True Blue Activist

ENVIRONMENTALIST Gurmit Singh has spent his life educating Malaysians on the real cost of preserving nature. Although he is not always successful in creating deep change, the man described as a ‘true blue activist’ continues to be passionate and patient.

The 75-year-old recently unveiled his biographical work titled Memoirs of a Malaysian Eco-Activist, chronicling his non-conformist ways, environmental activism and his perspective of the world.

Born in Japanese-occupied Malaya in the 1940s, Gurmit was a self-professed bookworm when he was a child and found his calling as an environmental advocate whose path has sometimes led him to the wrong side of the authorities. Gurmit later founded two NGOs — Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia and Centre For Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia.

An electrical engineering graduate from Universiti Malaya, Gurmit said he had to work prior to enrolment to save up for fees as he did not get a scholarship.

“I worked as a teacher for one-and-a-half years and spent another six months in the air force. Even when I became an electrical engineer, I didn’t see any conflict between my day job and protecting the environment.”

He was an assistant electrical engineer for five years before calling it quits to dedicate his life to environmental activism. “When people ask me how I’m an engineer and an environmentalist at the same time, I often tell them an engineer doesn’t have to be a destroyer of the environment. We should learn to live with nature.”

On youths being aware of environmental issues, Gurmit said it is still in transition as mindsets have not changed much. “Although the younger generation talks a lot about ‘going green’ today, their understanding is quite superficial. For example, they change mobile phones all the time but don’t realise the act contributes to e-waste.”

He added that millennials have a limited attention span.

“Most of them will do something very interesting for a short while, and move on to another project. They have gimmicky green projects such as planting trees but they forget the trees need to be maintained. Without proper care, the trees will be dead in just three months. At the end, the project becomes a futile exercise.

“These are some issues I pointed out in my book and speeches. To solve environmental problems properly, we need to do it long-term with a genuine interest to pursue and persevere.

“Hopefully there will be more people, who after reading my book, will have an understanding of what I have been doing,” he said.

Aside from and life stories, the book has more than 50 photographs particularly about his work with the Malaysian government and regional NGOs.

The book is available in major bookstores.

This article originally appeared in The Malay Mail on 6 May 2017.