July 27, 2022
Meet Tun Shien Foo – Antarctic ambassador and sustainability advocate
Tun Shien was Singapore’s sole representative at the 2041 Climate Force Expedition. A recent EnvironmentalStudies graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and a winner in the pilot of EB Impact’s flagship programme Sustainability Exchange, he has always been passionate about sustainability.
The expedition, organised by a father-son duo Robert and Barney Swan, led over 170 people from 35 countries to Antarctica. In speaking about the diversity of the participants, Tun Shien described it as a “mini United Nations of sorts”. As the only Singaporean on the trip, he was exposed to a new set of perspectives on sustainability challenges communities face around the world. Recounting some of the interactions he had with fellow participants about how climate change impacts people differently, he highlighted that “... a single solution is not a panacea since it is relative to the experiences that you grew up in and what you experience now… but it goes back to the point that everybody is facing it. Everyone has their perspective on how climate change has impacted them, and we need to take that into account when we devise new measures to mitigate this issue. The need to empathise with and consider different voices will then allow them to have a seat at the table.”
EB Impact had the pleasure of catching up with Tun Shien, as he shared his journey advocating for sustainability and how his adventure to Antarctica shaped his mindset towards climate change.
When and how did you first get involved in sustainability?
Growing up, I [am] thankful that my parents took me to nature spaces. I loved watching documentaries and reading books about marine animals [and] I’ve actually always wanted to be a marine biologist! It was during my first intertidal walk along Singapore shores when I really grasped what we had to offer, but also saw and understood the threats the environment faced.
Study[ing] environmental studies would then help me comprehend these issues on more complex levels.Going into the course, I went in without any expectations. Deep diving into the subject allowed me to grow my knowledge in the field, and as the years passed, I started recognising differences in my own mindset.
How did you first get involved with the 2041 Climate Force Expedition?
Just before I entered university,I attended a talk by Barney Swan and Anthea, an ex-participant on the expedition. I decided that I would only apply for it later on, perhaps after school, as I believed I needed to be “someone” before I would be accepted.Funnily enough, a message from the organising team came through in 2021 asking if I wanted to find out more about the initiative. I realised this particular project would include [more] youths and it pushed me to send in my application. Back home, eco-anxiety was a phenomenon my friends and I faced. The lull between hope and hopelessness gets difficult to manage sometimes. But the things Robert Swan shared during his TedTalks was so inspirational [that] I wanted to bring this, as well as the many different perspectives and backgrounds I encountered, back home.
What was your experience like in Antarctica and how do you feel this expedition has furthered your knowledge or passion in sustainability?
In Antarctica, you get to see firsthand how humans have truly impacted the planet. For a place so disconnected from the rest of the world, remnants of human impact can still be felt [and seen]. The fact that no one [and no place] is spared in this crisis was a really powerful message.
On the trip, Robert shared about glacial retreat and how the particular glacier we walked on in Argentina had been receding for over 30 years. From crazy temperatures being recorded to rain, which is extremely uncommon in Antarctica, it shows that this is happening as we speak. Everybody needs to come together to combat this if we want to avoid these problems from escalating.
How do you feel this expedition has impacted you personally?
The biggest takeaway is that every contribution [matters]. Before joining this program, a small part of me [thought]that I could be doing more and that my impact could be bigger, but this is the kind of thought process that hinders your progress in combating climate change.
I’ve come a long way, and what I realised on the expedition is that every step counts, no matter how big or how small. Engaging someone and getting them interested is not easy, but rallying for support [can start simply by] talking about it.
What are your thoughts on Singapore’s current sustainability scene?
The pandemic revealed many climate change related issues, and now there is greater effort placed in mediating these problems compared to a couple of years ago. We are also more receptive to the voices of youths because it’s such an active community with growing interest. Interest in sustainability stems from personal interest, since whatever problems our youths face can all be linked back to this big topic.There are people who are invested in general sustainability and all matters that fall under the umbrella, but you also have people who take a more specific route and focus on issues that they resonate with. Engaging different audiences and stakeholder groups has been a really good step forward for Singapore to facilitate more conversations with our youths.
Do you have any advice to other university students, or other youths, looking to get their foot in the sustainability space, whether as a profession or as a passion?
Being resourceful is one of the best ways to land an opportunity. There are a lot more programmes coming upright now, so keep a lookout and ask your friends and their friends too. It definitely comes easier and more often as you get in touch with the people in this space. Just in NUS alone, there are many courses (not just the usual science or arts faculties) like engineering that have projects related to sustainability too, so school would be a good place to start. Besides that, I have seen programmes floating around on the Instagram space too!