Through The Lens webinar: Climate change and biodiversity closely linked, and can impact humans

(From left) Panellists Melissa Low, Woo Qiyun and Kong Man Jing with The Straits Times' climate change editor David Fogarty at the webinar. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Climate change and biodiversity have been treated as two separate issues for some time, but in recent years, there has been greater awareness about their close links.

This was one of the points raised by Ms Kong Man Jing, a panellist at a webinar on Wednesday (Jan 26) titled "Connecting the green dots". She was joined by two other young environmental champions, Ms Melissa Low and Ms Woo Qiyun.

The trio were in conversation with Straits Times climate change editor David Fogarty. The webinar is the second one related to the news outlet's ongoing photo exhibition, Through The Lens.

Ms Kong, 27, co-founder of local science and nature education channel Just Keep Thinking, said: "Even in the nature community here, there is always this unofficial and unintentional segregation between the biodiversity and wildlife experts, and the sustainability and climate change players. But we are bridging the gaps now."

Illustrating with an example, Ms Kong - who studied environmental biology in university - noted that warming waters caused by climate change put stress on coral reefs and cause them to turn white, a phenomenon known as coral bleaching.

She also noticed that migratory birds have been reaching Singapore earlier, and bird migration schedules seem to be shifting due to climate change.

Remote video URL

A 2019 paper published in Nature Climate Change reported that rising temperatures have been causing birds to migrate a little earlier each spring.

Ms Kong also cited a recent report which showed that due to rising temperatures over 40 years, many North American migratory birds have become smaller in size while their wingspan has become longer.

But the science educator identified one living thing that is thriving in warmer temperatures - mosquitoes. Warmer temperatures allow the insects to breed faster, increasing the risk of dengue and other vector-borne diseases.

"Climate change and biodiversity impact one another, and they affect our lives, health and livelihoods. If you take all these signs and piece them together, you will see (that) climate change is the core of it all," she said.

Ms Kong's science channel runs on YouTube and social media. Better known as Biogirl MJ by her followers, she animatedly educates her viewers about various topics, including how marine life in intertidal zones glow under UV light.

Remote video URL

Like her, the other two panellists are also on a mission to dissect the technicalities behind climate science and biodiversity to educate people - largely through the power of social media and infotainment.

Ms Low, 34, a climate policy observer from the National University of Singapore's Energy Studies Institute, has attended more than a decade's worth of United Nations Climate Change Conferences, with the latest one, COP26, in Glasgow last year.

She has also been conducting training sessions to explain climate negotiations to young people, and frequently publishes 2,500-word policy briefs to analyse and explain issues related to energy and climate.

Ms Woo, 25, is a sustainability professional who runs an Instagram page, @theweirdandwild, filled with catchy illustrations that untangle weighty topics related to climate change.

She does this in a bite-size manner through her cartoon avatar - brightly coloured blobs with large eyes.

"As a visual learner, it was very hard for me to memorise a thousand-word essay or textbooks. And I thought, what if more people could get in touch with climate issues through a blob (character) who is here telling you (that learning about climate science) is not that scary," said Ms Woo.

One of her Instagram posts last year explained COP26 and the 2015 Paris Agreement in comic form, narrated by the blobs.

Ms Low noted at the webinar that stress and eco-anxiety - the fear of environmental perils - are emerging among many young people and climate activists.

She advised: "It is also important to take time to turn off the news, if you can, and try to calm yourself, because we are in this for the long haul."

Find out more about climate change and how it could affect you on the ST microsite here.