Dr Vilma Drozario is a lecturer at National Institute of Education (NIE). Although her job is not in the environmental sector, she has been involved in numerous nature conservation efforts since as long as ten years ago.
The Ess Army, together with a couple of the school's YEG (Youth Environmental Guardians) and a number of enthusiastic schoolmates were honoured to be given a chance to interview her in May 2008. During our interview, Dr Drozario mentioned to us a factor that affects the earth’s climatic change, carbon footprint. It is the measure of impact of human activities on the environment, calculated by the amount of greenhouse gases produced in terms of carbon dioxide units.
How did you first become involved with environmental conservation efforts?
I got involved with nature conservation from 1998 onwards. As a child, my parents have always encouraged my love for animals, plants and nature. I have been a nature lover since a young age, but it was only in 1998 that I joined a nature lover society. I was very excited about learning more of animals and plants and in 2000, I became the chairperson of a nature society focusing on educational outreach for children, usually the younger ones between five to nine years old. We conducted and planned activities for five to nine year olds, such as Fun with Mammals, Fun with Insects, Fun with Frogs, Fun with Reptiles, mainly are focused on animals. For Fun with Mammals, for examples, what types of mammals? Usually, are the endangered ones. We taught the children what the animals eat, where they live, their ecology, habitats and problems that they are facing, relating to conservation issues such as what causes extinction. Actually it is deforestation. We also taught them how we could make a difference. For eight years I had been very much involved in environmental conservation efforts that concentrate on nature education and outreach for children.
However, in the last two-three years, I realized the need to talk about sustainable development and global warming. These have captured everybody’s attention. Before Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, the problem was already there. It is just that now everybody is paying more attention to it. I feel that the time is right to look more into global warming, its effects and how to make a difference. So I found several people who think likewise and together started a new non-governmental organization, the Cicada Tree Eco-place (CTEP), whose one campaign is the use of Shoo Mozzie, which is an organic insect repellant that is more environmentally friendly than chemical ones. CTEP also promotes nature education because people now are very ready to lessening their carbon footprint. I think in Singapore, people are more ready now than ever before. The effort of lessening carbon footprint is more progressive now than ever before. I just felt that it is the right time for environmental education for people, but the root of my involvement is my love for animals and plants that my parents have nurtured since I was young.
With the rate of global warming increasing, do you think people are becoming more or less aware of the problem?
I think they are becoming more aware of it. It is so much in the news, probably because of government pushing new initiatives. Before, it was the NGOs that do the nature outreach programmes and speaks about sustainable development. Now, it receives a lot of governmental support, and universities are competing to promote environmentally friendly technologies. For example, next week, the President of Hungary will be coming to SMU to talk about sustainable development. Also, NTU and NUS are competing to promote environmentally friendly technologies. As educational and other governmental organizations are pushing these efforts, people are becoming more aware of it.
Just now you mentioned about Shoo Mozzie being an organic insect repellant is environmentally friendly, but don’t you think mosquito nets are more efficient?
Well, in the old days, people set up mosquito nets as there were no air-conditioners. Because it is now warmer than in the past, people now turn on the air-con and sleep, as it will be cooler and prevent mosquitoes from biting you. In the old days, people slept under mosquito nets. Sad to say, the use of air-cons is contributing to carbon emissions. Using mosquito nets is like going back to basic. When we go to the basic, there will be less carbon footprints, such as the advertisements on how HDB flats are going green and having more windows on MRTs or bus stops. Having more windows will mean that we do not have to use as much electricity for air-cons and we can open the windows for the air and light. I think there is a need to encourage architecture to go back to the basic.
Do you think going back to basic will hinder development? Increasing carbon emissions seems to be the side effect of development that always comes by it. How should we balance between development and environmental conservation?
Well, ways should be found and developed. Going back to basics does not mean not developing. New technologies that are eco-friendly should be encouraged, where spaces are open and bright, as in Singapore we are very lucky with no typhoons and cyclones. The worst we can have is lightning and very heavy rains. Buildings should be as open as possible. Another way is to plant more trees. Although Singapore is very green, some areas are still very hot. There can still be more trees, which will contribute to less air-cons usage, more carbon being used up by the trees and more oxygen in the air. This will definitely reduce carbon footprint. We should also encourage children to do everyday eco-actions. What are some eco-actions? Warming your air-con temperature is one way. 25-260C should be enough. Actually even 270C will also be enough as the air-con will make the air dry and you will not be sweaty.
What do you think youths can do in environmental conservation?
We should engage youths in planting trees. It would be great. You could encourage your family, classmates and your classmates’ family to reduce the usage of Styrofoam and non-biodegradable materials, and encourage them not to use disposables such as forks, spoons and plates. Start from family and school before reaching out to the community. This will already be a major achievement. It is not easy.
You could implement the 3Rs by reducing, recycling and reusing the things we own. Instead of using plastic bags, encourage the people around you to bring a bag with them for shopping. Put it in your bag at all times and refuse plastic bags. You could make a campaign at school. We should look for bio-degradable containers. Recycling is also very important as it reduces the amount of new natural resources demand. The materials used in recycling, such as water, can be from reused water.
In Singapore, people generally have more money than others in many parts of the world, thus we can buy more stuff. There is a website called the story of stuff. It is American-based, but is applicable to Singapore too. It shows how we keep buying more and more and more stuff, including a lot of things that we have but do not actually need. Birthday presents, for example, are lovely, but a lot are unused and cluttering the space. It will be better to get together for a quality time with family and friends on your birthday. This will cut down on things that we do not need. Do we really need so much of all the things we own? People talk about the 3Rs but they do not really understand it. Reduce. Share with friends how to do it, for example by taking down the amount you use per semester or per week and slowly cutting down the number. It is very hard to practice, yes, but it helps environmental conservation.
Do you have any tips on planting trees at school?
Well, you could go to a nursery and choose the native Singaporean plant. It would bring in wildlife into the school such as butterflies and birds, if you plant the right trees. Why native plants? Some foreign plants might not be suitable for local wild animals. If you plant native plants, they will provide food and nectar for the wild animals such as birds and butterflies at daylight and bats and moths at night. You can plant instant trees, but they are of course more expensive. The most important thing is that it has to be the right kind of tree.
Do you have any opinions on how we should make people believe that global warming is real and not just part of a natural cycle?
You could show good movies or DVDs. As youths, you could gather small groups of youths and show Arctic Tale, Inconvenient Truth, etc. It has to be a small group, not a big group. So, should you show the whole thing or parts of it? I think if you show the whole thing, most will fall asleep. Maybe you could show parts of the movies, followed by discussions. Make sure the discussions go down to what we can do and give examples of what you or other people are doing. You could ask them some questions and come up with suggestions on everyday habits to slow down the process of global warming. You are currently not in position to influence the government, but you could influence your friends.
Lastly, do you personally support violence used in environmental conservation?
You mean like Greenpeace? Well, depends on what violent actions they do. If in cases such as whaling, environmental conservation ships chasing and ramming into whalers, I am not against them. I will probably support them with funds. I do not believe in violence, but if I think a group is going all-out to support environmental conservation, I will support them.
The Ess Army thank Dr Drozario for her kindness, openness and time. Thank you very much ((: