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7 Changemakers Caring For The Future Through Climate Change Advocacy

Climate change is upon us, and its effects are more apparent in Malaysia with unpredictable weather and frequent annual flooding. It is no longer possible to remain passive to environmental woes. Inaction translates into effects on food security and long term effects on the future of our younger generation

The clock is ticking for us to tackle climate change, and as stated in the 12th Malaysia Plan, the nation is aiming to achieve carbon-neutral status by 2050[1]

Rising to the challenge of ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions, we have six changemakers tirelessly advocating for more stringent climate policies and affirming that each one of us has a role to play. 

#1: Gurmit Singh, From A Non-Believer To A Passionate Eco-Activist 

In 1973, Gurmit Singh K.S. blasted environmental activism as a ‘Western-fed notion’. However, a year later, the engineer had a change of heart and became the president of Environmental Protection Society, Malaysia (EPSM) [2].

In 1973, a member of the Selangor Graduates Society, which I was involved in, suggested we look into environmental issues in Malaysia. I wasn’t keen because to me, it wasn’t the ‘in’ thing then. Only the westerners were talking about the environment. – Gurmit Singh, Malaysian eco-activist[3]

Since then, he has devoted his days to environmental activism and eventually founded the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM), a non-profit organisation to improve environmental quality through the use of technology and sustainable development.

His outspoken and brash nature had also caused him to have a brush with authorities in the past. But, his tumultuous relationship with the authorities spells victories as his organisation managed to halt the proposed Tembeling Dam and the Asia Rare Earth Sdn Bhd operations in Bukit Merah. 

In my work, I have frequently faced apathy and sometimes hostility from various levels of officials, businesses and even individuals – even now when propagating concepts of sustainability. – Gurmit Singh, Malaysian eco-activist[4]

For his dedication in ensuring that the best interest of mother nature is being kept, he earned the Langkawi Award in 1993 and Merdeka Award in 2018. 

Some tell me it’s impossible to get things done without appealing to people’s selfishness. I say for the environment, we need to rise above our selfishness. Changing people’s value systems is very difficult. The least anyone can do, or at least I try to do, is to change myself. So I try to live my life with as small an ecological footprint as possible. Gurmit Singh, Malaysian eco-activist[3]

#2: Khor Sue Yee – From A Passion Project To A Formidable Zero-Waste Advocate 

Listening to Lauren Singer’s (an American environmentalist) Ted Talk sparked Khor Sue Yee’s interest in a zero-waste lifestyle. At the start of her journey, Sue Yee befriended Aurora Tin. Sue Yee accepted Aurora’s invitation to be part of the Zero Waste Malaysia Facebook group in 2016. But who knew, the humble Facebook page conspired into a platform that provides relevant resources to sustain a trash-free lifestyle. 

We were both struggling to find a community that practised the lifestyle in Malaysia, so Aurora created a Facebook group for us to share our tips and tricks.Khor Sue Yee, co-founder of Zero Waste Malaysia[5]

Their passion project took off when they organised a zero-waste festival with a household name in the global zero-waste movement, Bea Johnson. The media coverage of their event saw a boom in followers. And since then, they have grown into a non-profit organisation involving passionate volunteers spreading awareness amongst the public to live more sustainably and to reduce consumption. 

Now, Zero Waste Malaysia runs a website brimmed with resources including a newly released Trashpedia. In 2019, Sue Yee and Aurora received the Commonwealth’s Point Of Light Award which commemorates the outstanding achievements of changemakers in the community[6].

But, getting the general public to be more aware and implement a zero-waste lifestyle isn’t their end goal. Sue Yee aims to get the industries involved and local authorities to see their work on the ground. 

We are glad that many are aware of reducing their waste on a personal level, but if it is practised at an organisational level, Malaysia’s waste can be reduced tenfold. Khor Sue Yee, co-founder of Zero Waste Malaysia[5]

#3: Dr Renard Siew, Engineer Turned Climate Activist 

Dr Renard Siew came face-to-face with the consequences of neglecting the environment when he was 10. The storm that hit led to one of the worst floods to hit his hometown, Kuantan. What’s more devastating, a close friend of Renard’s was swept away and drowned[7].

It is often the marginalised communities that have to bear the consequences of natural disasters and climate change. – Dr Renard Siew, climate reality advisor at the Centre for Governance and Political Studies[7]

Source: The Peak

Growing up, his grandparents were crucial in shaping the climate activist that he is today. As a boy, he saw his grandparents growing and harvesting their crops. His interest in sustainability and nature was also piqued through watching documentaries with his grandmother. 

I have always had a passion for sustainability but there wasn’t really a clear path to get to that end. Civil engineering was probably the closest so that was the starting point. – Dr Renard Siew, climate reality advisor at the Centre for Governance and Political Studies[7]

At the age of 26, he received his PhD in civil engineering. Soon after, his career trajectory shifted into sustainability-related. He currently works as a climate reality advisor at the Centre for Governance and Political Studies in Kuala Lumpur. In addition to this, his work for civil society includes being part of the Global Shapers Community initiated by the World Economic Forum and co-founding the Accelerating Climate Action initiative aiming to raise US$1 billion for climate entrepreneurs in Asia.

#4: Yasmin Rasyid, Battling Climate Change With EcoKnights

A marine biologist by profession, Yasmin Rasyid started her journey as an environmentalist through volunteering at WWF-Malaysia in 1998. Soon after, hired as a science officer at the organisation and was responsible for its outreach programmes. But there’s something amiss despite the multiple paper publication, Malaysia was severely lacking when it comes to environmental audio materials.

Source: Ecoknights

But I also came to realise that no matter how great the work I was involved in from the science and environmental perspective, a missing component was the human element – which is why a lot of the work that EcoKnights does today is community-centric.  – Yasmin Rasyid, founder of EcoKnights[8]

To fill in this gap, EcoKnights came into the picture in 2005 to produce audiovisual materials to generate more awareness on issues related to the environment in the country. To date,  510 trees were successfully planted in degraded areas, and at least 9.87 tonnes of solid and organic waste were collected. Along with cleaning three polluted urban rivers effectively removed six tonnes of river waste in 2019[9]

Through EcoKnights, the International Kuala Lumpur Eco Festival (KLEF) came alive in 2008, becoming an annual event and reaching out to at least 80,000 Malaysians by screening environmental-focused films and programmes. 

But her role in advocating for the environment isn’t just limited to EcoKnights. In 2015, she founded PopTani, a social enterprise to make urban farming mainstream in Malaysia and Asia at large. PopTani offers different sized Aquaponics kits for growing organic herbs, fruits and vegetables at home making farming more accessible. 

Despite the greater awareness amongst Malaysians when it comes to environmental issues, Yasmin views that there seems to be a lack of accountability and will to change.

The everyday Malaysian is quite oblivious to his/her role in partaking and making a difference, despite higher environmental awareness levels. We lack the motivation, inspiration, and maybe, we fear it a bit, in participating and making our own personal changes. It’s always easy to expect others to change and not that of yourself.– Yasmin Rasyid, founder of EcoKnights[10]

#5: Melissa Tan, A Model With Earth’s Best Interest 

Melissa grew in stardom when she appeared in Asia’s Next Top Model Cycle 3 and The Apartment. This model, TV Host, Actress and former financial analyst is also passionate about living minimal impact on the earth through a zero-waste lifestyle. 

From a young age, she grew a love for nature and the environment and was very conscious of the choices she made so that they wouldn’t harm the earth. 

I’ve always been an environmentalist. Even as a child, I would be recycling things. It came naturally to me. What felt unnatural was to just throw something away when you know there was stuff you could recover from it. Melissa Tan, model and environmentalist[11]

However, her interest in the environment and adapting a zero-waste lifestyle escalated after listening and meeting Claire Sancelot (the force behind The Hive Bulk Food Store. Since then, Melissa has made a conscious effort to incorporate the zero-waste mindset, especially in fashion.

Using her social media influence, she encourages the public to shop for second-hand clothes and bring forth awareness on the repercussions of fast fashion. 

But green is relevant to all of us. I wanted to use my commercial appeal to bring that to all of us. Instead of modelling new clothes, I am modelling my own wardrobe to show how we can practise zero waste and still look fantastic. Melissa Tan, model and environmentalist[11]

#6: Hafizuddin Nasaruddin, Up And Coming Eco-Activist 

Hafizuddin was working at an environmental consulting firm in Damansara after completing his Masters in Water & Environmental Management from Bristol University. However, the intention to shift his career was seeded when volunteering for KUASA (Persatuan Aktivis Kuasa Alam / The Society of Environmentalists) in Manjung, Perak[12].

Back in 2014, I visited KUASA’s recycling camp at Teluk Senangin in Manjung. I was surprised to see how much they were doing and working to raise awareness about big environmental issues in Perak. After joining their programme a few times, I realised that I needed to do something meaningful in life.  Hafizuddin Nasaruddin, president of KUASA (Persatuan Aktivis Kuasa Alam / The Society of Environmentalists)[11]

This blossomed into his decision of quitting his corporate jobs and he soon initiated a tree nursery for reforestation. His dedication to environmental activism caught the attention of senior members of KUASA. Later, he was appointed as the president of KUASA. One of the few things Hafizuddin helmed as the president include reforming the organisation to attract more participants and youth involvement in KUASA. 

Source: Malaysia Dateline

Driven by his need to live meaningfully, Hafizuddin has graced multiple media platforms voicing out his discontent when it comes to the direction of community development. Recently, he has been vocal in raising the issue of rampant logging that had placed the Orang Asli community in Kelantan in danger of being mauled by a tiger. As an effort to create more awareness and highlight the direness of this issue, a documentary about the tiger attacks is due to be released.

#7: Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar

Ili Nadiah Zulfakar founded Klima Action Malaysia in 2019 when pursuing her undergraduate students in environmental science at Nottingham University. Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY) was born out of the need for Malaysia to ride on the increasing global traction when it comes to climate change. With the limited climate change literacy, the youth-led KAMY has prominently pushed for greater environmental awareness and reform in Malaysia. Four months later, Ili led 1,000 strong crowds at Dataran Merdeka to protest against climate inaction [13].

Climate change is not a thing of the future, nor is it a problem 30 years in the future. It is happening now. – Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar, founder of Klima Action Malaysia[14]

Nadiah shifted to online spaces to continue her advocacy efforts during the imposed lockdowns. Nadiah has spoken about a wide array of issues. This includes raising awareness on mental health and eco-anxiety on top of campaigning against the degazettement of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve.

Source: Malay Mail

Nadiah is also the co-founder of Weaving Hopes for the Future, a programme to cultivate leadership and organisational skills amongst the Malaysian indigenous communities, especially women and the youth. With the use of creative means, Nadiah hopes that the use of art will empower Orang Asli to add value to the existing discussion on climate change [15].

Cover image: Asia Samachar

Explore our sources: 

  1. Ministry of Finance. (2021).Malaysia stepping up efforts to transition to low-carbon, climate-resilient economy — Tengku Zafrul.Link
  2. A.Azlee. (2018). Interview: Pioneer Malaysian eco-activist Gurmit Singh on dealing with people’s apathy. Epic. Link
  3. E.Koshy. (2017). The unwavering eco-activist. New Straits Times. Link
  4. Merdeka Award. (2018).Engr Gurmit Singh KS. Link
  5. E.Yap. (2019).Aurora Tin and Khor Sue Yee spearhead national zero-waste movement in Malaysia. Options The Edge. Link
  6. University Of Nottingham Malaysia. UNM alumni Khor Sue Yee awarded Commonwealth Points of Light. Link
  7. D.Maan.(2017). Bright Young Things: Dr Renard Siew. Tatler Asia. Link
  8. World Bank. (2019).Meet the Innovator Battling Plastic Waste in Malaysia: Yasmin Rasyid. Link
  9. EcoKnights. (2020).Impact Report 2019. Link
  10. Dhakshaan. (2020). How EcoKnights Is Sustaining And Restoring Resources For Tomorrow Through Volunteers. Augustman. Link
  11. S.I.Sathiabalan. (2019). Waste not, want not. The Sun Daily. Link
  12. I. A.Yus Amirul.(2017). Hafizudin Nasarudin. Ipoh Echo. Link
  13. Malaysiakini. (2021). Ili Nadiah just can’t stay silent in the face of climate crisis. Link
  14. Y.Y.Yap. (2019). These young Southeast Asian climate activists are fighting for their futures. Sea Mashable. Link
  15. Malaymail.(2021). Eco-warriors use art and activism to empower orang Asli.Link

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