At PM.Haze, we believe that personal stories will eventually become part of social history that will help us understand why we fight for the things we fight for. So we decided to document the lives of people that have chosen to join the team as a volunteer. In our first instalment, we interview Aurelie Charmeau. She is a lady whose passion for the environment and for exploring brought her to South East Asia, where she finally decided to call Singapore her home for the next few years.
Aurelie is trained in the fields of environment and energy. When she was in France, she worked as a field engineer for soil and groundwater remediation for three years. Now, she supports the Fire Free Alliance (FFA), which is a company-led alliance that runs community projects and shares knowledge on how to stop the haze through fire prevention projects. As PM.Haze is a member of the FFA, Aurelie has had the chance to integrate her work commitments with volunteer work. She currently is a member of the PM.Haze Partnership team, which allows her to be the link between the FFA and PM.Haze, as well as the Research team.
This is her story…
How did you get to know about PM.Haze?
I first came across PM.Haze through Green Drinks, a networking platform for environmental groups in Singapore. PM.Haze was giving a presentation about the We Breathe What We Buy campaign and the talk captivated me to volunteer with them. I was still searching for a job at the time and decided that this was something meaningful for me to do. I initially joined the Research team because I wanted to know more about the origins and impacts of the palm oil industry. I then attended PM.Haze’s first People’s Forum on Haze, which was held to raise awareness and gather people with similar interests. That’s how I was introduced to a contact who eventually landed me in a role to support the FFA.
Why did you choose to be a volunteer with us to ‘X the Haze’?
When I first found out about PM.Haze, I had never experienced the haze myself so I could not understand how people in Singapore felt. It was only some months later when the haze season started when I realised the importance of raising awareness on the issue. I feel that the haze, to many in Singapore, seems to be only about air pollution. I realised however that the haze also encompasses many other issues such as social complexities, climate change (carbon emissions from peatlands, effects of deforestation on biodiversity and human communities), and corruption.
Is it still important for you to volunteer for PM.Haze even though you are already active on the ground?
PM.Haze has given me opportunities and empowered me to explore various aspects of the haze issue. I have learnt that partnerships with big companies are a very good way to move things forward quickly and improve the scalability of projects. However, we require the voices of NGOs and the public to fill the gaps that high level discussions do not address. Through volunteering I have gained experience in research work, and learned about peat and the roles of different stakeholders as well (industry, NGOs, and government).
“[If PM.Haze were an animal], I would say the woodpecker because it digs into the issue and makes a lot of noise. I think making noise is one of the reasons why PM.Haze exists! ”
What are your expectations of PM.Haze?
Actually, we have a really new project coming up! The FFA recently suggested a landscape approach. The idea is to focus on the Riau province in Sumatra and find a way to prevent the fires through on-the-ground projects involving all stakeholders (government, companies, NGOs and academia). The first step is to do an analysis of the fire risks. This is not easy however, as there is a lot to take into account: the history of fires, peat or no peat; the way people behave on the land; the accessibility of the land, etc. For example, you can have a plot of land where the fire risk is low, but is so inaccessible that when a fire really breaks out, no one is able to extinguish it. This is a big risk, right? So I am currently working with the team in PM.Haze to establish a fire-risk map and to identify which local stakeholder has the ability to drive an independent program in areas with significant fire risk to work towards mitigating that risk.
Where do you see yourself and PM.Haze in five years?
I wasn’t planning to stay that long in Singapore when I came here. So in 5 years, I would probably be somewhere else – I don’t know where. But I will definitely stay in touch because this work has been very important to me. As for PM.Haze, I think one of the most important missions of PM.Haze is to raise awareness – to make everyone in Singapore finally understand the issue. At this point we find that there is a general lack of public understanding, and people are only caring about having clean air. If the wind goes away and the smoke goes away then everything is fine. They can also help with the idea of a crowdfunding platform and mapping crowdsourcing. Most environmental issues are related to economic issues. All the big stakeholders like corporations and governments have a big stake in the economy. So if we want to solve the problem it has to come from the ground up, it has to come from the community and this is where PM.Haze is targeting.
We know you talk the talk when it comes to taking care of the environment. Do you walk the talk?
I make my own compost. I have flower boxes with holes at the bottom to drain the water. Actually there is a lot of information on the NParks website on how to make your compost in Singapore. I have a few pots of lemongrass and I hope to grow more cooking herbs in the future. I have also turned vegetarian since the beginning of this year so I am doing a lot of research on vegetarian cooking as well. This is very important to me as meat has a huge carbon footprint and some practices such as fishing are depleting natural resources and destroying entire ecosystems.
What would you say to someone hesitating to be join the team at PM.Haze?
If they are worried about not having enough time, I would tell them not to worry as you don’t have to spend a lot of time! I am not spending a lot of time at all with PM.Haze.
“Come as who you are with an open mind and you will learn a lot. If you want to get really involved and spend a lot of time, you can, but you don’t have to. Just commit what you can.”
Interviewed on 22 May 2016