Do not oversimplify!

Yew Choong, the award-winning environmental journalist, insists on in-depth reporting

‘People tend to understand it more when no water comes out from the taps, or the water is not drinkable… However, these are the visible signs when things go wrong.’ — Yew Choong, Environmental Journalist

Yew Choong is motivated to write about environment as he found it rewarding from seeing his readers’ responses. ‘I remember writing about green hotels many years back, and after a colleague read the story, he started feeling guilty about using fresh towels in hotels daily. I suppose that would have made him reconsider reusing hotel towels for more than just a day, and it is gratifying to see that,’ he said.

He emphasizes this is not the case every time: ‘It may take many years to change people’s attitudes’. But he is quite confident in the positive effects from good, thorough and fair reporting of environment issues.

YC: Yew Choong CK: Candy Ko (Youth Organising Committee, APS15)

CK: Hi Yew Choong, what is the common problem you find in the understanding of environmental terms by general public ? How media can help in the aspect?

YC: Right now, there is a gross oversimplification of environmental correlation in decision making, such as, if a product is biodegradable, it must therefore be good, and conversely, if it is not biodegradable, it must be bad. The media should help people see beyond ‘entry level’ factors such as biodegradability and recyclability when considering what is green or not. There is a great need to help people see things more from a “life cycle assessment” (aka life-cycle analysis) perspective so that our choices can be more carefully considered.

CK: How youth can talk about climate change in a way better understood by average people?

YC: People tend to understand it more when no water comes out from the taps, or the water is not drinkable. Or when they look out of their windows, and see a cloud of haze. However, there are the visible signs when things go wrong.

To me, every youth is an ambassador himself. Youths are best in influencing their peers in responsible behaviour, such as not littering, not smoking, and reporting environmental infractions such as smoky vehicles and so on to the rightful authorities. At home, they are the best ones to influence the older generation on greener behaviour.

CK: I’m Sure. So what roles should youth leaders play in driving climate change contents? What kind of story they should target at?

YC: They should agitate for things that really improve quality of life, yet lead to low-carbon, or lesser carbon, outcomes. Take for example, making a city or community more pedestrian friendly, so that people will be drawn to walk, or not drive to the train station to catch a train. Or to push for connecting bus services. In my country, getting people to give up driving is huge challenge due to many factors. In Singapore, it may be to encourage more people classifying their trash so that more resources can be recovered. What youth leaders have to do may be country specific, but anything that can lead to lower-carbon outcomes, among others, should be encouraged.

CK: Last but not least, what tools would you suggest youth using during their search for environmental/climate change stories or topics to write?

YC: Annual reports and websites of associations representing the relevant industry would be a good place to start. Copious amounts of reading is required to arrive at a comprehensive view of things, especially if one intends to write an analysis or feature piece.

CK: Thank you. Looking forward to more of your sharing in APS!

More about Yew Choong MENG

Yew Choong MENG, currently a journalist from The Star newspaper in Malaysia, is the Environmental Journalist of the Year at the Asian Environmental Journalism Awards 2013. In the same year, he also won the Siemens ASEAN-Pacific Green Technology Journalist Award, for his outstanding report, “Coal and gas it is, for now” on Malaysia’s current energy mix and the country’s dependency on fossil fuels as its primary source for energy.