be bleached, that poor, marginalised populations will still bear the brunt of the impact while the rich can insulate themselves, that large, transnational corporations will continue to exploit the Earth and its beings for profit, that politicians will continue to deny the suffering and resist the efforts of NGOs.

"Open up conversation and nudge people to think and reflect."

But I've also come to see that every little effort counts, not merely in terms of its consequence, but in the very ethos of the act - the compassion and protest that is at the heart of it, that can open up conversation and nudge people to think and reflect on their role and their part, and their relation to this web of life that surrounds them. It is important to strike a balance between being too optimistic - "I am saving the world!" versus too pessimistic - "None of this is going to matter anyway."

What drives me most of all to overcome these obstacles, at least at this point, is gratitude, humility and compassion. I am deeply grateful to the Earth for giving me everything- my food, my shelter, my clothes, my books, my electronics, a sense of awe. Doing what I can in these small ways is a way of appreciating that and reciprocating. I am also aware that I am no better, more important, or more worthy of dignity and life and respect than the trees around me, the living beings around me, the rocks and sand and soil, and to ensure that I do not leave behind waste that will outlast me by hundreds of years, slowly degrading and destroying whole ecosystems, is a practice of humility.

Compassion, in my definition, is being able to see another as an equal and to want to alleviate their pain. Kay Carmichael, writer of the book Ceremony of Innocence, writes about this phenomenon of psychic numbing, where many of us no longer respond with real feeling to the global issues and the pain of others because we are trying to stay sane, to continue to go about our daily lives. In order to transform ourselves to act and live in a way that aligns with our values, we need to first allow ourselves to feel grief, anger, sorrow, guilt over ourselves, our Earth, our fellow beings.

Have your family or friends been going green too? Do they support your efforts, or are they mostly apathetic? 

There has been a mix of responses! There have been people who respect me for making these changes, people who have been inspired, people who are apathetic or cynical, but no one has been unkind so far. My friends would go and eat vegetarian meals with me, my mother remembers to bring out her own recyclable bag, and my partner has joined me in being vegetarian.

Do you have any useful tips for our readers on how to go green? 
Meditate! I've been using the app Headspace for guided meditation over the past year and that has enriched my relationships, improved my awareness, and given me the space to practice compassion. I've also grown more detached to the material world, and have found that that has helped me to consume less/more sustainably.

You went on an internship at a Marine Conservation NGO. Can you tell us more about why you chose to intern here, and what were your experiences like? 

I interned there because I love the ocean and its beings, and I wanted to learn about the workings of an NGO. (For more information on the projects that Marine Conservation Cambodia does, please check out their website.)

Koh Seh, Cambodia
My greatest takeaway was how destructive our appetite for seafood is. A lot of the seafood supplied to the world is not fished sustainably, and that destroys not just the rich marine biodiversity and ecosystems that are so vital to the health of the planet (seagrass beds, for instance, are like the rainforests of the ocean in that they are huge carbon sinks), but also the livelihoods of coastal communities. 

Doing beach cleans and burning our own trash was a sobering experience. We would walk down the shore and find plastic bags, wrappers, straws, shoes, cigarette butts, nets, utensils, then we'd record down each one, weigh them, and burn them, turning them into toxic gases. In Singapore, the clean streets fool us into complacency, allows us to generate waste without regard of its impact on the environment. We need to realise that waste does not go away. it does not disappear magically. it is actually permanent.

A photo of the trash on the island they collected and later burned.
Living on the island meant living minimally. We showered with rain water from a bucket, ate food washed in rain water, washed our plates and clothes in rain water, did not have power in the day, and barely got any Internet. I also slept on the pier/hammock/bench just because the heat in the room was unbearable. It was tough at first, since I'm so pampered by the conveniences of modern life. 

But once I adjusted, I realised that none of these material pleasures were essential to my happiness. I was happy just to swim, lie out under the stars and talk, to cook and eat together, to play games together. We've been conditioned and habituated to consume perpetually for comfort, convenience and pleasure, but the truth is, I was happy living in a way that most of us would describe as 'poor' when, if taken from another perspective, could also be described as living in accordance with and respect for nature. Coming back from my experience there cemented my will to consume only what I really need instead of what I want.

NGO work is really tough. actively caring for global issues, actively resisting the power and interests of private, state and international actors, actively educating and researching and communicating about these issues demands a lot from these humans. After all, climate destruction and the governance of it is an incredibly complex, intricate global phenomena. What we can do is donate to support them, share about their work, or even just send a small thank you note to them.

You’ve also taken some interesting courses in university about nature. Would you care to share about that too?

I took a course on Singapore's Biodiversity and Natural History in university. There we learnt some naturalist skills, ecosystem services, how to practice awareness and open up our senses to the nature and the biodiversity around us, how to draw plants and birds and insects, how to describe and label and classify etc. Here is a good post on what natural history is, and you can also check out the short documentary that my group made on introducing the practice of nature journaling.

Photo taken through microscope for NUS Singapore's Biodiversity and Natural History module.
I've loved the greenery that's weaved into our urban landscape since I was a little child. I used to have this little book with the names and information of the flora and fauna in Singapore, but I've learnt so much more about birds and insects through this module, and just how close we are to the richness and beauty of life if we slow down our steps and pay attention. When we learn to connect to, appreciate and cherish Earth and its beings, it is difficult not to feel compelled to care for it.

Lastly, what is one thing you wished people knew about going green?

While individual action matters, it is only the starting point. Change also needs to happen at a more institutional level and that comes from demanding more from corporations and governments, asking them what's being done or giving suggestions about what more can be done, participating in climate rallies and strikes, discussing or criticising the current environment policies and regime. 

"Positive energies ripple outwards."

Or if you're less keen on these, simply having a conversation with a friend, sharing your little acts - all these positive energies ripple outwards. It's also important to translate compassion to action, guilt to action, helplessness to action. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed and fatalistic, I remember that there are so many people out there doing their part, and that I'm part of this large global community putting good out into the world.

Thank you, Eunice, for sharing with us in this interview. 
Visit her website eundaimonia.com or follow her on her Instagram @euniceepic