By MENG YEW CHOONG
Saving the environment does not necessarily mean that we have to chain ourselves to trees. A young couple demonstrate s how green activism can rise above mere sloganeering.
FORGET the conventional moves to save the planet like turning off the tap when brushing your teeth, or changing to energy-efficient light bulbs. “Not that these moves are totally useless, but we need to do more,’’ said Lim Teck Wyn.
The 36-year-old consultant in forest management issues and his wife Cindy Chen, 30, are definitely not your typical yuppie couple preoccupied with conspicuous
consumption. If anything, they are dead serious about reducing their consumption of earthly resources.
When the couple got married and set up home in Taman TAR at the edge of Kuala Lumpur’s Ampang forest reserve six years ago, they stripped the air-conditioners, installed ceiling fans and changed the lights to energy-saving bulbs.
They also purchased a more energy-efficient washing machine and refrigerator.
The couple’s commitment to minimising their environmental footprint also extended to their car. “We opted for a small car, although we really wanted a four-wheel drive which could take us to more out-of-the-way places,’’ said Lim, who finally settled on a Perodua Kelisa (with an engine capacity of below one litre) after doing extended research on fuel efficiency.
The couple takes the 3Rs of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle seriously. Shopping at a nearby wet market instead of supermarkets helps to reduce packaging waste, said Chen.
Kitchen waste is recycled in the truest sense of the word. “Recyclables like glass, metal, plastic and paper are sorted accordingly. And we do in-house composting for our kitchen waste on the balcony of our apartment,’’ added Chen, who used to actively blog about green living atterra-cin.blogspot.com.
Given their devotion to minimise waste, this family of three has managed to reduce their garbage output to just one bag a week.
Still, the Lims do admit that walking the straight and narrow path is far from plain sailing.
“Every now and then, we are faced with dilemmas such as choosing between buying a new energy-efficient product and sticking to the old one. We are constantly tempted to buy. Advertisements in the media are so powerful. We are only human,” said Chen.
To minimise impulse purchases, the couple has agreed to discuss with each other first before buying anything.
“That makes us reconsider some decisions,’’ added Chen, who used to work in the banking industry.
The couple decided on having only one child. Daughter Cerys, four, started potty-training at six months so that they could use as few disposable diapers as possible (Cerys outgrew the need for nappies at two-and-a-half years).
“Thousands of disposable diapers go into landfills each day, and we are still using virgin fibre in nappies, ” said Lim. They did consider using only reusable cloth nappies, but found the process too cumbersome.
“Lim and Chen currently work from home. Lim is the technical director of Resource Stewardship Consultants Sdn Bhd (RESCU), an environmental consultancy he co-founded in 2004, while Chen takes care of the back-end operations.
On how he ended up in the environmental consulting field, Lim said that he had always wanted to study environmental science, but later decided to narrow his focus on forestry. After graduating with a degree in forestry from the University of Wales, in the UK, he pursued a master’s degree from the University of Groningen, Netherlands, and then returned to Malaysia to work.
In 1999, he found what he described as the “perfect job” – being one of the pioneer managers of the Malaysian Timber Certification Council. It was an era where the Malaysian timber and logging industry were embarking into timber certification in a big way.
A few years later, he joined the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia to coordinate the forestry work of their Borneo Programme based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. In 2004, he set up RESCU with a small group of associates with backgrounds in wildlife and environmental science.
“My company carries out research and provides advice on the management of natural resources such as forests, wildlife and water. I also use satellite-based remote sensing imagery to check on land-use changes,’’ said Lim, who also volunteers for the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and continues to be active in conservation.
Through RESCU, he has contributed to several government projects looking at wildlife corridors, including the Central Forest Spine project in Peninsular Malaysia, and also a project in Sabah promoting ecological linkages between the Kinabalu Park and the Crocker Range Park.
A relatively minor success was saving the world’s only population of a hardwood tree known as Hopea subalata that was threatened by a road project near Rawang, Selangor.
He has also been involved in petitioning Perak to gazette the Royal Belum area as a protected place, and getting Selangor to protect the Selangor State Park as well as the Kuala Langat Forest Reserve.
Lim is also active in improving forestry and land use laws throughout Malaysia. “I helped draft amendments to the Selangor Forestry Enactment to require that the public be consulted before forest reserves can be excised. These amendments were recently passed by the state legislative assembly.”
Lim’s collaboration with TRAFFIC and the Malaysian Timber Industries Board has resulted in stronger controls on the trade of tree species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. TRAFFIC, a joint programme of WWF and the World Conservation Union, is a wildlife trade monitoring network that works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature.
However, Lim is quick to caution that there is a limit to what one can do for the environment by purely focusing on lifestyle choices. “We were told we should aim to cut our carbon footprint by 10% in the year 2010 by taking shorter showers, changing to energy-saving light-bulbs and eating less meat. However, I doubt whether things such as recycling and the no-plastic-bag-Saturdays are really enough to avoid global environmental catastrophe.
“I think we need to raise the bar by thinking out of the box. As it is, we are facing a crisis that requires a society-wide response. “The reason our ecosystems are decaying is not because we leave the tap running while we are brushing our teeth. It is because we have allowed the growth in consumption to be the engine of corporate profits. There is a need for profound reforms in the way business is done.”
For those who are still wondering what they can do for their immediate environment, Lim exhorts everyone to adapt to the adage Think Global, Act Local.
“For example, I’m working with my neighbours to stop a new highway from cutting through the Ampang Forest Reserve near our homes. I also support the Malaysian Karst Society to stop the destructive quarrying of our magnificent limestone outcrops.”
Lim and his friends have also chosen to creatively engage aspiring politicians. “At present, I am involved in a fledgling movement known as the Green Voters Initiative (GVI) that was started shortly before the 2008 general election. We are drawing up a list of questions on environmental issues for the candidates in the next general election, and their responses will be published online.”
Peninsular Malaysia now has less than 40% of its area under forest cover, even though the Government had pledged during the 1992 Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that the country as a whole will maintain at least half of its land mass under forest cover.
“Merdeka Day is a good time to take stock of how far we’ve progressed as a nation. After all, Merdeka arrived only after a period of struggle and campaigning,” said Lim.
It is a time to think about the fate of our forests and their associated biodiversity. After all, forests are important for the health of the planet, and even the United Nations General Assembly recognises this by declaring 2011 as the International Year of Forests.