Last week, Singapore had the pleasure of hosting The Earthshot Prize, which was set in Asia for the first time. Beyond the glitz and glamour of the green carpet and celebrities, I thought it is important to take stock of what we, as youths in Asia (more so Southeast Asia), can do beyond the one week of celebrations. Here are some takeaways and thoughts:
Having the opportunity to attend the prize ceremony, I was struck by the diversity of solutions shared by the finalists. Given the variety of ideas, there is definitely a lot we can learn from them. Yet one common thing worth pointing out was the scale of their impact. For example, award winner (there are five) Boomitra’s work to remove emissions by incentivising soil restoration and adoption of regenerative agriculture aims to store 1 gigaton tonnes of CO2 by 2030. That is 1,000,000,000 tonnes, or about 20 times the annual emissions by Singapore. Likewise, WildAid Marine Program champions ocean conservation for nearly 250 marine areas, which is really a big difference from land scarce Singapore.
To this, I have to reluctantly accept the hard truth that Singapore is geographically small. We don’t have the geographical scale to do this work. We don’t even have that much land to work with. However, it does remind me that to achieve impact, we need to envision goals that are sometimes bolder and wider than just our country. Aspiring to grow or change an idea from one country and perhaps to Southeast Asia may sound daunting at first, but definitely within realistic expectations. Because while we may be limited by physical parameters, our ideas do not have to.
And even as we think big, we will always need to start somewhere, even if just to test out the idea. As mentioned during the Youth Masterclass, even tech giant Amazon started with one coffee maker and zero customers. The Earthshot Prize made me reconsider how I could scale my work so that the impact can be more visible, sustainable and meaningful.
As someone new to the sustainability scene, it may be pressurising to start something entirely new so as to differentiate ourselves. As a result, we become enchanted by the novelty of our own idea. Many of the ideas that the prize winners shared don’t seem to be entirely new, but the way they are executing it could be. For instance, award winner Acción Andina, revives the ancient Inca principles of “Ayni and Minka”, a deep commitment to working together for the common good, and since 2018, have planted nearly 10 million native trees. S4S Technologies’ Solution provides rural communities with cheaper solar-powered conduction dryers and food processing equipment to prepare their crops on-site, rather than using cold storage or other expensive methods of conventional industrial food preservation. In turn, this is expected to reduce 1.2 million tonnes of food waste.
While there is always room for innovation and groundbreaking (in fact award winner GRST’s new process to build and recycle Lithium batteries is amazing), the EarthShot Prize winners remind me that it does not always have to be the case. One simple thing it reminds me to do is to read more and widely. Websites like Emergence and Kontinentalist use data to highlight different trends, or patterns. And no, it’s not about copying and pasting the ideas to our respective countries. Our work could be to identify the nuances and context in which these ideas could work in our respective fields and communities (which in itself could be a separate project).
And even better, find ways to combine the ideas together. At first glance, this might seem hard, but for many of us, even this concept is not new. Creating TikTok reels or Instagram stories by snapping and combining videos, inserting captions, creating filters, adding music is already an example of putting existing thoughts and ideas together.
We know that climate change affects sea levels, but when a youth panellist from one of the Pacific Islands says that it affects them in ways that you didn’t expect, it hits hard, especially when 98% of their geographical territory is already water. Or when another panellist shares about how youth have no say in the decision making process because elders make the call, you can sense resonance from some within the room.
When we are used to hearing just one narrative about the impacts of climate change, it is easy to assume that it is the same everywhere. But hearing someone sharing about their lives in a different part of the world, and how it varies in relation to yours, it is strangely relatable, and hugely useful as I begin to shape my own understanding and views.
I am learning to appreciate and practise speaking up. If you have the chance to be able to share on behalf of others, give it a shot. And I know that it’s not easy because it is also easy to be judged in this day and age, so it’s better to stay low and remain quiet. But as one of the panellists, Pate shared, be the voice of the unheard. When it is an issue that matters to you, it does feel that it’s more important to share than suppress. We may not always get it right, but we can slowly practise to be more comfortable, and sit in the discomfort.
Hosting an international prize in Singapore is not just about how our island nation is on the global stage (although that is itself worth celebrating). However, it would be a pity if we were to self congratulate ourselves simply because we have successfully transplanted an international awards ceremony to Singapore. Precisely because Singapore has so many of these international events every other week, it is important to take stock of what we can do. Know that even for the finalists, the work has only just started.
To many of us that have attended or heard or simply know about The Earthshot Prize, I invite you to consider the following: make and grow connections with networks we gained over the week. Try out that idea which you have been itching to start. I was certainly quite keen to do more. In fact, immediately after the award ceremony, I rushed home and decided to just get started on the first draft of my upcoming project.
Afterall, to give earth a shot, it must start from us.
To catch the award ceremony, check out the YouTube sharing on 12 Nov 2023, as well as Mediacorp's Channel 5, mewatch and Mediacorp YouTube Entertainment Channel in Singapore.
Thank you Conservation International Asia-Pacific for giving me a chance to attend the #EarthshotSingapore2023 #EarthshotPrize session!
Get the latest news from Green Nudge
Nov 03, 2022
Could National Service (NS) be a possible starting point to kickstart a paradigm shift on eco-friendliness, where guys are not too old for mindset shifts and habit formation, but also not too young to make a tangible impact at home and work?
May 2, 2022
Have a hard time looking for the perfect dining spot, or just hungry to try new and exciting dishes? This list of lists compiles useful recommendations for plant-based eating in Singapore, including a spreadsheet of more than 100 eateries in the East!