Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Not just about going green

By Woo Sian Boon, August 13, 2012

Sustainable development is not just about going green and saving the environment. That is the first common misconception that 27-year-old Min Cheong would like to change.

Ms Cheong was the only Singaporean involved in Road to Rio +20, a global youth-led movement that sought to engage young people on sustainable development in conjunction with Rio +20, a United Nations conference on sustainable development held in June.

Under the movement, youths across 50 cities worldwide organised fringe activities in April to raise awareness and connect people who are passionate about sustainable development initiatives.

Ms Cheong, who writes for an online publication, was selected to be part of the four-member media team for Road to Rio +20 after two rounds of written tests and a final interview with the team's director over Skype.

Educating people on the broad spectrum of sustainable initiatives, including access to equal rights among people and environmental issues such as overconsumption and pollution of the earth's resources, was among the challenges she faced when she took up the role of media coordinator.

"If you ask most people what they would associate sustainable development with, I'd venture to say that they would make some reference to climate change and the green movement. But that is such a limited interpretation of the term," she said.

In addition to creating press material and facilitating endorsements, she handled media queries from around the globe and organised team meetings over the Internet.

"I have a tab open in Firefox which lists the times in major regions and cities around the world, so that I can keep track of the time zones that matter to make sure that I am awake to handle any requests that might come in. Sleep of course, became secondary," added the active champion of youth advocacy and development.

Ms Cheong hopes her involvement in the global event would get more young people in the region interested in current affairs, although she admitted that sustainable development is "not a sexy topic" and does not generate much youth interest in Singapore.

"Our socio-political culture is one that tends towards prioritising the pursuit of short-term economic aggrandisation over long-term development and progress. Unfortunately, this proclivity to quick-fixes and wealth-generation does not inspire true individual and collective fulfilment nor does it benefit society and the world we live in," she said.

She hopes to let youth know that they are capable of making a difference. "What youth have is idealism. Even though people may scoff at idealism, that our ideas are too lofty, I think it is also necessary for change as its fuel.

"I want to demonstrate that from wherever you are in the world, you can be part of any process; you can find a way to use your skills to pursue your passion in life," she added.

While Rio +20 has been criticised for failing to commit governments to action, Ms Cheong, however, felt that the conference served as a platform for representatives around the world to come together to converse about sustainable development.

She added: "While global summits such as Rio+20 have their place in the pursuit of sustainable development, it is absolutely imperative that individuals, businesses, NGOs and other groups continue to do what they can to contribute to the cause however possible. This is where the hope for concrete solutions and a more balanced consensus will exist."