To spread green message to 100,000 people

2011 was a significant year for civil activism. Advocates pushed passionately and were heard. What do they hope for in the new year? Judith Tan & Feng Zengkun find out
Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

MS OLIVIA CHOONG, 32 Environmentalist

Environmentalist Olivia Choong has a number for 2012: 100,000.

That's the number of people she wants to reach with her Safer Skin campaign, which will be launched this year. The campaign, which will be conducted online and in print media, seeks to raise awareness of the chemicals in skin products that can harm both the environment and people.

'Coal tar, for example, is a by-product of coal gas and is used in many medicated soaps and shampoo to treat dandruff,' said Ms Choong, 32, who founded the local chapter of Green Drinks, a monthly meeting of the eco-conscious here.

She said the campaign will target products for men, women, babies and even pets. In fact, she has a wish list of chemicals she would like to see taken off the shelves: parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, petroleum jelly, propylparaben, 1,4-dioxane and more.

Parabens, found in some underarm deodorants, for example, has been linked to breast cancer, while petroleum jelly is made from crude oil.

Ms Choong said her 'green' awakening came after she watched Live Earth 2007, a series of concerts in 11 cities to raise awareness about environmental issues.

About 30 people showed up for the first Green Drinks meeting in November 2007. Now, about 80 people show up regularly. Even her own firm, a public relations outfit called Sustainable PR, aims to raise the profile of local eco-businesses.

Ms Choong said she also supports the battle to conserve the Bukit Brown cemetery.

'That's not just about heritage but also about the environment and what we will lose if we don't treasure it,' she said.

To keep rail track as green corridor
2011 was a significant year for civil activism. Advocates pushed passionately and were heard. What do they hope for in the new year? Judith Tan & Feng Zengkun find out
Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

MR AZMI MOHAMED, 41, Member, Nature Society

Preservation is on the mind of Mr Azmi Mohamed, 41, who is marking his 12th anniversary as a Nature Society member.

The science teacher at River Valley High School wants the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu's (KTM) 26km train route from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands to be kept as a green corridor, and more young people to join the society and keep it going.

The society has about 1,500 members and submitted a proposal to the Ministry of National Development in 2010 to conserve the former railway track as a heritage site.

It said this would provide a 'grand spine' to the National Parks Board's park connector system and also preserve the biodiversity along the route.

'If we leave the land as it is, more people will be able to appreciate the natural part of Singapore's heritage,' said Mr Azmi.

The avid bird-watcher started trekking in nature reserves when he was a teenager.

In 2000, he joined the society to meet like-minded people. Now, he conducts at least four tours a year to green spots such as the Kranji Marsh and Pulau Semakau, a landfill which is also a wildlife haven rich in mangroves and coral reefs.

Mr Azmi said he tries to liven the tours up with gadgets such as telescopes which can magnify birds up to 60 times.

'You can see the real beauty of common birds when they are up close,' he said.

He also persuades his three children and his students to spend more time outdoors.

For family holidays, he favours destinations with more nature than concrete.

'We've gone to Fraser's Hill in Malaysia and Mount Kinabalu in Borneo. If we can get more people interested in nature here, then it will be left in good hands,' he said.

To banish dog and pony shows

2011 was a significant year for civil activism. Advocates pushed passionately and were heard. What do they hope for in the new year? Judith Tan & Feng Zengkun find out
Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

MR RICKY YEO, 43, Founder, Action for Singapore Dogs

To ensure that it's not just all bark but little action, Mr Ricky Yeo, founder of Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD), wants the authorities, animal welfare groups and pet lovers to 'work together amicably'.

'There has to be cooperation, dialogue,' he said, citing one example - the lobbying over the last seven years for Housing Board flat owners to be allowed to keep street dogs - which has yielded results.

Last year, the authorities lifted the long-held ban by allowing a pilot project for stray dogs and cats to find homes in Housing Board flats this year.

Mr Yeo, 43, while pleased with this significant development, also wants more land to be allocated for animal shelters, to provide another refuge for strays.

Established in December 2000 as a non-profit organisation to improve the welfare of stray and abandoned dogs, ASD currently has 95 dogs at its centre here, and 17 in Johor.

Another 10 dogs are housed in foster homes, and Mr Yeo said more of such foster homes are needed to house the street dogs.

His third wish for this year is to see ASD achieve Institution of a Public Character status. This means that as an independent charity, it would be authorised to receive tax-deductible donations.

'In doing so, we will be able to attract more donations, especially from corporations, and attract more volunteers,' he said.

There are now eight committee members as well as 10 core and 20 ad hoc volunteers at ASD.

While Mr Yeo is happy that when it comes to active citizenry in Singapore, dog and animal welfare groups are ahead of the pack, he cautions them not to let 'emotions rule their heads'.

'We must learn to work together, come up with concrete plans and not simply pay lip service. One group must learn not to antagonise the other; otherwise, the dogs will be the ones that suffer,' he noted.