If you’re new to sustainability, the constant gloom around climate change can be daunting. There always seems to be so much bad news and it’s hard to see what we can do to help. The first step is often the toughest: understanding the impact of our everyday habits and the hidden secrets of the world’s largest industries; but once we get past the learning and unlearning stage, we can take action. However, ‘action’ looks different for everyone, and we need to figure out ways to realistically achieve our climate goals. With big issues at hand, there’s definitely room for creative thinking to accelerate the climate advocacy movement.
That’s where Qiyun Woo’s story comes into play. An artist and climate activist, she advocates for change by sharing her observations on climate change, social justice and other intersectional topics through creative and easily digestible infographics on social media. We caught up with Qiyun about why collective action matters and how finding a tribe of like-minded individuals can make your sustainability journey that much more empowering.
How did your journey in environmentalism first begin?
I was a big nature kid growing up, always watching Animal Planet amidst the other cartoons on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. Steve Irwin was my childhood hero, and over time I learnt about the human-driven destruction inflicted on natural environments. This was back in 2006, and I think as the years went by, I got more and more interested in sustainability issues. I took part in every Earth Hour and volunteered at environmental organisations growing up. My grandmother was also extremely frugal, innovating new ways to reuse and taught me not to be so wasteful. The way she cared for materials and lived within her means embodied what it means to be sustainable – to live and consume with care and intention.
Sustainability was never cool growing up and it was tough being the only one in my social circles who was BYO-ing or recycling – but I persisted. I eventually enrolled on the environmental studies degree programme at NUS in 2016, and I remember everyone asking “What will you even do with a degree like this?” But, I derived so much joy learning about the natural world, geological systems, climate processes, and environmental regulations, etc.
Is this when you built your Instagram platform?
In 2018, fighting single-use plastic started to gain ground in Singapore; more and more people were talking about plastic pollution, switching to reusables or using less plastic. I remember a friend asking me if I could point them to resources that would inform them on how to recycle properly or how to BYO at F&B stalls, and that’s when I realised how difficult it was to find this information online, especially information contextual to Singapore.
That’s how I got started to be more public with my environmental advocacy and started @theweirdandwild. It became a platform for me to put my thoughts on climate change to the public. I shared my research and science about sustainability in Singapore and the region, or how to live more sustainably. The greatest takeaway from this account is the ability to learn from a community that cared about sustainability and knew so much more than I do about a plethora of topics from beetles to green buildings and petrochemicals. This collective learning and sharing are things that I hope to continuously do and contribute to. I’d say that’s where my environmental journey is at this moment.
There’s a lot of nuance to environmental issues. How can we get a better grasp on them?
Yes! I wish more people realised that climate issues are complex and that we can’t simplify climate topics into a listicle. We need to grow to understand why we’re living more sustainably. Our efforts count, and as individuals we sit within interconnected larger systems and societies. I wish we could all be more sensitive to how connected we are, to natural systems and to each other. If so, I think we’d work harder to fight for each other’s protection, rights and survival.
That’s what intersectionality means to me: seeing how my care for the environment extends to other social issues that are connected to climate change. The way we consume is connected to the way corporations produce things. But recognising that we are interconnected is not exactly enough. I think people also need to develop a care for the world precisely because we are interconnected. Our climate justice fight is a fight for social justice too. We just have to recognise our agency to act on it. I believe once we collectively start caring more, more people will become sensitive to climate issues.
I wish we could all be more sensitive to how connected we are, to natural systems and to each other. If so, I think we’d work harder to fight for each other’s protection, rights and survival.
We love the way you break down big, complex topics, climate justice being a big one of them. What more do you feel needs to be done to address this topic within the SEA region?
Oooh, this is a tough one. Singaporeans need to realise how connected we are to the region. Be it in supply chains, in our consumption and reliance on Southeast Asia for core materials. And so, extend our environmentalism beyond our shores. We can’t only care about issues that affect our country, but those affecting our region.
What’s been your biggest learning lesson?
That our individual action is never really individual, we need to act as individuals within a collective. I’ve realised that I can’t be so hard on myself when I fail to be sustainable in my daily life. Even when I’m building this environmental movement; my work builds on those who came before and also those who are working towards the same goal in different forms. Recognising that I have a community to fall back on help. I’m also constantly meeting new people who care about the planet. Folks like you energises me and keeps me going!
Finally, tell us how you’re #Down4Earth and how you feel other individuals or brands can be too.
I’m #Down4Earth through my efforts to continue communicating climate issues in new, accessible and interesting ways. I aim to live a more low-impact life and continually support and work collaboratively with other like-minded folks to push for meaningful climate action.
For other individuals who care about the planet, let’s connect and get down to business to do things together. For brands that truly believe in the need for climate action (and not in the greenwashing!) I hope they will support small businesses and activists that are doing good work.
#Down4Earth is a social awareness campaign launched by ZERRIN on World Environment Day 2021. The campaign features Singapore-based sustainability advocates with a passion for urban farming, circular fashion, composting and more. They prove that there’s more to sustainability than the quintessential 3 R’s and there’s something everyone can do. Discover more about the campaign. Photography, styling and production by ZERRIN STUDIO.
Susannah believes better design can help create a brighter future. A former magazine editor, she now runs ZERRIN and works at the intersection of consumers, brands and sustainability advocacy.