If there’s a key lesson in conservation, it’s this: you need to keep at it. So says Gurmit Singh, a veteran Malaysian environmentalist who has just published his Memoirs of a Malaysian Eco-Activist.
“Everyone thinks planting trees is great. But they forget that trees have to be maintained,” Singh stressed at the launch of his memoirs. “I now tell people that ‘I will support your effort if you check every six months to see if your trees are alive.’ We will count the living trees and then see if the project is successful.” He added: “[E]nvironmental issues cannot have instant results. You have to look at the long-term.”
That’s certainly a key insight that we all need to take to heart. Troubled by the increasingly parlous state of Malaysia’s natural environments, we might hope that some instant solutions will simply fix things for us. Yet such instant panaceas do not exist.
Mr. Singh is certainly in a position to know that. He’s been a devoted conservationist for decades. Now 75, he started out as a trailblazer in homegrown environmentalism in the early 1970s. He founded two pioneering nonprofits, the Environmental Protection Society Malaysia and the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia. What may seem like instant results in hindsight, he notes, were in fact the result of long hard work and dedication.
Here’s another key insight: we can all make a difference in however small a way. “Don’t buy too much and refrain from buying unnecessary things,” Singh advises. “We all have a responsibility to care for the environment, so we need to walk the talk.”
Even though many Malaysians continue to ignore and neglect environmental issues, they are doing so at their own risk, he warns. “You simply can’t ignore issues like the environment. Whether you like it or not, it’ll come back to [haunt] you,” he elucidates. “For example, when you pollute the river, the fishes will eat that pollutant and ultimately you’ll end up eating that fish. Simply speaking, whatever you do to the environment, it’ll come back and hit you. If not you, then your children and subsequently, theirs. In a way, it’s like karma.”
Wise words well spoken.
This article originally appeared in Clean Malaysia on 26 April 2017.